Cinnamon Roll (Bold Brew #9)

Reverb (Twisted Wishes, #3)

Cinnamon Roll (Bold Brew #9)

This cinnamon roll has plenty of bite!

Maxime Demers has had an eye on Tom Cedric for a while, watching him flit from one awful man to another. So when Tom pins an ad to the community cork board at Bold Brew, Max can’t resist reading it. Tom’s looking for a play partner—someone who’s not a jerk—and Max knows he could give Tom what he needs. But first he’ll have to get the man to talk to him.

Tom Cedric thinks Max is way out of his league. He’s handsome, intelligent, speaks a billion languages, and can make a person kneel with a single look—too damn good for someone like Tom. But he can’t resist the temptation to talk to the man he’s had a crush on since the moment he laid eyes on him.

The connection between them is immediate, hot, and tempting, and when Max needs a replacement helper for an impact demo he’s giving, Tom jumps at the chance. A demo should be safe, right? A few hours. Clothing on. No stakes. Neither man is prepared when that spark ignites, and Tom is absolutely unprepared to discover the sweet man behind those dominating looks.

Cinnamon Roll is a stand-alone novel in the Bold Brew shared universe, centered around an inclusive coffee shop in a fictional small city. Each steaming hot coffee shop romance can be enjoyed alone, but collect all ten for the most fun!

This twist on a second-chance romance is 90,000-word cup of steaming hot scenes, a dusting of angst, plenty of fluff, and a guaranteed happy ending!

Content Notes:

This novel contains frequent descriptive on-page sex and kink with enthusiastic consent, including bondage, pain play, D/s, orgasm denial, anal play, and use of toys.

There are mentions of past sexual and relationship trauma, and a very brief non-graphic description of a past attempted sexual assault of Tom.

Characters consume alcohol socially. There’s mentions of being buzzed.

Buy Links: Amazon


Chapter One

Maxime Demers eyed the ad pinned to the community bulletin board on the wall of the Bold Brew coffee shop. Well, well, well.

Gay sub seeking Dom for pain play, bondage, & sex. Assholes & jerks need not apply. Ask for Tom.

Max ran a finger across the phone number listed under the ad and tapped the paper once. The author was Tom Cedric. Had to be. Max didn’t know Tom’s number, and he didn’t know Tom personally, but he and Tom shared friends and they’d seen enough of each other from a distance over the years. Max understood all too well the quip about assholes and jerks.

Tom had terrible taste in men. Every guy he’d seen Tom date fit that description to a T.

It wasn’t any of Max’s business, but that ad wasn’t going to bring Tom the Dominant he wanted. Max suspected the result would be quite the opposite: even more jerks.

Then again, stranger things had happened in this coffee shop, so maybe he’d be wrong.

Ech, leave it, Maxime.

He had no time for subs or significant others. The fall semester was in full swing, he was teaching four courses instead of his usual three, and he had his own research to attend to, if he could squeeze that in.

Tom was a lawyer. He could take care of himself.

Rather than linger at the bulletin board, Max headed to the counter to order. Lupé was on this afternoon, and their smile, as always, was warm and friendly.

“Find anything?” They nodded at the bulletin board.

Max shrugged a shoulder. “Just looking. You never know what you might see.”

“That’s true. I found an awesome four-poster bed there.” They grinned, then gestured dramatically at the drink menu. “New fall specials! What’ll it be, Professor? Feeling adventuresome?”

Max laughed. “Lupé, my dear, this is me.” Of course he’d try something new. He’d try most things at least once. “Why don’t you pick for me?” He gave them a smile and a wink.

They pretended to swoon, then rang Max up. Years ago, when Lupé had started working at Bold Brew, they’d looked Max up and down and decided he was a little too pretty for them. “Sexy French pirate isn’t my thing,” they’d said. But Lupé still bantered and flirted, even now that they had a partner.

“You going to tell me what you’re making?”

“Nope.” They waved him away. “Go set up your grading nook, and I’ll bring it out to you.”

Max chuckled and headed over to the fireplace near the front of the shop. He tossed his jacket, a tweedy green-and-brown a former girlfriend had said practically screamed college professor, over the lounge chair, then pulled the side table over so he could unpack his satchel.

He settled in. Laptop. Stack of essays. Three pens—orange, blue, and black. He didn’t use red. That had always felt too critical, and he’d vowed early in his career not to become like one of the professors who’d set his teeth on edge.

He still expected the best out of his students, but he tried for kind and fair. Students were human and often stressed in ways he hadn’t been at their age.

He wasn’t far into reading the first of the essays when Lupé arrive with his drink. “One very special drink for a very special professor to enjoy while he grades his very special papers!” Lupé said in Spanish.

Max answered in kind. “More like one tired professor who is utterly grateful for the caffeine.” He took the drink from Lupé and savored the scent. The coffee smelled of autumn and came with a nice leaf design on the frothed milk.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, a hint of cloves. Something else. Chocolate?

He took a sip and closed his eyes, letting the taste melt over his tongue and flow down his throat.

Yes, all the above, plus a sharp sting of heat. He flicked his eyes open and met Lupe’s amused smile. “Mexican chocolate?”

Lupé shook their head. “Belgian chocolate, but that’s chili you taste.” Lupé rested their butt against the armrest of another chair. “What do you think?”

Max took another sip before answering. “It’s divine. Like a warm fall day that has the promise of a crisp evening.”

That got a laugh from Lupé. “You should’ve been a poet, Professor. You have a way with words.”

Max scoffed. He liked words, but he loved languages. “Is there a name for this?”

“Campfire Mocha, and you just gave us a great description for it!” Lupé stood. “Enjoy, Professor. Holler if you want another.” With a wink and a smile, Lupé headed back to the counter.

“Gracias,” Max called out, and received an air kiss in response.

Best coffee shop in town.

Max indulged in another sip, then got back to reading his students’ essays. He was about halfway through the stack and three quarters through his second Campfire Mocha when the shop door’s bell rang. Max glanced up to see Tom Cedric eyeing him, his mouth pulled down in annoyance before he looked away.

Max got that from quite a few people when he occupied this seat in the coziest corner of the shop. Right by the fire, patrons could pull up two chairs close and have a private, intimate conversation. Prime real estate. But there were other seats around, including a couch, so he never felt bad about planting his ass and staying for several hours, especially since he always bought a pastry or two, and enough coffee to vibrate himself home.

Maybe Max was on Tom’s asshole list. The man tended to avoid Max whenever they were in the same space, despite whispers he had a crush on Max. He surreptitiously watched as Tom headed to the counter, then to a table near the bulletin board, a cup of water in hand. He took a seat facing the front of the shop.

Interesting. Waiting for someone? Not that it was any of Max’s business.

Max forced himself back to grading. After a few minutes, the bell on the door rang again, and a man in a hoodie entered, crossed the shop, and took a seat across from Tom. They conversed for several minutes before Tom shook his head once at what seemed to be a pointed suggestion. The man rose, planted his hands on the table and spoke again, words too low for Max to catch, but the tone was biting and sharp.

Max glanced over to the counter, seeking out Lupé, who was also watching the exchange, arms crossed. Good. Lupé was closer, if there was trouble.

Just then, Tom laughed, and that, too, was caustic. Then he pointed. To the door, Max realized.

The man huffed, spun around and stomped away. As he passed, Max heard him say, “Fucking bitch.” Then he was gone.

He could stay gone, as far as Max was concerned. He turned his attention back to Tom, who was staring up at the ceiling, annoyance plastered on his lovely face. When Tom’s gaze dropped, Max buried himself in his grading.

He was not getting involved and he certainly didn’t want to let Tom know he’d been watching. Besides, he needed to get this stack of papers done.

Max tried very hard not to watch as similar situations played themselves out three more times that evening. Swaggering men approached Tom. Calm conversation, then the men did or said something rude, and Tom pointed to the door.

At least the assholes had the decency not to make too much of a scene.

After the latest one, Tom folded his arms on the table and laid his head down. The groan that escaped was loud enough for Max to hear.

Poor guy. Max had been correct, though—that ad wasn’t working for Tom. How many other meetings had Tom had before today?

Too many, from the looks of it.

Something akin to need itched in Max, poking his legs and turning his mind. Fuck. He never could say no to a sub in need. And this was Tom.

Max set aside his grading, stood, and headed to the counter.

Lupé raised an eyebrow. “Another?”

“No.” Max chanced a glance at Tom, but his head was still down. “What’s his regular?” He chose Spanish, but kept his voice low so it wouldn’t travel far.

Lupé made a silent “o” with their mouth, then said, “Tall cap with skim milk.”

A simple brew. “Make him one. Dust it with some cinnamon sugar. Poor man looks like he needs something sweet in his life.”

They got a curious look, then smiled. “Ah, Professor. A sweet from the sweet, eh?”

Max shrugged. His personality wasn’t sweet, per se. He cared about people and was too much of a Dominant not to take charge of a situation. “More like a treat for a fellow human traveling through the world.”

“There you go again. Poetry. In several languages”

Max handed over his card. “Hardly.”

When Lupé handed the card back, they asked, “Do I tell him who it’s from?”

“If he asks, that’s fine.” Autonomy was important. If Tom was interested, Max would know. If Max had been slotted in as an asshole, Tom was free to ignore the drink entirely.

Lupé gave him another long look, then nodded once.

Max returned to his grading, and watched Tom as Lupé took the drink to him.

There was a conversation, and Tom locked eyes with Max, before thanking Lupe. He took a sip and his shoulders relaxed. A moment later, he stood, drink in hand, and made his way toward Max.

A thread of exhilaration traced up Max. He set his pen down and leaned back as Tom drew close.

Rather than say anything, Tom pulled the other lounge chair close and sat. Finally, those dark honey eyes homed in on Max. “If this were a bar, I’d think you were trying to pick me up.”

Max chuckled. “But it’s a coffee shop.” He wasn’t trying to pick Tom up, even if the man was certainly worth the attention. Pale skin. Light brown hair. Caramel eyes. Long nose. His type, in more ways than one from everything he knew about Tom.

He really didn’t need a sub right now. Even one with a pretty mouth.

Tom’s smile was enjoyable and his limbs loose and calm. “You’re Max, right? I’ve seen you at munches and around, but I don’t think we’ve ever talked.”

They hadn’t. When Max had been unattached, Tom had someone else, and that someone else was often overly possessive. There were games Max didn’t play, and fighting against an overcompensating Dom was one of them. The few times when Tom had been single, he’d very much avoided Max.

“Maxime Demers, but yes, Max is fine.” He extended his hand.

Tom’s hand was electrifyingly warm and strong. “Tom Cedric. Only my mother and certain judges call me Thomas.”

They both let go. “Noted.” Some of the men Max had seen Tom with had called him Tommy, which had grated on Max’s ears.

“You’re a professor, right? Languages?” Tom grabbed his coffee and sipped, watching Max over the rim.

Oh, dear. Perhaps Tom was trying to pick Max up. “Linguistics.”

“What’s the difference?” There was honest curiosity there.

“Linguistics is the study of languages, how they evolve, the foundations and structure. The semantics.” Max gave a light shrug. “Languages are…individual languages. How to speak them. Vocabulary. Grammar. Idioms.”

“So similar to the difference between practicing law and studying…say, the legal system?” Another sip. Another look with those eyes.

“Maybe? Law’s not my forte.” Max’s cup was woefully empty for this kind of discussion. “But you’re a lawyer, if I’m not mistaken?”

Tom’s smile turned almost conspiratorial. Very nice. “You know something about me!”

Max chuckled, and picked up a pen so he’d have something to toy with in the face of those disarming dimples. “I do go to the same munches, you know.”

“But you never talk to me.” Amusement in his voice, and yes, interest.

Max should put a stop to this. There wasn’t enough time in his life for dating. Or flirting. Or whatever it was they were doing. “You’re usually occupied.” Or running in the other direction.

Tom’s smile vanished. “Yeah. I guess I am. Or was.” He twisted his lips into an ugly frown. “You watch the performance?” He poked his thumb in the direction of the bulletin board.

Max nodded. “Those men were answering your ad?”

“Yeah, except they were all assholes.” Tom sighed, then gave Max an appraising look. “You read my ad?”

Max tapped the pen against his right hand. “I always read the board. You never know what you might see.”

Tom’s gaze flicked from Max’s pen to his face. “You didn’t call me.”

He spread his hands, pen gripped lightly in his left. “Maybe I’m an asshole?”

That earned him a laugh. “No. I don’t think so.” Tom lifted his coffee. “You wouldn’t have bought me a cappuccino in my hour of need.”

“Ah, you have me.” When Max tapped the pen on his hand again, he realized he wielded his crops in a similar manner. That shouldn’t have been so exciting. Hell, he shouldn’t have been turned on. He certainly shouldn’t have been having vague thoughts of helping Tom.

Maxime, what are you doing?

“Why didn’t you call?” The question was soft, and there was a heartbreakingly vulnerable tone in Tom’s voice.

Max dropped his hands to his lap. “I only saw the ad today, but I didn’t think it would bring you what you wanted.”

“What do you think I want?” Tom wasn’t soft now. Everything about him was tight and agitated.

Max held Tom’s gaze and his own tongue, waiting for the heat in Tom to abate.

Eventually, Tom cooled, and he sighed. “I mean, the ad’s self-explanatory. I want a man to tie me up, make me hurt, and then fuck me.” He cocked his head. “I know you like men, and I know you’re a Dom.”

Max nodded. “Yes. And a Dom is what you asked for in the ad, but I think you want something more.”

“What’s that?” Two brittle words through a smile that wasn’t friendly.

“A Dom who will treat you with the respect you deserve.” He spoke softly, but made sure every word was as clear as the finest crystal.

Tom inhaled sharply, his eyes fluttering and lips parting. Then the hope, oh such hope, lit in Tom. Fear, mixed with desire. He set down his empty cup.

Max hadn’t intended to pick Tom up, and this wasn’t that. This? This was the beginning of negotiation. He wondered if Tom understood. “Would you like another cappuccino?”

Tom didn’t move. “Yes, please.”

A deep pulse of satisfaction thrummed through Max. Grading be damned, he’d finish later. Someone needed to treat Tom correctly, show him what a Dom should be. Might as well be Max, then Tom could find the right man, the non-asshole Dom.

Max collected their cups and rose. “I’ll be back.”

Tom stared at the chair Max had occupied, his heart pounding in his throat and every nerve tingling.

Of course he knew who Maxime Demers was. He knew all about Max, from where he worked to how well he could wield a flogger. His gaze drifted to the stack of papers. He didn’t know linguistics from literature, but he remembered the first time he’d seen Max, six years ago, here in Bold Brew about a week after Tom had moved to Laurelsburg. A white man with longish dark hair, eyes the color of summer storms, and a long, solid body Tom wanted to climb. He’d been wearing jeans and a forest-green button-down, sleeves rolled up to reveal well-toned arms.

Max had been grading papers then, as well.

A week after that, Tom had seen him at the kink munch in Bold Brew’s back room and had nearly lost his senses. Max’s pants had been black leather, the shirt burgundy, and his vest cinched tight to show off his trim waist and torso. He’d been holding a crop like he knew how to wield it. Later demos and parties had proven that, yes, Max knew exactly how to use a crop.

Tom shivered.

Max had been with a woman at the time, but that hadn’t stopped Tom from watching him or asking about him. Seeing someone with a partner didn’t define their sexuality or even their availability. Turns out, Max was about as pansexual as a person could get. Also monogamous, like Tom. But, as Max had said, Tom was usually with someone when Max wasn’t. And when they were both single?

God, no. Max Demers was too good for the type of sub Tom was. Hell, Tom should go over, thank him for the coffee, and get the hell out of here. Two things kept him in the chair. One: for years, his law partner Aaron Taylor had wanted to give Max’s number to Tom, and Aaron saw things Tom didn’t. The other? Max, in his captivating accent, had voiced exactly what Tom wanted.


No assholes, indeed.

Tom sat back in his chair and took a deep inhale to slow his heart. As far as he knew, Max was single.

Max returned, carrying two cups. He handed one to Tom, then reclaimed his seat, much like a monarch would.

Watching Max move was a treat, from the way he claimed his space to the way he held a flogger, crop, pen, or that damn mug. “What are you drinking?”

Max peered into his cup. “Lupé calls it a Campfire Mocha. It’s got a kick to it.”

“And what am I drinking?” Tom took a sip. Same hint of cinnamon and sweetness to this cup as in the last.

“It’s your regular, with a dusting of cinnamon sugar.” Max cocked his head. “Do you like it?”

Now this was like being picked up at a bar, other than it being Bold Brew and Max being surrounded by papers. “Yeah. I like cinnamon.”

“I thought you could use something sweet to chase away the bitter.”

He could listen to Max’s voice all day. “Yeah. Those four guys were all dicks.”

“So I gathered.” Max tilted his mug this way and that. “One of them had unkind things to say about you as he left.”

Tom snorted. “Those were the ones I weeded out from the messages, too.” He wrinkled his nose. “I swear, how hard is it to find a decent guy?” He’d had this exact same conversation with Aaron many times. Of course, Aaron had a decent guy, and had gone and found another to boot.

Tom couldn’t even be mad about that.

Max watched him, that bemused smile on his face again.


“Nothing.” He sipped his drink, but his eyes danced.

“No, seriously,” Tom said.

“It’ll make you angry with me.” There was the glint Tom associated with Doms, right on schedule.

“Well, now I really want to hear what’s on your mind, Mr. Linguistics.”

“Doctor,” Max corrected. “Or Professor.” His grin was feral. “You have a difficult time with all this because you have the absolute worst taste in men.”

Heat spiked through Tom, and he twisted in his seat. The emotion that rose wasn’t anger, but annoyance. Deep down, he knew Max was right. Still. “Fuck you,” he muttered.

“Not tonight.” Silky smooth, and soft as sin.

Tom’s breath caught, and a different heat flooded his senses. “What?”

Max leaned forward, and Tom couldn’t look away. “You heard me.”

Tom nodded. That was all he could think to do.

The approval in Max’s smile made Tom both focused and lightheaded.

“Now,” Max said, resuming his original position, and crossing one leg over the other. “Tell me what you want.”

“What I really, really want?” Tom deadpanned.

Max gave him a look that was part amusement, part annoyance. “Yes, Tom.” That held the clip of a Dom. “What you really, really want.”

“I don’t know,” he said automatically, then added, “Maybe that’s the problem.”

“Perhaps.” Max’s smile was soft.

Tom should’ve been angry, but there was no malice in Max. Amusement, yes, but not in a way that belittled him. Tom sipped his coffee and considered the question—really thought about it. He’d wanted to talk to Max for ages, it was the least he could do for both of them. “It’s so much easier to say what I don’t want. What I want seems too expansive. Too much to even voice.”

Max pursed his lips, then took a sip of his own drink. “What do you like?”

That was less terrifying to contemplate. “Sex,” he said. “Not all the time, but I’m very allosexual, so it’s up there.”

Max nodded. “Noted. What about romance?”

Tom couldn’t help scrunching his face. “I specialize in divorce. Romance and I have a strange relationship. There’s something to it, since I know happily partnered people. My law partner. The owners here. But me?” He shrugged.

Max seemed to mentally note this. Watching him this closely was a thrill. His expressiveness. His gaze. Handsome as fuck. “Have you ever been in love?”

Tom shook his head. “I thought I was once in high school, but that was more infatuation with an older boy, you know? Honestly, when I go looking for men now, it’s not for hearts and flowers.” He lowered his voice, despite which coffee shop they were in, despite his ad on the corkboard. “I like pain. I like the edge of it. The sharpness. I can’t even say why.” He met Max’s gaze.

“There’s nothing wrong with that.” Max sipped his coffee, and seemed like he wanted to say something, but he huffed.

“What?” Tom wanted to know what was going on in that mind.

That led to a touch of embarrassment on those cheeks. In a Dom? “Oh, I was going to launch into a whole lecture about theories around sadomasochism, but figured this wasn’t the time for that, and I don’t think you’re a novice.”

“Can take the professor away from teaching, but can’t take the teaching away from the professor?” There was something charming about that. So much about Max was charming.

“A bit of that, I suppose. It’s why I do the munches and demos.” He set his cup down. “But you’re not here to listen to me ramble about why people like us”—he gestured between them—“do what we do.”

No. Tom wasn’t sure why he was here, except Max had bought him coffee. “The thing is, I hate being humiliated. Or belittled. Which makes me a horrible sub.”

Max’s expression flashed through a host of emotions, including fury. “No.” His accent wrapped the words with weight. “It doesn’t make you a horrible sub.” Anger flickered in Max’s face, and he looked away. “Ech. Whoever taught you that—” He shook his head.

In that moment, the world shifted or the floor dropped. Tom’s mind lurched. “I—but —” He stopped.

Max studied him. “Do you think all Doms are assholes?” There was a seriousness to that question.

“No.” Max didn’t seem to be. From what Aaron had said over the years and from what Tom’d seen, Will wasn’t. “But all the ones I end up with are.”

Max grunted. “You keep finding the wrong Doms.”

Tom twisted in his seat, fear rising out of his soul, cracking his chest open. “It’s me. The problem is me. I don’t know what I want and…” He gestured in frustration.

“Tom, you’re not the problem. I think—” Whatever Max had been going to say was lost when his phone chimed loudly.

They both started at the sound. Max glanced at the screen, then frowned, picked the phone up, and scrolled.

Tom didn’t know French, but he understood cursing when he heard it. “Bad news?”

“Ech, it’s… I have a demo tomorrow.”

“Impact play, yeah, I—” When Max glanced up, Tom felt heat rise to his cheeks. “I was planning on attending unless you don’t—”

Max frowned at his phone, then at Tom. He set the phone aside. “Of course you’re welcome to my demos.” He gestured at the phone. “Unfortunately, the sub who was going to work with me just texted. She’s come down with a stomach bug of some kind and doesn’t want to get anyone sick.” He rubbed his forehead. “But it’s far too late to find someone else, so I’m going to have to cancel.”

 “Oh.” Disappointment fluttered through Tom. He enjoyed watching Max work, dreamed of that kind of Dom. A thought floated across his mind, landed, and pecked at his brain. “Um…”

Max closed his eyes, sipped his coffee. He flicked them open. “Yes?”

Tom hated when men prompted him like that, but that single word from Max wasn’t spoken with exasperation or coated in scorn, so it didn’t feel horrible. “What would a sub need to do during the demo—I mean, aside from letting you lightly beat them?”

Max quirked his lips. “This is teaching, so they’d have to be willing to work with me and share some of what they’re experiencing when it comes to impact play. Also, I had intended to cuff my friend to a cross, since she doesn’t mind. It’s a good visual for pointing out places to strike and not to strike.”

Tom held Max’s gaze. “I could do that for you, if you’d like.”

There was a shift in Max’s body and his lips blossomed into a pleased smile. Tom was left breathless.

Pleasing Max. Obeying him. Maybe Tom was too into the idea, and he couldn’t envision Max taking him on as a sub. Not after this conversation. But the offer to fill in at the demo was out there now, hanging in the space between them.

“I believe you’d do a fine job,” Max said. “If you trust me.”

Tom didn’t know Max, not really, but every demo and munch Max had ever been a part of had been calm and professional. When Tom had seen Max at parties, he’d been kind to his subs. Aaron’s husband Will knew Max from the university, and had never uttered one bad word about him.

“Jess, Ralph, and Aries trust you,” Tom said. “They have for years.” The triad who owned the coffee shop didn’t put up with shit.

Max gave a little nod of concession. “They do, at least when it comes to kink. I’m sure they wouldn’t trust me behind the coffee bar.”

“I trust you,” Tom said. “At least with the kink.”

Max laughed. “Let me text Ralph to verify the switch in personnel is okay, but I’m sure he’ll be fine with it.”

More than fine, it turned out. Max got a reply text almost immediately, and turned the phone around so Tom could read it.

Lawyer Tom? He’s perfect. He’ll do well for you.

“I don’t know about perfect.” Mostly, Tom’d been told how difficult he was as a sub. “But now what?”

Max glanced at the text, then placed his phone face down on the papers he’d been grading. “Ralph has an uncanny awareness of people.” He shook his head, as if clearing a thought. “For the demo, please show up a half hour early, and we’ll go over the details, but the general flow is me discussing the demo ground rules, consent, then explaining each toy or implement. They usually have a cross set up for impact play demos, so that’ll be waiting for us.”

Tom’s entire body sparked and fizzled at the thought of Max cuffing him and stretching him out, even fully clothed. “What should I wear?”

“Up to you. You’ve been to other demos. Generally, subs wear clothing that shows off the body somewhat, but not obscenely so.” Max’s gaze flicked over Tom, and that sly smile set Tom alight.

“So not a jockstrap?”

Oh, that was a look. Max tented his fingers. “Not for the demo, no matter how lovely that ass of yours looks naked.” He paused. “Also far too tempting.”

A shiver ran up Tom’s spine. “Are we flirting?”

Max let out a bark of laughter, then picked up his coffee. “Is this how you flirt?”

No. Never. Never like this. “I—” Time to change subjects “What was it you were going to say before you got the text, about what you think of me?”

He grunted. “Before I answer, would you be willing to tell me when and how you got into kink?”

Was Max as calculating as a professor as he seemed to be in this conversation? Woe be to any student that tried to pull a fast one. Tom’s lawyer instinct clicked on, but he answered anyway. “I’ve always been interested in kink, I think. I was fascinated when they tied characters up in cartoons when I was a kid. When I got older, I started fantasizing about being the one tied up. Then I found adult media when I was old enough, and that was like having a door opened to all the possibilities beyond sex.”

An understanding smile formed on Max’s lips.

“As to how—I had a college boyfriend who was into kink. He was a jerk, but sex with him was out of this world. He was the first person to flog me until I cried, then fuck me senseless. I’d never been so turned on or satisfied before.”

Max seemed to chew on that while sipping his coffee. Finally, he said, “I don’t think you’re the problem. You seem like a decent person, and I believe you know what you want.”

The praise made Tom’s skin itch. “I don’t know about decent. You’ve never seen me in court.”

Max’s lips twitched. “You’re a lawyer with your own firm. I suspect you wouldn’t get very far in your profession if you weren’t a hard-ass in court.”

That was true. “I co-own the firm,” Tom murmured, “with Aaron.”

Max waved those words away. “You have a perception issue, either with what a Dom can be for you, or what you can be for a Dom, or both. That’s why you end up in the hands of men who mistreat you.”

“They don’t mistreat me!” The words flew from Tom’s mouth.

Max raised an eyebrow.

Shit. Maybe they did. They were all assholes. Or jerks. Or both. He’d stick around for a bit, to see if this time he could endure the humiliation, the degradation, but the outcome was always the same. “All right. But I don’t stay when they do.”

Max nodded. “You have a great deal of pride, I think.” Tom made to rebuke, but Max held up a hand. “It’s not a flaw, Tom.”

That stopped him cold. “For a lawyer, no, it isn’t.”

“It’s not for a sub, either.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but the only data point he had was himself, so he flattened his lips together. The more he thought about it, the more Max might be right. All the subs he knew in healthy relationships had a great deal of pride. And also the respect of their Doms.

Aaron and Will, for example. There wasn’t a lawyer in a fifty-mile radius with more pride than Aaron Taylor.

Max cocked his head, and there was a questioning look in his eyes.

“How do you say, ‘I’m a fool’ in French?”

Max said a phrase so fast, Tom could barely catch the syllables. “You’re not a fool. You’ve had a series of bad experiences that have shaped your understanding of you in relation to kink. But not about kink itself. You need different data. Different experiences.”

“You sound like a scientist.”

Max chuckled. “I am a scientist.”

Tom kept his yapper shut. Was linguistics a science? He made a mental note to look that up later. “I’m not much of a scientist.”

“Ah, but you are a lawyer. I can make a case to you that not all Doms are assholes, and show you what a decent Dom/sub relationship is like.”

Lightning straight to Tom’s head. “Are you—are you answering my ad?”

Max pondered for a moment. “I am, though I hadn’t intended to.”

That dropped a stone into Tom’s stomach. “Why not?”

“Time.” Max waved his hand at the papers in front of him. “I’m somewhat overcommitted at work this semester.”

“That hasn’t changed in however long we’ve been talking.” A horrible thought occurred to Tom. “I’m not a project to you, am I?”

A mix of embarrassment and mortification crossed Max’s face. “No,” he said, as if testing the word for the truth. “Not as such. You’re—” He huffed a laugh. “Honestly, you’re someone I’ve been attracted to for a while. At the very least, I can give you a taste for what a Dom/sub relationship can be like, if you found the correct person.”

Elation twisted in Tom’s stomach, mixed with a hint of disappointment. Max wanted him, but… “Short term?”

“I’m a romantic at heart,” he said. “Or alloromantic, whichever you prefer. I don’t know if you’d be comfortable with that, long term.”

While Tom hadn’t said it, he’d implied he was aromantic. “I mean, I might be demi? I might actually be allo? I have no idea. I’ve never been with any guy long enough to figure any of that out.”

This time, the expression that flew over Max’s face was, well, akin to deer in the headlights.

“So what happens next?” Tom asked.

Max cast his gaze around at his papers before landing back on Tom. That strange sense Tom had caught him off guard lingered. “Well, I need to finish grading my students’ papers.”

“And I’m a distraction?” Tom grinned. Max liked him. He wanted Tom. This was… overwhelming.

Max’s chuckle was self-deprecating. “A welcome one to be sure, but yes.”

“Well, I guess I should thank you for the coffee, head home, and see about an outfit for tomorrow?”

Max nodded. “You should also give me your number.”

That sent all kinds of fire through Tom. “Okay.” He rattled off his number for Max to enter into his phone, then pulled his out when Max texted him.

“My class schedule and office hours vary, but you can text me any time. I use the ‘do not disturb’ feature when I’m busy. Or asleep.”

“Same. My schedule isn’t regular either. Clients. Court cases. All that.” He rose. “Thanks for the coffee. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

There was that sly smile again. “You will, yes.”

He headed for the door, but before he got far, Max’s voice struck, much like the soft fall of a deerskin flogger. “Tom.”

A command lurked there. Tom turned. “Yeah?”

“Take down your ad.” The smile was still there, but a dark smolder lay in those words and in that look. “Unless I don’t meet with your approval?”

Oh. Fuck, did Max meet with his approval. Tom’s sudden spike of desire was dizzying.

“Yeah, you do.” His voice was gravel. “I should remove that, huh?”

Max nodded, and that also left Tom dazed.

How would it feel to be touched with those hands? Held down by that body? He stilled his thoughts and changed directions for the bulletin board. He didn’t bother unpinning the tack, just yanked the posting off the board, the paper tearing easily. The space and the pin were available for someone else.

Tom balled the ad up.

Max was going to dominate him. First, they’d run a demo together, then…then he’d find out how Max put those demos into practice. God, that thought had him hot all over. He turned, caught Lupé saluting him, a quirky smile on their lips.

When Tom passed, Max was intently reading, a pen in his hand, but Tom’s movement must have caught his eye, because he looked up.

The smile, the crinkle of skin around his eyes—that was like sunlight on a crisp day. Tom grinned, but kept going. Tomorrow. That word echoed in his head. He’d submit to Max tomorrow.