Daniel's driver was the same one he'd had for years, except instead of taking him to the dorm by the docks on the West Side, he headed off toward the Upper East, to a pre-war brownstone overlooking Central Park. The doorman there wore bronze slave bracelets that matched the cufflinks on his uniform, and he gave Daniel an abbreviated bow when he opened the door for him. "This way, sir," he said, and didn't that just pull Daniel up short, because he was as much a slave as the doorman no matter the metal his bands were made of. But Daniel followed him into the lobby, and the doorman deposited him in the elevator, turned a private key, and pushed the button for the north penthouse. "I'll let him know you're on your way, sir," was the last thing Daniel heard for the next five floors.
He didn't know what to expect when the doors opened, but it certainly wasn't the talk show host who shared his timeslot on InfoGlobe's biggest rival network.
Daniel froze, suddenly forgetting how to walk, how to breathe. Even forgetting to turn his gaze to the floor, not to look a freeman in the eye. Was this some kind of joke? Or was fucking him in the ratings alone not enough for UBC?
Carl Whitman, the charismatic face of UBC's Whitman Live—and what a big face it was in person, atop an equally big body—smiled down at Daniel. Daniel was expecting a greeting, or maybe a scolding for making eye contact, but instead, Carl said, "You're sweating." And then, shit-eating smirk firmly in place, added, "Come on, before you end up back in the lobby. Lord knows I paid enough for every single second of your time."
Daniel had no memory of walking into Carl's—his master's—living room, but there he was, staring obediently at a small patch of ultra-plush off-white carpeting despite the nearly overpowering urge to observe his new surroundings. He could feel Carl's gaze, long and appraising, but Carl kept his distance.
"I saw your show tonight," Carl said, settling down on a black leather couch with an ease and comfort that Daniel knew he'd never feel here. Carl hadn't asked a question or given Daniel permission to speak, so Daniel remained silent. "You looked like a deer caught in headlights all night." Carl chuckled, added, "Still do, actually."
Another pause, where maybe Carl was waiting for him to say something, as if the man didn't know the laws, didn't know how slaves had to behave. Or maybe he just thought of Daniel as different somehow. "You had three seconds of dead air before the lead on your opening block." Pause. "Will they punish you for that?"
"Yes, master," Daniel said to his feet, trying to keep his voice strong, to take ownership of his mistake and make it clear that such lapses were neither commonplace nor acceptable in his eyes.
"Take your shirt off. What will they do to you?"
The two statements were so disparate that it took Daniel a moment to parse them. He swallowed hard and lifted his T-shirt over his head, hunched in on himself a little when it was gone. He didn't know what to do with it, didn't dare throw it on the floor, so he fisted it in both hands, wringing the fabric nervously. "I don't know, master."
Carl sprang from his chair and crossed the room in two large steps. He tugged the T-shirt from Daniel's hands and tossed it on the couch, ducked his head quite conspicuously to look into Daniel's downturned face, and demanded, "How can you not know?"
"I don't know how angry they'll be, sir. Twenty with the strap, maybe; I need to be able to sit through the broadcast tomorrow night."
One giant hand—easily the size of Daniel's whole face—reached out to cup his chin. Carl's thumb traced the line of Daniel's cheekbone from his ear to his nose, and then settled across his lips. "Is that as painful as it sounds?"
Daniel nodded, feeling his skin flush beneath the man's touch.
"Pants," Carl said, dropping his hand and stepping away. Again, the change of subject was so abrupt it took Daniel a moment to process, but then he was peeling his jeans off, wondering at the purpose of all this talk of punishment.
"Put them on the couch," Carl said. "Socks, underwear, all of it."
Daniel complied with shaking hands, blushing tip to toe and trembling in the cool air. His hands made a move for pockets that were no longer there, and lest his master think he was trying to hide himself, he clasped them tightly behind his back.
Carl hovered a few feet away, his expression indecipherable—at least what Daniel could see of it through his downturned gaze. The silence stretched, stretched some more. Neither man moved.
At last, Daniel could bear it no longer and chanced a single word. "Master?"
"Should I—I mean, do you . . . do you want me to . . . ?"
Daniel had no idea how to finish that sentence, but Carl rescued him from it with another, "Hmm," more an amused observation this time than a question.
"Shower's down the hall on the left," Carl said. "Soap and shampoo in the stall. Fresh towels on the rack. I want you squeaky clean, understand?"
"Yes, master," Daniel said. That, at least, he understood. He understood perfectly well.
© Rachel Haimowitz
Belonging Book One:
Author: Rachel Haimowitz
publisher: Noble Romance
Network news anchor Daniel Halstrom is at the top of his field, but being at the bottom of the social ladder—being a slave—makes that hard to enjoy. Especially when NewWorld Media, the company who's owned him since childhood, decides to lease him on evenings and weekends to boost their flagging profits.
Daniel's not stupid; he knows there's only one reason a man would pay so much for what little free time he has, and it's got nothing to do with his knowledge of current events. But he's never been made to serve like that before, and he fears he won't survive the experience with his sanity intact.
He finds himself in the home of Carl Whitman, a talk show host whose words fail him time and again when it comes to ordering Daniel to bed. Daniel knows what Carl wants, but it seems as if Carl isn't willing to take it, and Daniel's not willing to give it freely. His recalcitrance costs him dearly, but with patience and some hard-won understanding, love just might flourish where once there'd been only fear and pain. Can Carl become the anchor in Daniel's turbulent life, or will he end up the weight that sinks his slave for good?