Edward Taylor is a man torn between his honourable façade and his forbidden carnal desires. Outwardly a proper Victorian family man, Edward secretly craves pain and lusts after men. Isaac Sinclair is a struggling writer forced by poverty to supplement his income with less savory pursuits, including discreetly inflicting “professional punishments” upon wealthy gentlemen. When Edward catches Isaac in an act of petty theft, the chance meeting seems to offer an ideal opportunity for both men. Neither man, however, is prepared for the escalation of social and personal risk occasioned by falling in love. (M/M)
Marie had been giving him looks ever since the theatre. Edward would have come much sooner if he felt he could get away without raising suspicion. Even this night he had worried about leaving her company at all, and had only left the house long after she’d retired. It was rather late, and Edward was worried about the sort of attention he might attract, but he couldn’t put off seeing Isaac another day.
When Isaac answered the door, he didn’t look as though he’d been preparing for bed in the slightest. His trousers seemed hastily put on and his shirt wasn’t even buttoned properly—the holes were not one, but two off. His hair was more unruly than Edward had ever seen it, and Edward immediately wanted to run his hands through it.
“Ed—Mr Taylor?” he said, brow furrowed. “It’s… it must be past ten o’clock by now.”
Edward’s heart sank. “Shall I come back tomorrow?”
Isaac shook his head and opened the door wider. “No, no, come in. I was only… surprised. Pleasantly surprised. Come in.”
Edward stepped inside and smiled at Isaac as Isaac took his outerwear to hang on the rack. “Thank you. I’ll pay you more for putting you at an inconvenience.”
“Oh, save your money,” Isaac replied easily. “I’m just glad you’re acting yourself again. You seemed upset last time.”
Edward bent to remove his boots, but Isaac stopped him and knelt to take them off himself.
“I’m used to it, you know,” Isaac continued without a word from Edward. “I get all sorts of clients. Some are comfortable with what they need, and others… well, others occasionally suffer from horrible shame and depression. Some have even taken their anger out on me before.”
Edward blanched, horrified at the idea. “You’ve been hurt?”
Isaac shrugged and pulled off Edward’s boots, setting them aside. “A few times, but nothing too serious, I assure you.” Isaac raised his eyes to Edward’s, staring at him intently. “If it’s because of your wife, I understand. But you must know there’s no reason to hate yourself for this, Edward.”
Edward gulped. Isaac had only called him by his Christian name a few times in the year and a half they’d known each other. He cherished each instance and knew it was significant every time it happened.
But Edward didn’t hate himself, not really. He hadn’t been ashamed of his attraction to men even as a boy. He had simply accepted it as part of his personality, something that he couldn’t change. When he’d begun to have other, stranger cravings, things that even people with his preferences didn’t usually engage in, he had felt not appalled by it, but intrigued. He had wanted to explore this new part of himself and see where it took him.
It was only a small bit of self-loathing that Edward actually felt, but not because he wanted it—because he couldn’t find it in himself to stop, because his will was so weak that he continually gave in to his cravings, and further deceived his wife, because he needed Isaac to make him feel right. He couldn’t seem to feel whole without being under Isaac’s command, nor did anyone make him feel so cared for as Isaac did. He had explored, he had enjoyed, and somewhere along the way he had become addicted. It was an unconventional sort of affection which Isaac gave him, and probably not sincere, but it was far more satisfactory than any affection Marie gave. Isaac had a way of making everything better.
He shouldn’t have continued such behaviour for so long, if not for himself, at least for Marie and Peter, or at least because of the danger it caused for his reputation, especially with tensions between classes rising as they were. And yet, here he was again and again, showing up at Isaac’s door paying to be put at his mercy.
“I don’t hate myself,” Edward said, holding Isaac’s gaze. “I want to do this, Isaac.”
Isaac’s mouth twitched up in a smile. “I suppose you do, considering what you pay for it.”
There, back to easy conversation.