Excerpt: One Good Year
Available now from Loose Id.
One Good Year © 2012 by Rowan McBride. All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or in part without author's permission.
Tilting my head back, I spread my arms, noting idly that my fingertips grazed the edges of the sofa. Not so long ago, I could easily span this piece of furniture with room to spare, wrists dangling off the ends.
My eyes fluttered open, and I stared up at the white ceiling. Ten months, two weeks. This place had been my home for almost a year. The best I'd ever had.
So why did I feel so alone?
"Ace," I murmured as softly as I could. Not that it mattered. My master wasn't here. These minor separations were becoming more frequent, and they made my entire body ache. But I quietly accepted them because it was what he wanted.
I let my head tip forward and surveyed the suite. So many changes. When I'd first arrived, most of the furniture was the same color as the ceiling. Bright, yet devoid of the warmth I associated with my master. The disparity made sense when Ace explained that it had all been there when he moved in. None of it was really his.
Now, though, it held bursts of color. A green armchair here. A blue end table shaped like a poker chip there. Each wall of the living room held an unframed painting featuring a suit of cards--diamonds, clubs, hearts, and...spades. In other rooms there were paintings of different hands--full houses, straights, royal flushes--art done exclusively in reds and blacks.
So many mismatched pieces, yet the whole reflected Ace so well that I couldn't help but love it.
A keycard slid through its lock, and my gaze drifted toward the front door.
"Sorry!" Ace rushed inside, dressed in a faded coat draped over a T-shirt and jeans, a well-worn backpack slung over his shoulder. "How was..." He skidded to a stop, stared at me from the other side of the coffee table between us.
Smiling gently, I let him stare. I was his living, breathing fantasy, after all. And no matter how his tastes evolved, my own body would change to match what he wanted most. I still had that, at least. One of the benefits of being genetically engineered to serve.
The silence gave me a chance to look him over, as well. Ace didn't think much of his hair--thought it was the color of rust. In reality it was a rich, lush auburn. It curled around his ears and made him look open, innocent. Which was true.
But those eyes. Sharp and playful. As seductive as spiced whiskey. That was true too.
When I sensed he'd had his fill, I rose to my feet. "How was...?"
Blinking, he tilted his head back to follow my movement. "W-what?"
"When you first came in, you were about to ask a question." I walked around the coffee table, closing the distance between us. "What was it?"
"Oh yeah." He stared up at me, ran a hand through his hair. "I..." Wow, your eyes are so green.
I bit back a chuckle. Our link was a strange one. So strong that I could often hear his thoughts. So shockingly fragile that at times I felt it might snap apart the instant I stopped paying attention. "Yes?" I asked, pretending innocence to his distracted state.
He shook his head as if to clear the stray thoughts from his mind. "I wanted to know how you liked the movie."
Ah. That. "It was fine."
It was all I cared to say about such an empty night, so I changed the subject. "How was your game?"
Ace paused, then broke into a grin, removing the bag from his shoulder and tossing it onto the nearest chair.
It landed on the seat with a thud, which could only mean it was filled with cash. My mouth crooked. "I take it that means you won?"
"Busted everybody at the table." He stretched his arms over his head, and the sight of his lithe body heated my own. "Wasn't much of a challenge, though. One guy totally blew his concentration because he couldn't take his mind off the rats."
I frowned. "Rats?"
All at once, that long, lazy stretch switched over to quick animation as he answered my question with words and hands. "Man! The matchstick for this one took the term 'underground' a little too seriously. Game was actually underground. How crazy is that?"
"Matchstick" was Ace's term for the individuals who arranged these events. Because they "lit a fire" underneath a game. "Did you have fun?" Rats or no rats, I knew what he would say. I just wanted to hear him say it.
Ace smiled, wistful and warm. "Yeah."
The vibrancy in him was such a pleasure. How much more vivid had it been with his cards in hand? "I wish you'd taken me along."
His smile faded. "Was the movie that bad, Spade?"
A tremor went through my body at the sound of the name he'd given me. Spade. The single word held so much power. It represented the card he'd used to win me all those months ago, as well as the card that had kept us together when I was almost torn away from him. A word that linked his essence to mine.
Despite all of this, he kept sending me away. "It wasn't bad." I reached out to catch a lock of his hair between my fingers. "I would have preferred to go with you."
"Spade, I was in a sewer today." He grinned and tugged at his shirt. "I gotta toss another set of clothes. It wouldn't have been fun for you, standing around, watching me play poker."
"I like to watch you play." My fingers drifted to the curve of his ear. "There are few things I like more."
His brow furrowed as he tried to understand. "Because my pleasure is your pleasure?"
"Yes, that's part of it." Uneasiness pricked at him. But my answer was not yet complete. "I belonged to other card sharks before you, Ace. I never enjoyed watching those masters so much."
Surprise flickered over his face. "Yeah?"
I smiled, nodded.
"Okay," he said, easing a step closer. "Come to the rest of my games."
Just as the soft order began to relax the tension I'd been holding all day, Ace thumped his knuckles against my chest. "But I'm still sending you to the movies once a week."
Why? Why do you keep sending me away? I wanted to ask it so badly that my body shook from holding back the question.
Ace's expression slipped into concern. "Spade?"
I want what you want. I want you to be happy. But most of all I want... Curving my palm behind his nape, I drew him to my body. I lowered my head and buried my face in his hair, inhaling deeply. Even with where he'd been tonight, I could still catch the green-apple scent of his shampoo. "I love you."
He jumped, then wrapped his arms around my waist, rested his head against my chest. "Hey, what's this all of a sudden?"
There'd been a time when Ace was insecure, lost. Scared of letting anyone in and scared of letting them go. He needed to be surrounded by warmth and strength and safety. I was more than capable of giving him those things, and my body had changed accordingly. Back then, the top of his head only reached my stomach. I was broad and hard and swollen thick with muscle.
In the last few months I'd grown significantly smaller. I was still quite large by human standards, but the changes corresponded to my master's increasing confidence, his decreasing fear.
I was glad. But...
Were these the only reasons he needed me? Would this trend continue until I became nothing and he discarded me without a second thought?
Now I was the one afraid.
Closing my eyes, I focused on our link, searching for that small bit of reassurance I wanted so desperately.
Soon our connection became everything, steadying my breathing, my heart. I skimmed along the link, deeper...deeper...
Ah, there it is. The warmth of his love for me.
"Thank you," I murmured, nuzzling his hair.
His husky voice caressed my senses as he pushed himself to his toes, dropped a kiss to the hollow of my throat. "For what?"
I curved my hands over his waist and lifted him to eye level. He wrapped his legs around me, forgetting the question altogether as his arousal spiraled upward. "You're really tall, you know that?" he said, draping his arms over my shoulders.
This attraction was genuine. Perhaps that meant the changes to my body would cease for a while. "You like tall men."
"I do." He touched our foreheads together. "I'm crazy for coming home this late. Sorry. Again."
A master shouldn't have to apologize to his servant, but although Ace tried to make me happy by giving me regular orders, he didn't think of me as a servant. Not at all. As Senai, the thought should have scared me, but it only brought me an odd sense of well-being.
"What do you want?" I asked, striving to get closer to him in the only way I knew.
Heavy-lidded eyes stared into mine as he breathed warm words over my lips. "Bath. Bed."
"Ah. Then you should let go of me so I can run your water and draw down our sheets."
He groaned and tightened his embrace. "Scratch that. Kiss, sex, bath, bed." His mouth brushed over mine. "Or kiss-bath-sex-bed. Whatever. As long as the kiss comes first and the sex is in there somewhere. How's that?"
I lifted a hand, easily supporting his weight with my other arm. "Sounds simple enough," I told him, twining my fingers in his hair. Then his mouth was on mine, and I was lost--tasting, nipping, licking. My Senai training did me no good as I drank deep, wanting more of him, wanting all of him. With this man I had neither the control nor the patience to calculate how best to pleasure him. I could only give myself, wholly and completely.
The pleasure inside my master surged despite my lack of grace.
Breaking the kiss, I strode toward the bathroom. "Do you want to shower together?"
After a shuddering breath, he nodded and recaptured my mouth.
He loved me. I loved him. He was my Ace, and we'd always be together.
Please. Please let it be as simple as that.
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