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Are You There, Moriarty? Excerpt

Welcome to Maverick Molly's - for the Victorian sex rebel in all of us.

Toby Dunn has a fun job.

As a server-slash-performer at a newish establishment called Maverick Molly’s—a gaming parlor and kink club in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada—he dons bloomers and a corset to serve drinks and perform burlesque skits for the men who frequent the place. Maverick Molly’s hearkens back to a darker time, when sodomy was illegal and men who loved other men could be thrown in jail, or worse, for daring to be true to themselves and each other. Maverick Molly’s brings all the positives from that period—the daring dress and ribald performances, the joy in safe spaces and the resilience of people who didn’t let anything stop them—and leaves the negatives in the past, where they belong.

Toby’s life isn’t all fun, and he’s determined to move out of the home he shares with his alcoholic mother and keep up his average in his BA program at the University of Ottawa. Oh, and he’s going to quit smoking…eventually.

But everything changes when charming Alastair Kenney walks up the stairs to the club and invites Toby for a casual hookup at the most prestigious hotel in Ottawa, surprising them both with the intensity of their chemistry.

What happens after that is up to them.

Chapter One


“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I cursed as I gripped the metal handle by the folding doors, mentally chastising the bus for taking so long to brake and let me off. I hated being late. One of my most valued traits was my punctuality. Everyone said so. What would they say now?

The bus finally screeched to a stop, and the doors parted with a swish. I stepped down into a huge pile of slush.

“Fuck,” I cursed.

I waded through melting snow on the sidewalk, wondering for the fortieth time this season why I didn’t live somewhere—anywhere—else. Someplace warm, where they didn’t get snow or slush or freezing rain or any of the other things that assailed this godforsaken city between the months of November and April.

Icy water seeped into my leaky boots, and for the umpteenth time this winter, I told myself I needed to get new ones. I was saving up for quality footwear. Sure, I could buy a pair of supposedly waterproof boots at Walmart, and maybe they would work until the end of winter. But maybe they wouldn’t. I could wait another month until I had the money to buy half decent boots that might last me three winters.

I liked my job, which was why I was pissed off that I was late. Sebastian would wonder where I was and might not have enough servers to manage the patrons who tended to fill the place on a Friday night.

I trudged down the sidewalk, shivering although the temperature was mild, passing an imposing and ancient stone church, a boutique hotel and some small apartment buildings. The wind was picking up and the temperature was falling now that dark had descended.

When the front lights and imposing signage of Maverick Molly’s came into view, I sighed with relief.

Maverick Molly’s would be warm. It would be full of soft lamplight and Victorian ambience, and I couldn’t wait to get there. I could already smell the wood fire burning in the massive hearth in the gaming parlor.

I’d been lucky enough to get a job at Molly’s, serving snacks and beverages, dressed in a corset and pretty underthings like a Victorian molly boy. It was a goddamned dream job for someone like me, who didn’t mind getting dolled up for the particular clientele that Molly’s attracted. Plus, it was advantageous to get in on a good thing early on.

Jacob Moriarty, who ran the place, was a visionary. He’d gotten the idea for Maverick Molly’s while researching the Victorian sex trade for an article he’d written, and his partner, Sebastian, had done the hiring for the first group of servers.

I knew Sebastian from an acting gig we’d done together. He’d told me I’d be perfect, if I was willing to don some bloomers and a corset and bring food and drinks to kinky men who would rent the Bordello—the spacious and beautifully decorated back room filled with vintage kink furniture and accessories—to engage in X-rated games with their partners or hookups. We were also encouraged to perform in short burlesque skits or sing bawdy songs in front of the clientele in the public room where men gathered at tables to play cards and old-fashioned board games.

Molly’s didn’t run a sex trade. The servers were there as titillating décor and entertainment…and also as practical employees. We helped to create the ambience of a different time, when being gay was truly a counter-culture, and safe spaces were scattered through the underground for men to meet and enjoy each other. It probably wasn’t very romantic, especially when molly houses were raided and the men inside them taken by the police for having the audacity to be true to themselves and each other. But now that homosexuality was considered, by most, to be a part of the great quilt of human sexuality, the costumes and accouterments of the Victorian gay underground provided a change of pace to men used to meeting in modern hotels or bathhouses—or living their domestic married lives together.

It was a kink club, a cabaret and a gaming parlor, and Jacob and Sebastian raked in the cash most evenings. I was proud to be a part of that. But tonight, I was fucking late, and that wasn’t like me. I didn’t usually jaywalk but, fuck it.

I ignored the red light and dodged across the street, narrowly avoiding a tragic incident and causing one driver to yell out a curse as I ran in front of his car.

“Sorry, sorry. Shit, fuck, sorry,” I said, waving a vague apology as I made it to the sidewalk, my heart beating in my chest like a rabbit’s as I ran up the steps of the ancient stone building, pushing the heavy wood door open and slipping inside.

A plump young man with dark skin and deep brown eyes, in frilly Victorian bloomers and a chemise, with a vintage corset over the top, turned to me.

“Where the fuck have you been, then?” Robin asked, reducing the harshness of his words with a saucy sway of his substantial behind.

“Sorry, sorry,” I mumbled, taking off my coat. “Family issues.”

“Yeah?” Robin took a piece of half-eaten fruit cake off the plate he held in his hand and popped it into his mouth, chewing while giving me a fake look of sympathy. I was used to that, though. It was part of Robin’s schtick.

“Yeah. My mom’s on a rampage. I need to find a place of my own.”

“Bad luck,” he said, with mock gravitas.

I cackled at the look on his face as he attempted real sympathy. Robin didn’t have a sympathetic bone in his body, but he kept trying.

“Yeah, well, I’m here now,” I said.

“Better get changed. Can you check on the new guy? He’s been back there for ages. Probably stuck in his corset.”

“Sure, sure. What’s his name?” I asked.

Robin’s face relaxed into an expression of genuine delight, and his eyebrows waggled. “Patrick.” Then he narrowed his eyes. “Hands off. He’s mine.”

“What the fuck? What gives you first dibs?” I asked. Kid must be something to get Robin all possessive on his first day.

Robin’s smile vanished. “I wasn’t late, was I?”

He had a point. I watched him carry the now-empty plate to the kitchen, his much-prized, bloomered rear end swaying as he walked. There was a black fascinator pinned into his short curls with a huge silver feather sticking out of it.

“Nice head piece,” I said, and it wasn’t sardonic. I did like it.

He turned back to me, the smile there again. One thing great about Robin, he never stayed mad.

“Do you like it?” He touched the tip of his finger to the edge of the feather. “Sebastian says it makes me look like a nineteen-twenties flapper.”

I nodded as I put my boots in the tray. “It’s cute.”

He threw me a saucy smile. “Like me?”

“Of course.”

“Ta-ta, then. We’ve got a good-looking crowd tonight, by the way.” He waggled his eyebrows again.

Robin Webb was British. Customers loved him because of his cheeky attitude, cockney accent and soft, plump curves. Robin was on the chubby side, and it totally worked for him. He could pull off innocent and diabolically perverse in one goddamned sentence. I alternately loved and hated him.

He looked incredible in a corset and stockings. That kind of self-confidence and the ability to feel comfortable wearing women’s underthings was an asset for any server at Molly’s. It was more important than objective good looks. Working the tables at Maverick Molly’s in Victorian lingerie all evening was not an easy way to make a living but it was more amusing than working at a regular eatery. It still involved being on one’s feet for long stretches of time, fielding curious questions from the men who came to enjoy the ambience and pretending to be amused by suggestive jokes that had been heard countless times already.

We were also required to perform. By that I mean that over the course of an evening, two or more of us had to get on the small stage and perform bawdy skits, sing scandalous ditties and otherwise entertain the gents who were drinking and playing cards and engaging in other vintage games like backgammon and chess.

Most of the men who came to Maverick Molly’s behaved themselves. Jacob and Sebastian ran a tight operation, and the regulars—men who enjoyed the alternative types of entertainment Molly’s offered—knew what they could, and couldn’t, get away with. Occasionally, men who dropped in out of curiosity violated one of the set boundaries and were promptly and summarily dealt with. Rules of behavior were posted in several places, and there was rarely any real trouble. It was a safe and entertaining place to work.

I went past the door to the kitchen, and through the one that led to the staff changing area.

“Heyo,” I said, in case of anyone in a state of undress who needed to cover their bits. But the only person in the room was still wearing his jeans and staring at the pile of vintage-looking undergarments before him with terror.

“You must be Patrick.”

He had a shock of red hair that would have made Raggedy Andy jealous and freckles that made him look like an adolescent. But what I could see of his slimly muscled body was all man.

“Yeah. Hi.”

I dumped my backpack on the hideously patterned settee. When Jacob and Sebastian had been looking for antiques to furnish their club, someone had donated this eyesore, and they’d found a place for it in here, where we needed something practical but customers wouldn’t be turned off by the unappealing aesthetic. Maybe they also figured we wouldn’t linger on our breaks, but honestly, we didn’t care what it looked like when we were exhausted and just wanted to sit down.

“I’m Toby. I was supposed to be here an hour ago, so I need to get moving. But I can help you with all that.”

Patrick seemed relieved but still overwhelmed by the task ahead.

“Um. You did realize you were gonna have to put on women’s knickers for this job?”

He swallowed. “I…yeah. But it just now hit me.”

“Yeah, it’s intimidating at first. You’ll look amazing, though.”

He blew out a breath and attempted a smile. “God, I hope so.”

I laughed. “Trust me… The customers’ll be passing you their business cards all night. Smile and pocket them but don’t say anything. All you have to do is bring them the food and drinks they ask for. Anything else is not your mandate.”

“Right. Sure.”

“Unless you want to follow up when you’re not at work. But it’s your choice. Jacob and Sebastian don’t want you serving more than they have a license for, if you get my drift.”

Patrick seemed to relax. “Yeah, I get it. Thanks.”

I grabbed the stuff off my shelf, and threw it all onto the settee.

“Right. Strip,” I said to Patrick.

Patrick blinked. “Like, everything?”

“You can’t put this stuff on over jeans. It doesn’t work that way.”

Patrick glanced at the door.

“Nobody’s going to come in. Everyone’s busy as hell out there. That’s why we need to get changed and go help out, right?”

“Okay. Yeah.”

I had my clothes off in a moment and stood watching Patrick with silent appreciation. He was a good-looking kid with a swimmer’s body. He was going to look incredible in the Maverick Molly’s get-up. The confidence would come with time. That was the most important thing in this job, but it wasn’t always there at the beginning. Patrick definitely had the looks, but he needed an injection of chutzpah to have a chance at this gig.

I sifted through my things and found the black silk garter belt. I held it up and waggled the straps. “You should have something like this in your pile?”

Patrick’s gaze locked onto my crotch, so I glanced down to see if my dick was hanging out or something. But everything was tucked away in the neat little pouch of my lace panties. Oh…

“Wait! You’re wearing panties. Nobody told me I had to wear panties.” Patrick’s eyes had bugged, and his voice held a shrill timbre.

“You don’t have to wear panties. They just work well with the outfit, you know? And I like ’em.”

I loved panties. Why men got the short end of the stick on this one, I’d never understand. I, on the other hand, didn’t abide by many gender expectations. I’d worn men’s bikini underwear since I’d started shopping for my own clothes, which had been earlier than most kids, seeing as my mom wasn’t the best parent on the block, to put it mildly. Once I was brave enough, I’d started buying the prettier, lacier panties that were now available for people with penises.

“Your panties are”—Patrick swallowed—“really cute.”

“Why, thank you, Patrick,” I said, posing with one hand on my hip and grinning with contentment. “You have some in your pile. So do I. But these are my own,” I said, waggling my behind.

“Oh.” He smiled, and he went from cute to breathtaking in an instant. Yeah, he’d do.

I fanned my face. “My, my, you do have a lovely smile, Patrick. I think you’ll do just fine.”

I went over to where Patrick was standing and gestured to the pile of garments in front of him. “May I?”

He nodded.

I rifled through his ‘uniform’ and quickly found a pair of black lace men’s panties.

“Here.” I held them up. “Start with these.”

Patrick looked down at himself in his snug blue boxer briefs, then eyed me in my lacy red panties, and took the black ones from me. “Okay.”

I turned around politely while he changed his underwear and grabbed the garter belt from my pile before I turned around.

“Oh, hell. Yeah, those work,” I said, fixating on Patrick’s, ahem, package, now tucked tidily in the front pouch of his red lacy panties.

“They’re so soft!” Patrick said, stroking the fabric as a giggle bubbled from his lips.

“Trust me, it’ll be hard to go back to boxer briefs after this.”

“What now?”

I helped Patrick get sorted out with the garter belt and stockings, which did take some getting used to. Then I showed him the frilly bloomers with a cheeky smile. “The guys love these…almost as much as they like the corsets.”

I pulled mine on over my stockings and fastened the buttons on the gusset. Wide pink ribbon weaved through the leg openings above the frilly fabric on mine, baby blue on Patrick’s. The bloomers and chemises were exact replicas of what would have been worn—by women, mostly—at the time, and that Sebastian had requisitioned from a local seamstress.

“Next—the chemise,” I said.

We pulled on the blousy cotton garments with their elbow-length sleeves that fanned out in soft frills at our elbows.

Patrick caught a glimpse of himself in the full-length mirror.

“Holy shit,” he said, checking himself out in several angles.

“I know, right? What a trip.”

I’d been a server at Molly’s for almost two years now, and it was all a part of my job. It was cool to see it from Patrick’s point of view—as something new, exciting and different.

“Now, shoes. The shoes are easier to lace up before you put on the corset. Trust me.”

We put on the light brown, kid leather ankle boots and laced them up.

“Do they fit okay?” They would have taken Patrick’s measurements and shoe size when they’d given him the job offer.

“Yeah. I look so fucking weird.”

“You look real cute. Just wait until you’ve got the corset on…and the choker. The choker pulls it all together.”

“Do all the servers wear the same thing?” Patrick asked, as I lifted the boned corset from my diminishing pile.

“This is the basic outfit, what we’re getting into. But sometimes you can find stuff at thrift shops and places like that. Robin has a gorgeous magenta kimono with gold dragons on it that he wears sometimes. If you want to, you can wear makeup and earrings—or other jewelry. Whatever floats your boat, really, as long as it goes with the overall vibe.”

“Which is?”

“Nineteenth-century male hooker?”

“Right.” Patrick laughed.

“Well, molly boy, actually. Hence the name.”

“Molly what?” Patrick said, screwing up his face. “I just thought it was named after someone called Molly.”

“Nah, you see, Patrick,” I said, wrapping the short corset around my middle and making sure my chemise was straight. I fastened the tiny clasps up the front. “In those days, the hustlers who worked at the whorehouses that catered to gay men wore the same outfits the girls wore at the other places. And they were called molly boys.”


“It was a fascinating period in history, really. I wouldn’t want to have lived back then, but the stories of the men who defied convention and got up to mischief regardless are very inspiring. Imagine if you had to risk imprisonment or hanging every time you met a man for sex? Those guys were legends.”

“Wow. How do you know all that?”

“Well, Jacob gave me a rundown. And I’m a compulsive researcher. I’ve read some really good books about Victorian sex rebels,” I said. “You need help?”

Patrick was trying to put his corset on upside down. “Yes, please. How the fuck did they do this every day?”

“I don’t fucking know,” I said, taking the corset from Patrick and turning it the right way around. “You get used to it, though. And once it’s all on, it’s not too bad. Don’t lace the corset too tight or you’ll have problems. You want it to be snug but not constrain,” I said, pulling the laces tight enough to hold him securely. “The design is handy, because you only need to lace it once. Then you just use the little clasps in the front—unless you lose or gain a lot of weight or something.”

I tied the strings in a double bow and went around in front of him to fluff the chemise over his nipples. “You want to let it gape a bit so they can see them, but make it titillating, not blatant. Trust me,” I said, winking. “I’ve got this down to an art form.”

Patrick’s gaze swept along my body from the top of my head to my feet in the brown shoes. “You sure do.”

I might have preened a bit as I put on my velvet choker and glimpsed my reflection. But there wasn’t time to dawdle.

“All right. You look amazing, by the way. Let’s go.”

“Do I need to do something to my hair?” Patrick asked.

“Nah, it looks fine. I usually dab some gel on mine, but I don’t have time right now,” I said, taking the lead as we headed out into the hall and through the double doors of the gaming parlor.

Chapter Two

Maverick Molly’s

The grand and spacious room was decorated the way a Victorian parlor would have been, with a lush carpet, antique lamps and five large, round tables for the customers to play a game or sit and drink with each other. There was a bar to the left where I could see Jacob pouring a drink and a huge fireplace on the right wall beside the door to the kitchen. Ahead of us, across the room, a half-circle platform jutted from the wall, with a settee off to one side and a movable screen on the other, and a window at the corner that was covered with red velvet drapes. At multiple times over the course of an evening shift, we would get up and perform impromptu skits, tell bawdy jokes or sing scandalous songs for the men, to much applause and the lifting of glasses.

“There you are,” Robin said, giving us a look over and practically salivating at the sight of Patrick in his outfit. “Can you train him? I’m up to my tits in needy men tonight.”

“Sure,” I said.

I led the way to a group of men playing at cards by the massive fireplace.

“Good evening, gents. What’s the game tonight?” I asked.

“Toby!” The black-haired man greeted me. “I was hoping you’d be here.”

“And why is that, Mr. Youngblood?” I asked, before turning to whisper to Patrick. “Never use their first names, even if they use yours.”

“Oh, you know how it is,” Mr. Youngblood said, blushing as he cleared his throat.

“He likes the way your ass looks in the bloomers,” another man at the table said as he put a card face down in front of him. “But who doesn’t?”

The other men gave their agreement, and I grinned.

“Well, shucks. You know I love to show it off.”

I turned and displayed it, pleased to have all gazes directed to that prime real estate.

Mr. Youngblood made a noise in his throat. “Fuck. This hands-off policy Moriarty has going on is fucking torture. I just want to…want to—”

“Now, now,” I said, with amusement, “what would your husband say?”

The man sitting beside Mr. Youngblood threw back his head below the antique lamp that hung from the high ceiling, and cackled with glee. His name was Mr. Youngblood, too.

“Look… I can’t blame Michael. I can barely control myself,” he admitted.

I gave them a slow and seductive smile, wondering how nice it would be to be sandwiched between them in their luxurious bed in the Glebe. “Now, now, that’s enough of that. I need to concentrate on doing my job.”

“What, to look pretty and fuckable? You’re doing just fine on that front,” said the other Mr. Youngblood. Lawrence. We knew everyone’s first names, of course. We just weren’t allowed to use them.

I turned and pressed my hand into Patrick’s lower back, urging him forward. He almost tripped but gave the Youngbloods a shy smile.

Curtsey,” I whispered, keeping the smile on my face.

Patrick’s gaze flew to mine in alarm, but then he turned back to the Youngbloods and attempted a very amateur curtsey. At least he knew what a curtsey was.

“This is our new server, Patrick. He’s learning the ropes tonight.” I knew they’d take that and run with it.

“Hello, Patrick,” Lawrence said.

“We’ve got a real nice set of ropes back at our place,” Michael Youngblood said, his gaze roaming over Patrick like he wanted to see him bound, gagged and strung upside down in his living room.

“Michael, you’ll scare the poor thing. He looks terrified,” Lawrence admonished, putting down his cards. “Toby, can we get some peanuts, please? It’s been ages since we had supper.”

“Of course, Mr. Youngblood. Look after Patrick while I’m gone, will you?”

“Yes, yes. We’ll be on our best behavior.”

Patrick looked as if he wanted to punch me, but I merely smiled and winked. “Back soon.”

It was best to leave the new staff on their own right away, if you asked me. I had no doubt the Youngbloods and the other two men at the table—a Mr. Solomon and a Dr. Agabwe—would help Patrick feel more comfortable. They were longstanding members of Maverick Molly’s and, although they would joke about inappropriate things, they’d behave themselves.

Jacob was on the bar tonight, and he eyed me suspiciously as I lifted the trap and joined him, grabbing a stoneware bowl from under the counter. He was an imposing black man, with an impish face that belied his stern disposition. Sebastian was the more easygoing of the two.

“A little late tonight, are we?” he asked. It wasn’t said in a mean way at all, just in a curious and surprised one. I couldn’t blame him. Like I’d said, punctuality was something I was known for.

“Held up at home,” I muttered. There was no way I was going into detail. I was already embarrassed, and talking about my mom and her stupid habits would only make me more so. “Sorry.”

Jacob passed me the peanuts. “No worries. I guess you can be late once in a while.”

“I fucking hate being late. It won’t happen again, if I can help it,” I said, pouring the roasted nuts into the bowl.

Jacob glanced into the other room. “How’s Patrick doing?”

I shrugged. “He had a little trouble with his knickers, but I sorted him out.”

Jacob laughed. “Yeah, they take some getting used to. He seemed competent in his interview.”

I grinned. “Sure. But even if these guys have worked in restaurants before, Molly’s can be an education.”

“Oh, I know,” Jacob said, leaning on the bar and resting his chin in his hand as he gazed at Patrick trying to make conversation with the Youngbloods. “He’s cute.”

“Very. But that’s a job requirement.”

Jacob gave me a stern look. “Not officially.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

He laughed. “Fine. Just don’t go saying that anywhere else. I don’t want to get on the wrong side of the Better Business Bureau.”

I rolled my eyes. “They wouldn’t touch Molly’s with a ten-foot pole. This place is a municipal gold mine. The taxes alone!”

“Yeah, we do all right,” Jacob said with a nod.

Technically, the serving staff were hired as ‘models and entertainers’, and Maverick Molly’s was listed as a gay club, so that Jacob and Sebastian could get away with only hiring male-presenting people.

And Maverick Molly’s did more than all right. As far as I knew, Jacob Moriarty and his boyfriend, Sebastian Declan, were raking in the dough. The gay subculture in this city was more substantial than you’d think when you compared it to the major metropolitan centers like Vancouver and Toronto. I’d wager on a higher percentage of the overall population in the queer community here in conservative old Ottawa, with a larger-than-average kink component.

Was it the same in all government towns? Who knew? I could tell you that a good proportion of our clientele came from offices on Albert and Slater, and in Old Hull, now called Gatineau. We didn’t ask questions, and I was pretty sure no state secrets were being shared at Maverick Molly’s. But folks who had to be serious and responsible during the day might be drawn to places like Molly’s so they could live their truth and let loose during the cover of the night.

And they had money to burn.

The staff at Maverick Molly’s was hand-picked from the local colleges and universities—young adults who were on a path to a bright future and who needed a way to make money that wasn’t swinging from a stripper pole or working retail. Not that there was anything wrong with either of those jobs, but most of us jumped at the chance to do something unique and fun, with a historical component as well. And, sure, we did burlesque skits and sang bawdy songs for entertainment, but that was only a fraction of our duties. Most of the time, we were encouraged to lounge around the gaming parlor looking cute and bringing drinks to men who thought we were adorable and sexy. It was a good gig.

Jacob and Sebastian paid us well, and even had a group benefits plan in place for regular employees, which was a step up from most service jobs in the city. In return, we showed up on time—mostly—and went above and beyond what was required, helping to make Maverick Molly’s one of the most prestigious gay clubs around.

It was the best place I’d ever worked. Still, by eight-thirty, I desperately needed a cigarette.

I sidled up to Robin, tucking my hair behind my ear. It felt weird not having eyeliner and lipstick on. Molly’s was one of the few places where I could indulge my taste for gender bending without concern, but I’d been late then I’d been busy training Patrick, so there’d been no time to get properly made up. I promised myself that after I had a ciggy, I’d duck into the change room and pretty myself up.

“I’m going for a smoke.”

“When are you gonna quit that damn habit, Toby,” Robin said with a withering look. “It’s so gross.”

I shrugged, not concerned with his distaste. “When are you gonna stop eating donuts?”

Robin gasped and put a hand to his choker.

“Can you keep an eye on Patrick?” I asked. “He’s doing okay so far, but some of these men can be a bit much.”

Robin grinned with salacious pleasure. “Oh, I know.”

“Yeah, you and I know how to handle them. He’s still learning,” I muttered, heading for the entry.

“Fine. I’ll watch him. But don’t be too long. I’ve got my hands full.”

“You always do.”

Robin stuck his tongue out at me and mimed giving a blow job, making me laugh as I exited the parlor and went to get my jacket.

He didn’t actually hand out blow jobs at Molly’s—that was explicitly against staff rules. At least, I didn’t think he did. But I knew he liked to give them, so who knows how many men he had agreed to meet up with after hours? I was sure he got requests, like we all did, disguised as jokes but meant in earnest, at least some of the time. You learned to laugh and play along. If the guy got super rude or overly suggestive, all it took was a word to Jacob or Sebastian, and they would be dealt with.

Our regulars—men who enjoyed the vibe at Molly’s and had made it their go-to hangout—were careful not to upset the ‘entertainment’. Because they knew we could have them banished with a word, and they liked it here.

I grabbed my coat but only draped it over my shoulders as I stepped outside, careful to hold the railing as I went down the steps in case some ice hadn’t succumbed to the vast amounts of salt we dumped on them. The soft leather shoes we wore were cute, but they didn’t have the best treads.

Some dude in a motorcycle jacket walked by and threw me a look, probably wondering why there was a Victorian male tart on the streets of Ottawa. Not everyone knew about Maverick Molly’s, although it was a popular spot in the gay BDSM scene.

I winked at him. “Just having a smoke between blow jobs.”

The guy cursed under his breath and continued walking.

Ottawa was a weird place. It was conservative on the surface and in the rural areas right through. But in the urban core, things were different. Ottawa contained a vast community of kinksters who owned bars and other businesses and held events all over the city. You didn’t have to look too hard to find them.

I stood in the shoveled-out space at the bottom of the stairs and dug out my pack of cigarettes, listening to the wine of sirens in the distance. I was lucky that Jacob and Sebastian understood my need to take a break and didn’t begrudge me indulging in front of their club. In a way, it was good advertising to have one of their seductively dressed ‘entertainers’ in front of the place, sucking on a paper pipe. Most of the men who came here had more questionable habits than an occasional cigarette.

I didn’t smoke that much. I’d cut down to half a pack a day, and I was proud of that. It was part of my plan for this year, along with moving out of my mom’s place and not getting any marks below a B at school. I wasn’t quite ready to quit smoking completely, and trying to do so while I was still living with…her…was a losing proposal. Right now, I needed it, or else I’d have to go on some kind of antidepressant, and I just felt like smoking was more fun and less complicated. I wasn’t even sure I’d make it to thirty, so worrying about lung cancer way down the line wasn’t a deterrent.

I found my lighter in my coat pocket and lit up, then tucked everything away and stood there, gazing at the mix of stone houses, and steel buildings that contained offices and coffee shops and delis. Most of the traffic in this area came around during the day—at this time of night there weren’t a lot of folks about. And although that might seem like a bad thing for a business, a place like Maverick Molly’s thrived, since men could enter and exit without a crowd of people seeing them do so.

Sure, being queer wasn’t illegal anymore, but being queer and kinky could still be seen in a less-than-desirable light by conservative politicians or business leaders with an ax to grind.

When I wasn’t drawing the lung-killing smoke into my lungs, I took deep breaths of the cold air and closed my eyes, wondering when life would become more interesting than a constant round of schoolwork, work-work and trying to deal with Mom’s mood swings and passive aggressive manipulations.

A car door slammed shut, then a squeal of tires sounded in the darkness and I heard footsteps approaching. I opened my eyes.

A man in a dark gray coat walked in my direction. There was no sign of the car—perhaps he’d gotten a lift from a friend or used an Uber. He was tall, with a casual way of walking and a confident demeanor. I had no idea if he was planning on coming to Molly’s, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

I placed the cigarette between my lips and inhaled, my gaze running over the gentleman as he ambled toward me. Our eyes met, and he smiled.

“Taking a break?” he said, his voice a caramel macchiato to my ears—smooth and strong and decadent, with a kick.

I smiled around my cigarette and nodded.

“Aren’t you cold?” he asked, his forehead creased with concern.

I shrugged. How sweet of him.

He stopped at the bottom of the steps and glanced up at the elegant main door, then back at me.

“Going in?” I said, my eyebrows raised.

He stared at me, and I couldn’t quite glean what he thought. I liked his face. He had a neatly trimmed goatee and a head of black curls that seemed like they’d be hard to tame—and an eyebrow piercing, which was hot. He looked older than me, but not ancient.

“Yeah. I think so.”

“You think so?” I laughed. “Oh, you’re going in.”

“Well, I didn’t plan to be waylaid by a saucy little tart having a smoke.” He grinned. “I might stay out here for a bit.”

Well, well, well. I’d been called worse things.

I took the cigarette out of my mouth. “You want one?”

His eyes widened. “Nope. But I’ll watch you smoke it.”

I grunted. Suit yourself, I thought.

We stood there in the frigid darkness. He gazed across the street as if he were trying to think of something to say. I decided to help him out. Sometimes I liked to let people wallow in their own awkwardness, but there was something about this man that made me want to smooth things out for him. It was probably witchcraft. He’d put some kind of spell on me, but I was helpless to fight it.

“You been here before?”

“To Molly’s?” he said. “Yeah.”

“Huh. I haven’t seen you.” I took in his strong features and eyebrow piercing again, his mop of black hair. No, I’d have remembered him.

“Normally I’m…with someone. And we just…you know, go straight to the back.”

Ah. So he didn’t hang out with the rabble, just took his squeeze straight to the Bordello. I wondered what exactly they got up to there. Was this man a top or a bottom? Did he order his partner around or did he submit for another, even more commanding, presence?

“Where’s your someone tonight?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Well, I… I decided to spend some time in the gaming parlor for a change. Drown my sorrows.” He smiled.

Not so sorrowful, then.

I raised my eyebrows and summoned a sympathetic expression, even though I felt anything but upset about it. “Oh no. Did your someone break up with you?”

He laughed and shook his head. “No, no. I have a lot of different someones. New one every week, usually. Only I couldn’t find anyone, ah, convenient, tonight. It…doesn’t happen often.”

I looked him over. “I’m sure it doesn’t.” I could tell that this man had his pick of casual partners, which was a bit of a bummer, to be honest. I wondered why he was still talking to me out here in the cold.

He cleared his throat, and his gaze drifted from my feet in the brown leather shoes, up over the white bloomers with their frills and the corset with the chemise puffing above it. It wasn’t gaping suggestively—I’d pulled the edges closed while I was outside—but my coat was open, so he could see what I looked like.

Ah. He likes the outfit. Maybe he liked the way it looked on me. Or he was only bored and wasting time.

“Would you be interested…?” He raised his eyebrows and licked his lips.

“Oh, I’m interested,” I said, my gaze locking onto his. “But it’s against the rules.” I flicked the ash from my cigarette and smiled in apology. “I’m kind of on duty.”

“Oh.” He seemed genuinely disappointed. “Can I at least have a puff on your cigarette?”

Some folks sounded incredibly entitled and rude when they asked that. This man, though, channeled his desire for something so pedestrian as a shared puff into something else entirely, and I was helpless to resist.

I smiled, even though I felt out of my depth. He was annoyingly charming. I think I disliked him a little because he was pushing all of my buttons—the good ones—and had already declared himself a profligate man-whore, which I didn’t hold against him at all, but it wasn’t something I was looking for. Or…was it?

Watching him, as he stood there in the cold and dark, all fine and gorgeous and…interesting, I thought maybe it was. If all I could have of this man was a night of passion and careless intimacy, maybe that was okay.

But it couldn’t be tonight.

Coming February 20th!

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