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Playing with fire can get you burned.

Prologue

Okay, I iron my jeans. So sue me. 


I also fold my socks and organize my shirts according to color and season. Last time I checked, neatness wasn’t a crime. Or a mental illness. Yet from all the flack I continually get, you’d think it were both. I’m often described as anal retentive, and for more times than I care to recount have been called neat freak—apparently a stigma worse than serial killer.   


My propensity for organization was evident by the time I turned six, and even though I wasn’t aware of the adage "a place for everything, everything in its place", it could’ve easily been my childhood mantra. Tidiness. An unusual characteristic for a boy that age to be sure. 


As I got older, I realized my desire for order and structure seemed to stem from an almost compulsive need for control. Of my environment, of circumstances, of myself… Personally, I didn’t consider that a bad thing. At least my parents never had to harp at me about cleaning my room or putting away my stuff. Not once did I leave wet towels on the bathroom floor or my toys on the stairs or my bed unmade.


In fact, I’d learned on YouTube how to tuck in my sheets military style. Weirdly, it was one of the few things that managed to get my father’s attention. Not my 3.8 GPA or latest merit badge but the way I made my bed. Since he wasn’t prone to lavishing praise, if he noticed my achievements at all, the rare accolade was likely given because he was ex-Army and could appreciate a tight hospital corner.


“Goddamn, boy, now that’s an impressive bed!”


Boy. He hardly ever called me Julian. Not even son. But then, I can’t recall a time growing up when I didn’t refer to my father as sir. You could say the use of impersonal monikers pretty much summed up our relationship.


If being fastidious to a fault in high school didn’t brand me a nerd, then my involvement in chess club and marching band did. Thankfully I wasn’t bullied for it. Much. My height was likely a deterrent, and I had plenty of like-minded friends to get me through those challenging formative years. 


Nevertheless, my reputation as a strait-laced goody two-shoes saddled me with the ironic nickname of Saint Julian. Ironic because my classmates obviously weren’t aware that the original Saint Julian was the patron saint of, among other things, murderers. They also didn’t realize that calling me a saint (aka the holiest of men) was a compliment, not an insult.


My biggest fear was that they would find out about the dog-eared Bible I carried around in my backpack. It wasn’t my religious beliefs I wanted to hide but my secret wish to enter the priesthood. (I used to have nightmares about the jocks chanting “Child Molester” as they introduced me to the inside of my locker.) Thanks to the Church’s continued sex abuse scandal making priests akin to pedophiles, nobody in his right mind would consider becoming one. So why the hell had I?


Because here’s the thing… Not every Catholic priest is a piece of shit. 


When I was fourteen, I happened to catch a documentary on TLC, while it was still The Learning Channel and not home to Honey Boo Boo, about a missionary who spent his life serving a leper colony on the island of Molokai. For sixteen years Father Damien selflessly saw to their physical and spiritual needs until his own death from the horrible disease in 1889. 


The story had an unexpected and profound effect on me. To the degree that I started wondering about a life dedicated to helping others. About being part of a bigger cause, something greater than myself. Up till then, I was just a typical teen whose secular preoccupations concerned grades, acne, and the opposite sex. Spirituality, not even on the radar. 


Despite my family being Catholic, religion played zero part in my upbringing. My parents didn’t attend church, not even on Christmas. And the only time the Lord’s name was uttered in our house was with the eff-word attached. 


“Jesus fucking Christ, woman!”


In case you were wondering, woman was my mother. (It wasn’t until I was seven that I learned her name was actually Brianna.) 


After doing a crap-ton of online research, I came to the conclusion that I might be better suited to joining a religious brotherhood than getting ordained to the priesthood. I was never particularly interested in performing sacramental duties like celebrating Mass or taking Confession anyway, so being a Brother sounded right up my alley. My dream was to help build schools in impoverished countries, which is why I learned carpentry along with theology.


 And yes, people did try to get me to entertain a less drastic alternative like joining the Peace Corps. But what they had trouble understanding was, that while I wanted to make a difference and better the world, I wanted to do it in the name and glory of Jesus Christ. 


At the end of senior year, any thoughts about devoting myself to God took a giant leap from interest to resolve when I applied to Saint Ignatius Seminary. The argument could be made that the decision may not have been entirely altruistic considering it came on the heels of a family tragedy. At eighteen, my world as I knew it was pulled out from under me. Those closest to me worried I may have acted rashly, that I had  turned to the Church in a period of crisis. 


To me, my calling wasn’t a crutch but the Lord throwing me a life line, which I’d gratefully grabbed onto with both hands. It was a light guiding me through the hellish darkness, and cliché as it sounds a blessing in disguise. With a determined mind and open heart, I gave myself willingly. No doubts. No regrets. 


Well, maybe just one.


Now here I am at the ripe old age of twenty-six… three months before embarking on a life revolved around prayer, communal living, and doing God’s work. Ninety days from reaffirming my sacred vows. Two-thousand one-hundred and sixty hours until proving to the world that men of the cloth can do more good than harm. And that Julian Jefferson Reid is nothing like his old man


Nothing. 

One

“Too tight?” 


“Could be tighter.” 


“I don’t want it to hurt.” 


The young woman let out a derisive snort. He was kidding, right? 


While she lay tied spread-eagle across the bed, her tentative partner continued fastening one of her wrists to the slatted headboard. He pulled the restraint taut. Heard her groan. Not in discomfort. No, the glassy look in her exotic emerald eyes told him she was feeling something else entirely. 


He stared down at the beautiful nude girl laid out before him like an all-you-can-eat buffet, his hand buried in the open fly of his jeans trying to coax his cock into service. He was chagrined by the fact he was only half hard. Given the situation, his damn dick should’ve been a two-by-four. 


Yet the young man wasn’t necessarily alarmed. He knew that impotence wasn’t the reason for his semi. The niggling reservation roving the back of his brain was to blame.


“What next?”


Smiling prettily, “Whatever you want.” 


“Wanna fuck the shit out of you.” 


She bit back a laugh. "Be still my heart." Her eyes flicked to the nightstand. “First things first.” 


“I didn’t forget.” With a sly tilt of his mouth, he picked up the cat-o-nine tails. “I have to pay to play.”


Like a teacher praising a student for giving the correct answer, she cooed, “That’s right.” 


“I draw the line at breaking skin, though.” 


“But short of that…”


“I understand.” 


“Do you?” she murmured. That makes one of us. 


“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, sweetheart. Travis will make you come. Make you come reeeal good.”


“No, that’s not what I wa—oh!” She gasped as strips of red leather lashed her breasts, the familiar sting instantly tightening her pierced nipples. 


Spurred by her response, the young man flogged her again. When her back arched off the mattress his dick seemed to really like that, becoming stiff in a matter of nanoseconds. Which concerned him. The insta-erection might mean he was actually getting off on this shit. 


Fuck no. No fucking way. He wasn't some sadistic perv. Was he? 


Putting himself to the test, he flicked the whip a third time. When she jolted and cried out, his dick jerked violently as a result. There was so much pressure building up in his balls he felt on the verge of exploding. 


Well shit. Guess that answered that. Every lash he administered thereafter pumped blood directly to his groin. He couldn’t recall ever being this hard. And damn if his modest six-incher didn’t look fucking huuuge. Hell, had he known… 


As he continued flaying her small but perfectly molded tits, the delicate skin turned pink, further exciting him. He eased up only when angry welts began forming. Only then did he realize how carried away he'd gotten. 


It was true then. He was a fucking degenerate, no different than the pathetic girl writhing and moaning before him. 


“Don’t stop,” she panted. “You’re not done. I need more.” 


Suddenly furious, he roared, “Told you, not going there!”


She ran her tongue over her lower lip as if parched—water just out of reach. “A few more times. Over my pussy. Then you can fuck me.” Turning her face into the pillow, she squeezed her lids. She didn’t want to look at him. Didn’t want him to look at her, to see her depravity and the wild desperation in her eyes. “Please. I-I need it.” The words were muffled but the plea in her voice came through loud and clear. 


He shook his head in disgust. Christ, what the hell had he gotten himself into? Of all the available tail at the club, he picked this piece to follow home.


For a Thursday, Next Ibiza had been packed to capacity—wall to wall with sweaty youthful bodies bumping and grinding to a DJ’s techno beat. The club was considered pussy central with hot, horny girls never in short in supply. In tonight’s crowd, despite each seeming more beautiful than the next, this particular one managed to stand out. 


No small feat considering he first saw her from behind. Or rather, saw her behind. Though outfitted in a low-cut blouse and micro skirt allowing for easy access (he'd guessed right about her not wearing panties) it was her ass that got his cock’s attention. With butt cheeks that bubblicious, he hadn’t cared what the rest of her looked like. Yet when she turned around, it was her face that completely ensnared him. 


Fuck, those eyes…


But how was he to know she’d turn out to be one of those girls? The ones who needed a side order of pain to go with their pleasure. Needed it rough to get off. 


As he dragged the knotted thongs lightly across her shaved snatch, he swept the ends back and forth in a slow, seductive rhythm meant to tease and titillate. It wasn’t always wham-bam-thank-you-mam with him. He did occasionally like to take his time.  


His attempt to introduce a tamer form of foreplay was met with a furious buck of the girl’s hips. “No!” she snapped, glaring up at him. “Not like that!”


“Jesus, what do you want from me?” 


“I want you to do like I told you. Like you agreed!”


The cat came down so suddenly she barely saw it before it smacked her crotch. “Like that?” he snarled.


Pain bit into her, sending a sharp shiver spiraling up her spine, frying all her brain cells and making her go blissfully numb inside. 


Finally.


The whip came down again. “And that?” 


Welcoming humiliation like an old friend, she nodded feebly. “Again,” she groaned as her eyes rolled back into her head like a junkie shooting smack. 


The sight of her bare labia damp with pussy dew drove him to keep flaying her. Until her folds swelled and reddened. Until her clit burned. Until she was thrashing wildly and babbling incoherently.  


She was on the cusp of coming. He could almost feel her orgasm building as much as his own. This kinky kitty was going to cream the sheets solely from the pain he was inflicting! Marveling at the wonder of it, and at the unexpected level of his own excitement, he whipped her even harder. 


“Yes. Yes. Yes,” she chanted, tossing her head from side-to-side.   


Flinging the flogger to the floor, the young man pulled a condom out of his back pocket, tore it open with his teeth and jerked down his pants. He couldn’t roll it on fast enough and literally dove on top of her. As he rammed his cock inside her, she let out a yelp of discomfort that took him by surprise. 


Also unexpected was the discovery that she wasn't as wet and ready as he assumed. Damn weird considering the way she'd been carrying on. But any and all thought was obliterated once his body overrode his brain and he began pounding mindlessly into her. 


This guy whose name the girl couldn’t even remember—Trevor?—was giving her his all. 


“Harder,” she grunted. “Fuck me harder!” 


Apparently his all wasn't good enough. 


Cursing under his breath, he ramped up the depth and pace of his thrusts until their bodies were shiny from sweat. Until the headboard was putting a dent in the drywall. Until he was wheezing as if he'd sprinted a marathon. 


“I said harder, damn you!” 


And still the woman barked orders at him like a goddamn drill sergeant.


Hoping to finish her off, he reached down to finger her clit. “Don’t!” she shrieked. “Don’t fucking touch me!” 


At her panicked almost violent reaction, he withdrew his hand with a startled jerk. What the hell was up with this headcase? Time to wrap this shit up and get the fuck out of here. 


He thrust into her three mores times before spewing his spunk and collapsing on top of her.


His dead weight rendered her immobile, as did the restraints now cutting into her wrists and ankles. She began jerking and pulling against them. Not in any attempt to free herself but for the exquisite torture the motion provided. 


Twisted cunt.  


She’d been called a lot of things in her twenty-four years but that epithet had to be one of the more memorable ones. It was from a suit who’d picked her up in a Starbucks a couple years ago, after she insisted he choke her during sex. Despite refusing, like most do initially, his cock was taken with the idea and talked his conscience into it. In fact, the asshole got so into it he damn near strangled her to death!  


Crazy bitch. 


That was from the hipster who'd spanked her ass raw as he took her from behind. Oh, he found it a blast  at first. Until she wouldn’t let him stop. Not even when her lily-white buttocks turned red as blood and his palm started to sting like a sonovabitch. He wasn’t finding it such a party then. His dick, however, had the time of its life. 


Sicko.


Another one she could add to the long list. This pretty boy currently heaving on top of her—Tyler?—had muttered it under his breath earlier. Probably didn’t even know he’d said it out loud. The pejorative was short and sweet and pretty much summed her up. Might even replace her current fave, whack job.


The young woman let out a bitter chuckle as her beautiful green eyes welled with tears. Good one, Romeo. 

Two

Julian woke with a start.


Fumbling for his phone trilling on the nightstand, he noted the caller and time through groggy slits—Summer 2:37 am—and hissed a curse, something he rarely did out loud if he could help it.   


“You know how late it is?” he answered, voice gravelly with sleep and irritation.  


“Julian?” The female voice on the other end sounded tentative. Raspy. Unfamiliar. 


He sat up in alarm. “Who is this?” 


“Summer asked me to call you.”


He bolted out of bed. “Where is she?” 


Slight hesitation. “We're at the Mount Pollard police station.”


“What!" 


“She’s okay,” the woman hastily assured him. “There was just a little, um, trouble, at Kit Shickers. You know the place?” 


Confusion made him pause. “Yeah… I know it.” 


Summer usually frequented the dance clubs in neighboring Kansas City. What was she doing at a local bar known for their live country music and scantily clad waitresses? It was a Hooters for the Stetson and Wrangler set, not exactly her scene.  


Flipping on the light, he padded quickly to his closet. “Just what kind of trouble?” He grabbed a black clerical shirt from the half-dozen meticulously aligned on matching wood hangers and wrestled into it. “You sure she’s all right?”


“Yes. Yes, she’s fine.”


“Put her on.” He opened a dresser drawer.  


“She’s, um… sleeping it off.”


Aw, hell. At the euphemism for passed out,  Julian let out a harsh exhale that sounded like static on the receiving end. 


Since recently turning twenty-one, his baby sister seemed hell bent on making up for lost time—stumbling home shit-faced every weekend from one club or another. Ending up in the drunk tank was so far a first.  


“Has she been arrested for something? Never mind.” After hurriedly slipping on a pair of black trousers and matching loafers, he grabbed his jacket and headed out. “Just wake her up and tell her I’m on my way. I’ll deal with it when I get there.” 


With the phone cradled in the crook of his neck, he locked the front door behind him then hung up realizing he hadn’t learned the caller’s identity. 


Jumping into the family Prius, Julian pulled out into the early morning mist and put pedal to the metal. As he tore down the deserted freeway, exceeding the speed limit for the first time in years, an eerie sense of foreboding gnawed in the pit of his stomach. 


+++++


I don’t understand.” 


Clack. Clack. Clack…


The desk sergeant continued his two-finger typing. “Says she’s not leaving without her friend,” he repeated, his focus never straying from the computer screen in front of him.    


Julian shuttered his eyes and took a calming breath. He usually had a tight rein on his emotions but Summer was one of the only people who could spark his temper and make him lose control. It was all he could do sometimes not to throttle the brat.


“Can I talk to her first?”  


The officer craned his neck back. “Hey, Lipinski…” he yelled out. “Take the good Father to holding, wouldya please? He’s here for the Reid girl.”  


“Brother,” Julian mumbled. “I’m a Brother.”    


“He’s her brother,” he shouted.     


Julian opened his mouth to clarify but the officer had already returned to his keyboard. 


Clack. Clack. Clack…  


A female in police uniform approached, her name badge identifying her as Lipinski. Julian gave the officer a friendly nod, which was met with a professional head-to-toe perusal followed by an arched eyebrow. It was the collar that spawned her skepticism.     


He understood the all too common reaction. In clergy attire, Julian didn’t meet anyone’s preconceived notions of what a man of the cloth looked like. While people expected Father Dowling, what they got instead was a boyish Father Ralph de Bricassart. No matter how capable or devoted a cleric, his youthful good looks would always overshadow.   


The officer escorted him through the bustling precinct, past cubicles of staff glued to phones or monitors, to the rear of the building where crowded jail cells confirmed that another weekend was in full swing. The area smelled like a combination distillery, locker room and cologne factory.      


As they reached the last pen, Summer was waiting with her tiny hands wrapped around the bars, her chubby face smooshed between them. She greeted him with a dopey grin. “Heya, Jules…”


His eyebrows collided like head-on freight trains. It wasn’t as if he’d never seen his baby sister drunk as a skunk before, just never from behind bars. She was a disheveled mess. Her sleek auburn bob looked like it’d lost a fight with a leaf blower and there was more make-up under her eyes than on them. Hell’s bells, was that large purple thing manacling her wrist a bruise?   


“What the holy heck, Summer?” 


“Later, gator,” she slurred. “Jez get us the fuck outta here.” 


Her dropping the f-bomb rankled almost as much as her state of inebriation. Folding his arms, he said in that parental tone Summer found so annoying, “You better bet we’re going to talk about this later, missy.” 


She frowned. “Can we jez go?” Being called missy she hated even more.


“I was informed you weren’t going anywhere without your partner in crime.” Julian’s eyes scanned the dozen or so other women in the cell. Most were wearing next to nothing and it was hard to distinguish the club slut—goers from the bonafide hookers. “I assume she’s the one who called me.”


“My guardian angel,” Summer gushed.


“What happened to Devon?” Summer’s bestie, the more responsible of the two. Which wasn’t saying much. “Thought you went out together. Why isn’t she with you?” 


“Met a dude.” 


“She ditched you for a random guy?” Some BFF.   


“A hot cowboy,” she giggled, apparently fine with it. “No worries, I had Frankie.”


“So where is this mystery woman of yours? This… Frankie.” 


Behind me, on the floor. The real pretty one.”  


There were three women sitting against the back wall. A curvy attractive blonde with a glazed expression. A skinny attractive brunette with a glazed expression. And a ginger whose head was hung forward, a curtain of riotous curls screening her face. She sat with her arms crossed and bare legs stretched out in front of her. They were tanned, toned and shapely, and Julian berated himself for noticing. 


Summer inclined her head sideways. “Oh, Frankeee…” she sing-songed. “Someone wants to meet yooou…”


The redhead raised her face. As the veil of flaming locks fell away and a pair of green feline eyes fused with Julian’s unsuspecting gaze, the air jolted from his lungs.


Sweet Mercy. 

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