Soft Limits – First Chapter

Author’s Note: This is an as-yet-unpublished novel still in the editing stages, and I reserve all rights. Do not copy this text.

Chapter 1

The city was lovely in June with the onset of warmer days and summer just starting to take hold. Bradford enjoyed a soft summer rain; it was a welcome respite from the growing heat. A downpour like this one though, was nothing short of a goddamn nuisance.

As he hastily shouldered his way into the local coffee shop to escape the deluge, he found himself longing for the familiar, comfortable, and dry confines of his club. With his cozy brownstone right next door to the club, he rarely headed outdoors anymore, except for the occasional stroll to clear his head or take in some fresh air on a nice day.

This was not a nice day, but he’d had an important meeting this morning with his leathersmith that required his presence at the craftsman’s workshop, and so he’d been obliged to venture out of his neighborhood. He shook out his umbrella and retreated into the breezeway, taking another moment to remove some of the water from his overcoat as well before pushing his way through the second set of glass doors. He smoothed his hair back with one hand and sighed as the cooler air of the café and welcoming scent of coffee washed over him.

Ah, yes. Coffee would set him to rights.

There was a decently long line, but Bradford didn’t care. He planned to sit in a window seat with the newspaper and slowly sip his coffee, silently cursing Mother Nature as he waited for the weather to pass. Besides, rain or no, he had no intention of rushing home to the club after he’d gone to such lengths to make sure he was covered for an afternoon off. No, he was going to sit right here, read and people watch, and remind himself that although the nonstop hustle of the city wasn’t the reason he’d relocated here many years ago, it was one of the reasons he’d stayed. He really ought to try to get out more.

A couple barreled into the café sans umbrellas. The pair of them looked like drowned rats and were laughing about just that when they took their place in line behind him. Bradford shook his head. He remembered being young, dumb, and penniless, though not fondly. He much preferred being mature and comfortably situated. It afforded him the opportunity to do exactly as he pleased, which, for an experienced Dominant with particular and often expensive tastes such as himself, was essentially nirvana.

The line moved a bit finally, and Bradford took two shuffling steps forward. In front of him in line was a young man of perhaps twenty, who was tapping a chewed-up pen against a damp newspaper. He leaned around the boy for a better view, curious and assuming it to be a crossword puzzle, but discovered it was in fact the classified ads. He became acutely aware, now that he was in closer proximity, that the young man smelled faintly of vanilla.

Bradford blinked and shifted away slightly, thinking that being close enough to take in a young man’s scent and enjoy it was fine in the privacy of his club, but here in a busy café it might make him appear to be a dirty old man.

Never mind that he was one.

“Who’s next?” a barista called out and the line moved.

Bradford couldn’t seem to refrain from looking the young man over. His army-green jacket was a bit large and hung on narrow shoulders. He wasn’t terribly tall and his shoes were worn and soaked through. He had a gray scarf knotted around his neck, water still beading on it in several places.
“Next!” The line moved again. Bradford heard the young man sigh and watched him rub each eye in turn with the heel of his hand. Bradford frowned, keenly aware that the city could be rough on young people. It certainly did seem to be rough on this one.

While he was contemplating that, the young man stepped up and ordered.
“Small coffee, black.” The boy tapped a granola bar on the counter and dug through numerous pockets but in the end, put the granola bar back.

“Just the coffee?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“Oh, hey.” He leapt into motion, smiling at the barista. “I’ve got his coffee. A doppio for me, please, extra hot. And a turkey club.”

The young man looked startled and very confused. “I…uh.”

He remained stoically silent until the barista slid their coffees across the counter, followed by the sandwich in a to-go container. He paid, still not answering the young man for the time being, then hustled the boy away from the counter and over to a nearby table. “Sit, boy,” he ordered.

The young man glanced up at him sharply with wide blue eyes. Not just any blue, he noted, but a deep sapphire, and they were moderately terrified. Bradford swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. Please, have a seat.”

The young man didn’t sit, but after a long moment, Bradford did. He put the sandwich down on the table and slid it over toward his young companion.

“I don’t do that,” came a quiet reply.

“You don’t eat?” Bradford asked casually, pretending not to catch on. The young man was hungry; that much was evident. He was thin and he hadn’t yet bolted. “Look, it’s yours. Take it to go if you’d prefer to eat alone, or I invite you to sit with me.” He set his umbrella on the floor and shimmied out of his wet raincoat, letting it fall off his shoulders and over the back of his chair.

After another moment’s hesitation, the young man abruptly sat down and tucked into the sandwich. “You dint haf to,” the boy said as he chewed, his mouth overly full. “I ate yesterday.”

Well, that explained the sunken cheeks and the narrow shoulders.

“Naturally, I didn’t have to; it pleased me to do so,” Bradford replied a bit defensively and followed that with a sigh. Really, he wasn’t fit for conversation outside of the club anymore. “That is to say, I wanted to buy it for you.” He watched the young man devour the sandwich, pieces of bacon and lettuce sticking out of the corners of the boy’s mouth. He rolled his eyes at himself and touched the edge of the young man’s newspaper with one finger, sliding it closer to look it over as he sipped his doppio slowly. “Delivery boy, third shift stocker, parking lot attendant, hm…” Bradford glanced up at the boy. “What’s your name?”

“Nikki,” the young man answered, chewing still.

“Nikki. I see.” He shifted in his seat. “Do you have a last name, Nikki?”

Nikki shook his head. Whether that meant “no” or “none of your business” was difficult to tell, but he assumed the latter and didn’t press the issue. After all, he could count on fewer than the fingers of one hand the number of people who knew his own last name.

“Well, Nikki.” He drew out the name, trying it out on his tongue. “Been in town long?” It was obvious the boy had not, and as Bradford expected, he got another shake of the head.

“I see.” He leaned forward, closer to Nikki, who eyed him warily but didn’t appear to have any intention of putting down his half-eaten sandwich. “Boys without last names have a very hard time getting work in this town.”

Nikki searched his eyes for a moment and sighed, his shoulders slumping.

“However,” Bradford said grandly, much too grandly for a small local café, “I have need of a dishwasher, and perhaps some other errand-type work, if you are interested.”

The offer hung in the air between them, and he couldn’t be sure which of them was more startled by it: Nikki, who stared at him frozen in midchew, or himself. He most certainly did not need another dishwasher. Where the hell had that come from? Damn those blue eyes. And that soft voice. And smooth skin.

“Christ.” Bradford swore under his breath, hiding his consternation behind another sip of strong coffee. You’re too old for such lechery.

Nikki shrugged, finally. “Yeah? Okay. Thanks.”

And just like that, Bradford had himself a brand-new dishwasher.



(c) Jodi Payne 2019 All Rights Reserved