M/m sex, corporal punishment. If the idea of a discipline relationship between adult males offends you, so will this story.


There From Here

Night was falling, it was raining and the road was slick with traces of exhaust and a muddy slurry of summer dust. Larry fiddled with the climate controls, trying to dry the air in the car, clear his windshield and, at the same time, keep his weary eyes on the road.

The black fog inside him matched the weather outside the car. Was it only this afternoon that he had left his lover and his home? It seemed forever.

A wide-bed truck coming the opposite direction on the narrow road honked in warning. Startled, Larry cut the wheel to the right. The car swerved abruptly. Larry hit the brakes, hard. The car hydroplaned despite its anti lock brakes and slid off the road, onto the shoulder, and head first into a ditch.

“Shit!” Larry cried. “Oh goddamn it, I don’t fucking believe this.” Then, indignantly: “Ouch.” He touched his eyebrow tentatively, winced. Thank God for seatbelts; he had only tapped the dashboard with his head. Still, it hurt.

“Buddy? You okay?” The truck driver had seen the little car slide out of control and had pulled over to survey the damage.

“Oh yeah, I’m fine,” Larry said bitterly. Thanks for scaring the shit out of me. You had plenty of room in your lane. “I don’t guess you could pull me out?”


“No tow cables.” The truck driver shook his head regretfully.


“I don’t have my cell phone,” Larry said disconsolately.


“They don’t work out here anyway,” the driver told him helpfully. “We’re in the valley so the signal bounces. “


“Could you give me a lift to a garage?” Larry asked hopefully.


“Nothing open this late. I could drop you at Marches. It’s a bar; they rent rooms.”


“Fine,” Larry said ungraciously. “Thank you,” he added hastily, not wanting to alienate his rescuer while he still needed him.


“Sure. You’re not from around here,” the driver observed. “On vacation?”


“No.” Larry felt cold and shaky. He had just wrecked his car, he was low on cash, he had left his phone behind in his haste to leave... “No, I’m not on vacation.”



“Road trip then?” asked the truck driver.


“Not really.” Larry rolled his eyes. More like the road to hell, Larry thought, complete with its paving of good intentions.


“Real friendly guy,” the driver said, abandoning the attempt at conversation and leaving his sullen passenger to his own thoughts.


“Marches,” he announced, pulling into the inn’s parking lot.


“Right,” Larry said. “Ciao.” He gave a deliberately dismissive wave of his hand, wanting a reaction.


“Asshole,” said the driver, pulling out.


“Fuck you too,” said Larry under his breath.


Marches was an old white building with a narrow columned porch and shutters. Larry pulled open the screen door and stepped inside. The room was dark with yellow carpet underfoot. It smelled of cigarettes and damp.


“Help you?” A gray-haired woman in stretch pants waddled from the back to the battered counter.


“I need a room for the night,” Larry said wearily.


“We’re full up,” the woman said without inflection.


“You must have something.” Larry tried to keep the sudden surge of desperation he felt from showing. “Anything at all.”


“Sorry.” The woman didn’t sound very sorry at all.


“There’s a second bed in my room,” a genial voice said from the hallway. “If you don’t snore, you’re welcome to it.” A tall man with dark hair and cowboy boots smiled at Larry, extending his hand.


“Candy Bennett.” Bright blue eyes in a lean, tanned face. An easy, amused expression.


“Larry.” Larry shook hands, trying to decide what the man’s offer meant.


"What does the other guy look like?" Candy asked, looking at Larry's rapidly bruising face.


Larry winced.


"I tipped my goddamn car into a ditch."


"Do you want me to take you to a doctor?" Candy asked.


"Don't bother," Larry said. "Thanks," he added belatedly, appreciating that it was meant kindly.


"May I?" Candy waited for Larry's nod before touching his face. He lay the flat of his hand against Larry’s cheek; tilted his head with gentle pressure. "You've got an open cut just under your eye. I could clean it up for you if you like. Little peroxide, just to get whatever's in there out."


"It doesn't matter." Larry shrugged, the overly nonchalant gesture at odds with the despair in his voice. Candy’s hand felt warm and reassuring; he was sorry when Candy withdrew it.


"I do a lot of doctoring," Candy said persuasively. "Horses. Dogs. Banged up rodeo men. Let me?” He stood quietly, letting Larry study him.


"Okay. Thank you." Larry accepted. Something in Candy's courteous demeanor made it feel like a safe thing to do. He followed Candy to his room.


It was neat and sparely furnished. Candy pulled a chair out from the table. Took the shade off the lamp and rummaged in his duffel bag for his first aid kit.


"Sit over here where it's light," Candy said. "Tip your head back. Let's put this towel around your neck, like in the barber shop. Did you know those old time barbers were surgeons, too?” Candy was used to soothing skittish patients. “This may sting a bit. I'm going to pour peroxide over it till it bubbles clear. Ready?"


"Yes." Larry braced himself. His eyes followed Candy’s tapered fingers warily as Candy extended his hand slowly. He allowed Candy to tip his head back and to the side.


Larry closed his eyes as Candy began to trickle the peroxide over his cut. The solution was slightly cool, but the hurt was minimal. Before Larry knew it, they were done.


"You’re going to have some shiner.” Candy handed Larry a started tube of Neosporin. "Put this on two-three times a day. It should heal clean in a week."


"Thanks." Larry smiled then, the first genuine smile Candy had seen. It changed his face entirely. "That was nice of you," Larry added. "You didn't have to do that. Your friends..." He lingered over the word just long enough to alter its meaning subtly. "Your...friends...are lucky."


"I've been lucky in my...friends," Candy said, repeating the softened word with a smile.


“So is there really a second bed?” Larry asked, locking eyes with Candy.


“There are two beds,” Candy said quietly. “As you can see. And I meant it to be helpful, not as a pick up line.”


“I’m sorry,” Larry said reflexively, responding to the unspoken reproof. “So that means you’re not interested in anything?”


“I didn’t say that, Larry,” Candy said, amused by Larry’s look of pique. “Come on down to the bar and I’ll buy you dinner. The place looks like a hell hole, but the food’s not half bad.”


“You’re going to feed me first?” Larry asked, tilting his head. “You don’t have to.”


“I don’t have to do anything,” Candy said, his smile taking the sting out of his words. “Come on downstairs. You need to eat.” He helped Larry stand and gave him a gentle nudge towards the door.


“Do you think my car will be okay until tomorrow?” Larry asked as they made their way down the dim hallway.


“I’d say so. We can go by Brady’s Garage in the morning; they’ll come out with a tow truck. They’re reliable and they’re honest.”


“You’re from around here, then?” Larry asked, as Candy steered them with easy familiarity to a table near the bar.


“A bit further out, actually. I’m coming back from a horse show downstate. I’ve got my horses stabled out back. I could have pushed and made it home, but I was tired and the rain was a killer.”


“I know. I should have stopped earlier, too, then this wouldn’t have happened,” Larry said. “I just didn’t want to stop driving...”


Candy listened carefully, hearing the note of despair in Larry’s voice.


“Going somewhere special?” Candy asked, signaling the waiter.


“No. Leaving somewhere I’m not wanted anymore. My partner,” Larry stumbled over the word. “My exboyfriend...a fucking year I wasted with him!”


“I’m sorry,” said Candy. “That’s rough.”


“Well, it’s happened before. Only this time...” Larry closed his eyes. “Ah, who the fuck wants to hear about it!”


Candy watched the play of emotion in Larry’s dark brown eyes. The stress he saw there saddened him.


“What are you having?” the waiter asked.


Larry looked at Candy blankly.


“The burgers are good,” Candy said.


“I like burgers,” Larry said.


“With fries and onion rings and two beers,” Candy said to the waiter. “Whatever’s on tap.”


The icy knot in Larry’s stomach began to melt.


“I want to hear, if you want to talk,” Candy said quietly.


“Yeah, well, you probably wouldn’t understand,” Larry said. “Thanks anyway.”


“I was in this online group that talked about gay relationships,” Candy offered. “I learned a lot.”


“What was your screen name?” Larry asked, intrigued.


“Candy,” Candy said with a straight face.


Larry began to laugh. He laughed harder and harder, until tears began to fall. They were genuine tears, of misery, not merriment. Candy shifted his chair so that he blocked Larry from the room’s sight.


“Easy, Larry,” Candy said softly. “Breathe. It’s okay to cry, but here’s not the place for it. Breathe, Larry, you need to pull yourself together now. Breathe, that’s it. Nice and easy.”


“I’m okay,” Larry mumbled. “Sorry. Thanks.” He looked at Candy, his dark eyes muddy with despair. He was reassured to see concern and not contempt in Candy’s expression. “It’s been a bad day.”


“I imagine,” Candy said. “Come on, let’s go upstairs. Easy, Larry, you’re going to be all right.”


“How would you know?” Larry asked bitterly.


“I’m going to make sure of it,” Candy said. A quick conversation with the waiter resulted in two meals wrapped to go, along with two bottles of beer. Carrying their food, Candy shadowed Larry through the bar and up the stairs.


“I’m sorry,” Larry said, as Candy locked the room’s door behind them. “I didn’t mean...”


“It’s all right,” Candy said gently. “Larry, you had an awful day. Anyone would be upset. Come on now, sit down at the table and have a little dinner while it’s still hot. Go on now, eat.”


Of all the things Candy could have said, the homely injunction to eat was the one that made Larry feel most cared about and most scared.


I could really fall for this guy, Larry thought.


“I’m not hungry,” Larry said.


“Okay,” Candy said easily, unwrapping the foil on their plates and popping the tops on their beers. “Just keep me company then, because I am.”


“All right,” Larry said, not wanting to be rude.


Candy suppressed a smile. If there was a man alive who could sit in front of fries and onion rings and not eat a few, he’d never met him. Larry was no exception.


His appetite returned with a vengeance after the first few fried treats. Larry ate lustily, sipped his beer eagerly, and his despondent mood began to lift as his blood sugar rose.


Candy ate slowly, savoring Larry’s pleasure as much as his own burger. Ceded the lion’s share of fries and onion rings to Larry.


“If we had ketchup this would be perfect,” Larry said.


Candy rolled his eyes.


“Ketchup would ruin them.”


“Ketchup would make the meal.”


Both men laughed.


“Wish I had another beer,” Larry said, draining the last of his. Candy nudged his quarter full bottle across to Larry. Larry drank it down slowly. Lifted his eyes to Candy’s and licked his wet lips deliberately.


Candy leaned in, cupped the back of Larry’s head in his hand and kissed him. Larry opened his mouth to Candy’s tongue.


Chairs clattered awkwardly as both men stood and by mutual agreement, moved towards the bed.


They tumbled onto the bed together, clumsy in their eager passion. Larry sprawled on his back and Candy rolled on top of him and kissed him more deeply.


A flare of emotion in Larry’s eyes.


Candy saw it and recognized it immediately for what it was. Fear, not desire. Panic. Candy rolled sideways, freeing Larry, his arms soft, his voice gentle.


“Easy, easy, I won’t hurt you...shh, Larry, you can move, you’re safe. Shh...”


“Shit.” Larry turned away.


“Larry? Look at me, please.” Candy used gentle finger pressure to turn Larry’s face back. Searched Larry’s eyes. “You okay now, Larry?”


“Yeah, sure, okay,” Larry breathed. “Sorry,” he added, almost inaudibly.


“Nothing to apologize for.” Candy’s hand made figure eights over Larry’s back, the repetitious pattern lulling Larry to calm.


“Um...” Larry murmured dreamily. “Nice.”


“Nothing you don’t want,” Candy promised. “We can just fool around a little.” He leaned into Larry, letting Larry feel how hard he was.


Larry hardened in response.


“Or we can sleep,” Candy teased gently. Larry groaned.


Candy tucked Larry into him more securely and kissed him again, very softly, but full on the mouth. Kept his eyes open, watching Larry’s reaction. Larry opened eagerly to his tongue.


Candy’s fingers traced the growing bulge in Larry’s pants. Tugged open the button, worked the zipper down. Larry pressed into Candy’s exploring hand, his cock straining against the cotton of his briefs.


Candy double-checked Larry’s eyes. No fear now, only lust and want. Candy undressed Larry, his own desire rising at the sight of his fair skin, his barely haired chest and crinkled nipples, the sweet lines of his thighs.


Candy stripped quickly. Lay full length alongside Larry, licked his palm and took Larry’s hot, velvet cock in his hand. Larry’s back arched and his eyes closed as he sank into the well of sensation.


For long moments there was no sound, only the silent dance of flesh with flesh, need meeting need.


“Oh wow,” Larry said, sprawling next to Candy. “Oh yeah. Oh shit, that was good.”


“That was good,” Candy agreed, kissing Larry. “You’re very, very, very good.”


To Candy’s dismay, Larry shook his head. No.


“Don’t say that,” Larry said, his mood shifting. “I’m no good at all. I’m no good at anything.”


“You’re good, you just had a lousy day.” Candy stroked the waves of light brown hair from Larry’s deeper brown eyes and let himself dream a little. He could fall hard for this one. “Things will look better tomorrow, Larry.”


“Whatever.” Larry shrugged and sat upright. “I’ll take the other bed, all right?” His voice sounded strained.


“Sure, Larry,” Candy said easily, understanding Larry’s need for space. He watched as Larry walked to the other bed, admiring his nicely muscled body, his well developed shoulders and chest. Larry was a looker, all right.


Larry pulled the covers over him and turning so that Candy wouldn’t see him, buried his face in the pillow and began to cry, as quietly as possible.


Candy heard him anyway. He hesitated, wanting to offer comfort and at the same time not wanting to humiliate Larry. But as the crying showed no signs of abating, Candy’s nurturing instincts took over.


Candy rolled quietly out of his bed and seated himself on Larry’s bed. Rested his warm hand on Larry’s quivering back and began to rub slow, gentle circles. Neither man spoke. Larry continued to cry. Candy continued his gentle back rub.


Larry’s sobs became sniffles. Candy stretched out behind Larry and spooned Larry to him. Larry snuggled into Candy and with a final sniff, fell into exhausted sleep. Candy lay awake awhile longer, listening to Larry’s breathing deepen. Relishing the feel of the warm body pressed to his.


Reluctantly, Candy released Larry and returned to his own bed. He didn’t want Larry to feel he had taken advantage of his moment of despair. Candy lay in the dark, wishing he still held his sweet lover in his arms. Finally, he too fell asleep.


Both men woke early, Candy from habit, Larry from anxiety.


“Do you think my car’s okay?” Larry asked.


“Let’s drop by Brady’s and see when they can get a truck out there,” Candy said. “I just have to turn my horses out in Mabel’s corral first. They’re stabled in back. Want to come with me? I’ll buy you breakfast.” He grinned at Larry. “That’s a bribe.”


Larry laughed. He hadn’t felt this happy in weeks. The misery that was yesterday was the culmination of many weeks of low grade unhappiness. Now, with Candy’s blue eyes smiling at him, Candy’s obvious liking for him bolstering his shaky self esteem, Larry felt better than he had in a long time.


“You don’t have to bribe me,” Larry said softly. “I like horses. I used to ride when I was a kid. I’d love to see yours.”


“Hey, that’s great!” Candy grinned at Larry. “Now we have something else in common.”


“Besides sex?” Larry teased, but there was a real question underlying the joke.


“I have the feeling we have a lot in common besides being studs,” Candy said with a smile.


Larry laughed again, his brown eyes warming under Candy’s approving gaze. Pulling on his sneakers, he followed Candy downstairs to the back.


“Morning, Mabel, how’re my boys?” Candy asked the heavy-set woman Larry had met the night before. This morning she was forking clean straw into the stalls.


“Fresh, like their owner,” Mabel said sourly. “So, young man, do you snore?”


Larry hesitated, unsure how to respond.


“You mean you didn’t hear him downstairs?” Candy laughed heartily. “Mabel, you must be having some sweet dreams if you have to ask that.”


“Fresh,” she repeated, but with a smile. Damn but that cowboy was a charmer.


Larry looked uncertainly at Candy, who winked at him. Reassured, Larry relaxed.


“Hey, hey Choco, hey, Sugar,” Candy crooned. “Pretty boys. Pretty.” He scratched the two heads, one bay, one chestnut, that poked at him over the side of the stalls.


Larry stroked the soft black velvet of the dark bay’s nose.


“That’s Choco,” said Candy. “Chocolate Dreams if you really want to know. And this is Sugarfoot, who’s not a bit sweet. Choco’s a prince, but this brat...” Candy shook his head affectionately. “Sugar’s a beauty, but he’s a handful and a half. Hell of a jumper, though.”


“Jumper?” Larry was momentarily taken aback. “You show English, then?”


“English and Western both,” Candy said. “I train, mostly, but I show enough to keep my name out there. It’s a good way to pick up clients. And I like having an excuse to travel a little. Just as long as I’m not on the road too long.”


“It sounds nice,” Larry said wistfully. Concerned, Choco nosed his hand. “Sorry, boy,” Larry apologized, resuming scratching the bay’s neck.


“You made another friend,” Candy observed. “Come on, let’s get these boys outside and then we’ll eat. Mabel! Okay if I leave them loose in the corral a bit?”


“Sure, why not? I have my old mare out there, they should be fine with her,” Mabel said. “Are you leaving today, Candy? Do you want his room?” she asked Larry.


“I...” Larry hesitated. “It depends on my car,” he said. “Whether or not I can drive it.”


“We’ll let you know in an hour or two, Mabel,” Candy said. “We’re going to go talk to Brady and then grab a bite to eat. They’ll tow Larry’s car in and then we’ll know what’s up. All right?” Candy favored her with a megawatt smile.


“Charmer. All right,” Mabel said.


“Do you flirt like that with everyone?” Larry groused as they walked back to Candy’s truck.

“That’s not flirting, that’s just being friendly,” Candy laughed. “Now you’re what I’d call worth flirting with.” He batted his eyelashes at Larry.


“You’re nuts!” Larry cracked up.


They swung by Brady’s Garage. Larry described where he had left his car. Handing over his keys, he agreed to come back in an hour.


“Breakfast next,” Candy said, indicating the diner across the street. It was clearly a local place, no frills, but bright and clean. The waitress greeted Candy by name and showed them to a booth. Poured two mugs of steaming coffee without waiting to be asked.


“Thank you,” said both men simultaneously, then smiled at each other.


“Let’s see,” the waitress said, smiling at Candy. “Bacon, eggs and pancakes for you, right, cowboy?”


“Yes, please.” Candy smiled back at her.


“Scrambled eggs and sausage, corn muffin,” Larry said curtly, feeling an unreasonable stab of jealousy.


“Thank you,” Candy added, as she turned away with their orders.


“Blah, blah, blah,” Larry commented.


“It doesn’t hurt to be polite,” Candy said. “Does it now, Larry?” His blue eyes searched Larry’s face.


“Fuck you,” Larry said sullenly. The morning’s euphoria was fading fast. Larry felt edgy and anxious. “Do you like to fuck girls, too, or do you just like to play with them?”


Candy caught his breath sharply.


“Shit,” Larry said. “Why can’t I keep my fucking mouth shut?” He looked away. “I’m sorry,” he said, knowing how inadequate his apology was.


To his surprise, he felt the back of Candy’s hand brush the back of his knuckles in a quick, discreet caress.


“Forget it, Larry. I know you’re upset, I’m not angry.” Candy’s voice was warm and steady. “Larry, don’t beat yourself up.”


Larry dropped his eyes to the table, his shoulders hunched to his ears.


“Larry, you’ve got to relax,” Candy said softly. “You’re only hurting yourself. Come on, our food will be here in a moment. Take a few deep breaths. Look at me.”


Reluctantly Larry raised his eyes. A faint blush staining his cheekbones revealed just how upset he really was.


“It’s all right, Larry,” Candy said, his heart going out to his new lover. “It’s going to work out.”


“I don’t have anything left,” Larry said miserably. “I lived with him for a fucking year. I let him dictate what jobs I accepted, whether or not I traveled, all of it. I did half what I could have. Candy, I’ve got shit lined up. Nothing, nothing at all. I don’t know where I’m going to live, I don’t know if I can get any work this fast, I don’t know anything.”


“I know you’re upset,” Candy said. “I also know you’re going to get through this. Listen to me, Larry. You’re a strong man. If you chose to live with someone for a year and it didn’t work out, well, at least you tried. You’re going to come out of this all right, Larry.”


Larry knew he shouldn’t believe Candy. Larry knew he shouldn’t trust this stranger he had just met. This one night stand. Yet there was something in the utter certainty in Candy’s voice that was enormously reassuring.


“You really think so?” Larry asked, hating himself for needing the reassurance, but wanting the comfort of it nonetheless.


“I know so,” Candy said calmly. “Here’s our breakfast.” He smiled at their waitress again. “Looks good. Thank you.”


“Thank you, it looks good,” Larry echoed.


“Enjoy your meal, boys.” The waitress smiled at both of them before fading back toward the kitchen.


“Much better, Larry.” Candy praised Larry’s improved manners.


Despite himself, Larry smiled. He hadn’t garnered much praise lately. His former boyfriend had been perpetually unhappy with him.


I’m know I’m too needy, Larry thought. But I don’t know...this guy seems to totally get where I’m coming from. I wish we had some time to get to know each other.


I like this guy, Candy thought. I’d like to get to know him better.


“What sort of work do you do, Larry?” Candy asked curiously.


“I’m a writer,” Larry said. “Maybe you’ve seen my byline? Lawrence Enslow. I write for a lot of gay publications. Have you seen my stuff in Out Living? No? I do some freelance copyediting for a few of the smaller presses, too.”


“That sounds interesting,” Candy said.


“It’s a living.” Larry shrugged. “Of sorts. I’ve done a lot of other shit work to keep afloat. Freelance writing isn’t exactly a steady income. Since Jeffrey didn’t like me waiting tables, or bartending, or anything else I could pick up, I pretty much just wrote this last year. I sold what I could, where I could.” Larry laughed bitterly.


“Was that a problem for him?” asked Candy.


“You might say that. He recognized himself in the last piece I published. He was pissed as hell that I’d written about him,” Larry said.


“I’d imagine that’s an occupational hazard, living with a writer?” Candy asked.


“Yeah, except, well, he called it a breach of trust. We had a huge fight over it and, well, that’s about it. I packed what I had and I left.” Larry shrugged. “It’d been over for awhile anyway, I guess. We just neither of us wanted to admit it.”


“I’m sorry,” Candy said. “It sounds like he meant a lot to you.”


“It was a special kind of relationship,” Larry said, his face flushing.


“I’m sorry, Larry,” Candy said again. “It’s hard losing someone who’s special to you.”


“No, that’s not what I meant,” Larry said, shaking his head. “I can’t explain!”


“It’s all right,” Candy said soothingly, recognizing how agitated Larry was becoming. “You don’t owe me any explanations. I’m just sorry things didn’t work out the way you’d hoped.”


“Yeah.” Larry was silent, thinking about his former boyfriend. Lover. Partner. Top. Some fucking Top he turned out to be. Larry’s mouth soured; he was going to be sick. Bolting from the table, he managed to find the men’s room before losing his breakfast.


Now he’s really going to think I’m an asshole, Larry thought, cupping his hands under the faucet and splashing his face. He rinsed his mouth, washed and dried his hands and returned sheepishly to their table.


“How do you feel?” Candy asked sympathetically.


Larry felt tears prickle. Why did the man have to be so fucking considerate!


“Fine. Just fine. Can we go?” Larry asked wretchedly. “I need to see about my car.”


“Ready when you are,” Candy said easily, standing up. “I got the check already.”


Oh. Larry felt even guiltier.


“Larry, it was no big deal,” Candy said, seeing Larry’s expression. “Come on, let’s see what Brady’s has to say.”


The mechanic had good news. Except for a broken headlight, the car was undamaged.

Headlight and tow came to eighty five dollars. Larry proffered his credit card and reclaimed his keys.


“Hey, thanks for everything,” Larry said, holding his hand out to Candy. His voice cool, his smile hard. He didn’t meet Candy’s eyes. He didn’t allow himself to feel anything at all.


“What’s your hurry, Larry?” Candy asked, his voice gentle. He didn’t want his sweet new friend to bolt, and that’s what was about to happen. “Would you like to see what my place looks like? It’s just an hour northwest from here. How about it?”


Larry wavered.


“Take a chance,” Candy coaxed. “You might get lucky this time.”


“I got lucky last night,” Larry said, making a joke of it. “I guess I can stand some more of that if you can.”


“How nice, Larry.” Candy shook his head. “You certainly have a way with words!” But what a way, Candy thought to himself. “I’m not surprised you’re a writer.”


“Sorry?” Larry said, the word more challenge than apology. He recognized Candy’s sarcasm for the reproof it was.


Candy refused the gambit.


“Let me give you directions to my place,” Candy said. “It’s very simple.”


Stone columns. Gravel driveway. Gray-blue house, peeling red barn across the field. Just as Candy had described it.


“What the fuck am I doing here?” Larry asked out loud, turning off the ignition.


“Larry! You made it!” Candy’s joyous exclamation startled Larry out of his doubts.


Larry’s earlier misgivings gave way before Candy’s genuine excitement. Candy ushered him into the house.


“Make yourself at home,” Candy said with a smile. “I’m very glad you’re here, Larry.”


Larry looked around curiously. This place was neat! The walls and low ceiling were papered in old-fashioned small florals. The hodgepodge of patterns would have given the finicky Jeffrey nightmares. The thought made Larry very happy.


The expression on Larry’s face made Candy’s smile even broader. The man who he was already beginning to think of as his boyfriend looked happier than Candy had yet seen him. Candy drew him into an impulsive hug.


Larry leaned into Candy’s embrace, his hands encircling Candy’s back. His mouth met Candy’s in a kiss so deep that both men were moved by it.


Wordlessly, they backed into the living room, onto the couch. Although they had only had one night together, their bodies had learned each other’s pleasures. Clothing flew, hands grasped, mouths met flesh. The couch creaked.


“Wow.” Larry looked up at the living room ceiling, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “What’s that expression again? I think we may have frightened the horses this time.”


“God, Larry, that was incredible,” Candy said. “Jesus. I don’t believe we did that.”


“Oh, we did,” Larry said wickedly. “You did. I did. And god was it good!” He giggled as Candy poked his ribs playfully.


“Good thing this is a sturdy couch,” Candy groused. “Jeez, Larry, you should come with a warning label.” Candy kissed Larry again.


Snaps snapped, zippers zipped, buttons buttoned, the two men settled in at the kitchen table. Candy snagged sodas, made sandwiches. Larry ate hungrily. They chatted amiably about nothing at all in the bemused fashion of the besotted.


“You want to see my string?” Candy asked as the sun sank lower in the sky. “I have to feed and water before supper. Come with me?”


“Yeah, I want to see your horses,” Larry said, sounding as enthusiastic as a boy. “Wow. You really are a cowboy, cowboy.” He giggled again, giddy. He couldn’t help it.


Candy smiled, his blue eyes clear and happy. This was going better than he would have believed possible.


Larry trailed Candy through the barn, delighting in the smell of fresh hay and the friendly snuffling of the animals. Petted the stable cats, enjoying how they wound around his ankles. Listened to Candy greet each of the horses by name as he distributed grain. Fantasized about what it would be like to belong here.


“They’re not all mine,” Candy said as they returned to the house. “At any given time I’ll have three or four horses I’m training for someone. It’s hard work, but it’s outdoors and I’m my own boss. I love it.” He smiled at Larry.


“Do you need to be anywhere in particular for your work, Larry?”


“As long as I have my computer, a phone and a fax machine, I’m fine,” Larry said. “Why?”


“Well, you mentioned you weren’t sure where you were headed next. I thought you might like to stay here for a little while, until you find your feet again,” Candy offered. “There’s plenty of room. I’ve got four bedrooms. I sleep in one and use one for my office. That leaves you two. I’ve got a fax machine, a fast printer and a decent internet connection, if that helps you out any.”


Larry gaped at Candy.


“You don’t even know me! Why would you do this?” Larry asked.


“I like you,” Candy said frankly. “I figure this would be as good a way as any to get to know you.” He grinned loopily at Larry. “I’m falling for you in a big way.”


Larry shook his head. No one he knew was this open. Candy was either a fool or far too sure of himself for his own good.


“You don’t have to give me an answer now,” Candy said. “It’s a real offer. Think it over. In the meanwhile, you’ll at least stay for dinner, right?”


“Um...okay,” Larry said. “Candy? It’s a really nice offer, even if I don’t take you up on it. Thank you.”


“I’ve got a feeling about us,” Candy said. “Hey, scare us up a couple of beers from the fridge and I’ll throw something on the grill. How hungry are you?”


“Very,” Larry said, surprising himself. His ex-boyfriend had made Larry self-conscious about his eating habits to the point where Larry had mostly lost his taste for big meals. But the combination of fresh air and Candy’s warmth had done wonders to spark his appetite.


Several beers and several pounds of rare steak later, both men were full and happy. They lazed at the table, talking in a desultory fashion, their hands occasionally brushing. It was a foregone conclusion what was on the dessert menu.


Candy pushed his chair back from the table. Larry straddled his lap.


“I’m not too heavy for you?” Larry asked. “My ex-boyfriend said I was getting fat.”


“You seem damn fine to me, Larry,” Candy replied. They kissed slowly and deeply, enjoying the feel of each other’s hardening cocks. “He was a fool to let you go.”


“I can be a real prick,” Larry said, his voice turning somber.


“Can’t we all,” Candy said ruefully, recognizing Larry’s shift in mood. “None of us is perfect. Kiss me.”


Larry sighed. Candy was the kind of guy he went for. Quiet, confident, sure of himself.


Ah, fuck it. Candy was the kind of guy who would break his heart. Which he didn’t fucking need broken again.


“No, I really can be a prick,” Larry said unhappily. “I need...things...”


“What do you need, Larry?” Candy asked curiously.


“A firm hand,” Larry said, watching Candy’s face for any sign of revulsion. “Discipline.”


“Just what are we talking about here, Larry?” Candy smacked his palm crisply against his own thigh. Larry started at the sound. “Spanking?”


“I guess.” Larry flushed.


“Play spanking? Or for punishment?”


“For punishment. For real. Not a sex game. Domestic discipline, some people call it.”


“I know what domestic discipline is.” Candy was silent.


“What? What?” Larry demanded. “What are you thinking?” Angry, belligerent, preparing himself for the rejection he anticipated.


“Hush, Larry,” Candy said softly. “There’s no need to shout at me. I think discipline can be a good thing in a relationship, if both partners agree.”


“Huh?” Larry gaped at him, sure he had heard wrong. This was too fucking easy.


“Larry. There’s no need to decide this this minute, is there?” Candy took Larry’s face in his hands, leaned in and kissed him. “I’d be comfortable in a vanilla relationship. I’d be comfortable in a relationship that included discipline. It all depends on what you need.”


“No bondage, no collars, no master-slave shit,” Larry cautioned. “Nothing kinky like that.”


“No, nothing kinky like that,” Candy agreed with a chuckle. “What we’re into’s not kinky, hmm?”


“Are you making fun of me?” Larry demanded angrily.


“No, Larry, I was teasing you a little, that’s all. Shh...” Candy studied Larry’s tense scowl. “I’d never intentionally hurt you, Larry. I don’t think we should even consider doing this if you have any doubts about that.”


“Yeah,” Larry was taken aback at how easily Candy backed off. Folded. Whatever. This was not the reaction Larry expected from the cowboy. Larry was hurt. “I guess not.”


Larry had wanted Candy to insist. Even to push him a little. Thoroughly miffed, Larry tried to pull away.


“You don’t understand! Do you even fucking care?”


“I care.” Candy held on. “Trust me, Larry, I care. And I understand better than you think.” He stroked Larry’s cheek and kissed him gently, ruffling his hair. “Even hicks get on the internet these days.”


Mollified, Larry settled back into Candy’s arms. But only for a moment. What sort of bullshit was this, anyway?


“You don’t understand,” Larry insisted, distrusting how easy this seemed. “You’re just fucking with me!” Larry tried again to pull away, this time harder.


“Is that how you feel?” Candy asked, stung. He released Larry, not wanting to overstep any boundaries. “Would you please stay put a moment, colt? I’d like for us to talk a little more about this.”


“I don’t want to fucking talk,” Larry said nastily, standing up and glaring down at Candy. How dare Candy be so reasonable! So calm. So kind. Larry’s heart rate soared. “Fuck you!”


For Larry was suddenly panic stricken. Candy was too nice. This would never work.


“Fuck you!” Larry knew, he just knew, he’d fuck this up like he’d fucked up every other fucking relationship in his fucking life. Only this time it would hurt even more, because he liked Candy.


Candy studied his coveted new boyfriend quietly. Larry’s defiant words were at odds with his pallid, sweaty face, with the racing pulse in his neck. This colt was scared.


“Say something, you fucking bastard!” Larry snarled, not knowing how to interpret Candy’s silence.


“You’re not ready to make a decision this important tonight,” Candy said mildly. “You’re too upset to think clearly, Larry.”


“How the fuck do you know that?” Larry asked challengingly. Relieved to have something to latch onto. “Who the fuck are you to decide that?”


“Larry, be sensible,” Candy kept his voice soft, not wanting to fuel Larry’s fury. If push came to shove, he knew, he could simply take this colt down. Candy very much hoped it wouldn’t come to that tonight.


“You fucking asshole, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.” Make me stop, Larry thought, make me stop. I can’t stop myself. Oh god, somebody, make me stop. “Don’t fucking tell me to be sensible, you fucking–“


Enough was enough. Before any more was said that could not be unsaid, it was time to call a halt to this charade.


"All right, Larry," Candy said quietly. “That’s enough. No more. The cursing stops, now.”


“The fuck it does! Asshole! I won’t stop till you make me. Spank me, I dare you! Spank me!”


“Larry, this is your one and only warning. One more rude word out of your mouth and I will do exactly what you’re asking. Curse at me again and I’ll spank you.” Candy locked eyes with Larry.


“Fuck you, I fucking dare you!” Larry spat.


“I warned you. You ignored me. You’re getting a spanking.” There was no anger in Candy’s voice, simply resolve.


Larry backed away, shaking his head. No.


Test number one, Larry thought to himself, his thoughts oddly lucid in comparison to his out-of-control actions. Would Candy pursue him despite his protests?


"Larry," Candy chided, herding Larry into a corner and corralling the defiant man snugly. in his arms. "If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right. You have got a spanking coming and I am going to spank you. Now.”


"You bastard! Leave me alone, you sonofabitch!" Larry kicked out viciously.


Test number two. Would his violent refusal make Candy back off? Experience had taught Larry that very few lovers were able to stand up to this sort of assault.


“Stop that!” Candy said, avoiding Larry’s kick.


“You motherfucking bastard, let me go!” Larry was tempted to back down in the face of Candy’s steady determination, but frightened at how tempted he actually was, instead fought all the harder. “Sonofabitch! I fucking hate you!”


Candy shook his head reprovingly, his lips quirking downward.


"I really don't care for that sort of language, Larry," Candy said. "And I'm certainly not going to stand for having it directed at me by my boyfriend."


"I knew you couldn't stand me for long," Larry said, freezing at Candy’s words. A hard, angry smile distorted his face. His voice dropped, becoming cold and bitter. "They never can."


“Larry, Larry, Larry.” Candy shook his head. Such a skittish colt. "We'll see about that. I like you plenty and I can stand you just fine, even if I don’t like your little tantrum. That I won’t stand for!” Taking Larry by the forearm, he turned him sideways and swatted him, hard. “Get those jeans off and those shorts down. You're getting that spanking you asked for, colt."


"OW! No!! Stop!!! I changed my mind!" Larry tried to back away.


"Look at me, Larry," Candy said quietly, holding him firmly. "Is that true?” Candy tilted Larry's face up so that their eyes met. He searched Larry’s eyes for an answer, needing to be sure that Larry wanted the relationship they were about to begin.


For a moment Larry’s tantrum faded entirely. A look of longing flitted across his face. He took a deep breath. Gazed into Candy’s clear blue eyes, his own eyes pleading for understanding.


I don’t know how to ask, Candy. Please help me!


“M’okay,” Larry said soberly. “Really I am.”


“All right, Larry,” Candy said. “I’ll take you at your word.”


Oh, yes! Larry nodded his head in quick agreement, his relief palpable.


“In which case,” Candy continued without any sign of hesitation, “You are getting a spanking.”


"Go ahead, spank me," Larry spat, back in full fight mode. "It's not going to make a fucking bit of difference."


"Larry my love, you don't know as much as you think. We're going to finish what you started. Come on now, Larry. Take your pants down and take what you've got coming."


"Make me!"


Candy understood that Larry needed to fight, that he wanted to be pushed past his own reluctance. Candy grasped Larry's wrist and spun him around, using Larry's own arm to pin Larry securely against him despite Larry's increasingly frantic struggles.


"Last chance, Larry. Take your own jeans down or I'll do it for you."


"I'll do it," Larry yelped, flushing red, tears already welling.


"That's it, Larry," Candy said approvingly, releasing him. Larry was a lot easier to read than Larry himself knew.


Larry leaned into Candy for a long moment, his breathing harsh and rapid.


“Don't hurt me," Larry said. “I don’t want to get hurt.” Clearly physical pain was not what worried Larry.


“Larry my love. I won’t hurt you," Candy said. You’re mine now and I know what I’m doing. “I won’t let you hurt yourself.” Unbuttoning Larry's jeans and pushing them down, he seated himself and tugged Larry forward over his lap. Larry struggled to right himself. Candy brought his hand down hard.


"Stop that now and take what you've got coming," he admonished Larry. "You earned this, fair and square." He swatted Larry's cotton covered ass twice more, and then hooked his finger under the waistband of Larry's briefs and took them down too, baring Larry completely.


Candy spanked hard, but there was no anger in his swats, simply determination. Larry calmed even as he began to cry. Candy continued for what seemed to Larry an endless amount of time. Larry's bottom was a dark, shiny red and his face was a wet, mottled red when Candy finally decided that he had been spanked soundly enough.


"It's over now.” Candy eased Larry from his lap. Let Larry slip to his knees alongside him and then stood, drawing Larry upright along with him. “Let's get you cleaned up."


"You're going to leave me now," Larry sniffled. “Everyone leaves me.”


Candy swatted him, not gently.


"OW! You said we were done!"


"Stop talking nonsense, then." Candy cupped Larry’s chin in his hand, his fingers smoothing the tear tracks on his face. “Do you really think I would have spanked you if I didn’t care about you? About us? I’m not leaving you, Larry.” Candy kissed Larry thoroughly, not breaking off until he felt Larry kiss back. “I’m equal to you, Larry. Your tantrums won’t drive me away, but they will earn you a spanking. Every time, Larry my love.”


“I don’t feel good,” Larry said piteously. His eyes were red and his nose was still dripping and his bottom was throbbing painfully.


“I know,” Candy said sympathetically, steering Larry towards the stairway. “I gave you a hard spanking. Next time I warn you to stop, stop. Come upstairs and wash up and we’ll get you into a bed.”


“You sure?” Larry asked. “I’m a mess. I’m not going to be much fun tonight, Candy, and it’s your own fucking fault. Ow, don’t, I was kidding.” He danced away from Candy’s light reminder swat.


“Try not to curse so much, please,” Candy said. “It doesn’t suit you, Larry.”


“Oh.” Larry considered Candy’s statement. He’d had his mouth washed out with soap, he’d stood in corners, he’d written lines...Candy’s reproof mattered in a way none of those had.


“It doesn’t suit you, Larry.” Larry turned the phrase over in his mind, vaguely pleased that Candy thought it was true.


Candy steered Larry into the bathroom. Ran a sink of water and encouraged Larry to splash his face. Scrabbled in the bathroom cabinet for a new toothbrush and handed the cardboard package to Larry.


“I have mine,” Larry protested. “In my car.” He hesitated. “I have my shaving kit, too,” Larry said ruefully. “I hoped...well, I hoped something would happen. Not so much this though.” He sniffled.


“It’s a lot for one night,” Candy agreed, holding out the toothpaste. “Use my stuff for now. You can get your stuff in the morning. There’s floss in the closet. Finish washing up and then it’s bedtime.” He tactfully closed the bathroom door behind him.


Larry opened the toothbrush and dutifully flossed and brushed. Used the toilet, wincing a little. He’d been spanked many times before. The sting was familiar and although unpleasant, not entirely unwelcome. At least he had a boyfriend again. He shook his head. Finding a new relationship within forty eight hours was a record, even for him.


Candy made up the bed in the guest bedroom, not sure how much intimacy Larry would want. He retired to his own bedroom. Left both doors ajar. Let it be Larry’s choice.


“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Larry asked hopefully, hesitating at the door to Candy’s room.


“Nothing would make me happier.” Candy had already stripped to his boxers and turned down the bed. He stretched out on his back and let Larry choose his own position.


Larry moved to the side of the bed and lowered himself carefully onto his stomach, trying not to moan as the movement hurt his tenderized rear. He laid his head trustingly on Candy’s chest, enjoying the feel of Candy’s fingers carding through his hair, reorganizing the light brown strands.


“Larry my love,” Candy said, comfortably, familiarly. “I know it took a lot of guts to ask for what you needed. Thank you for trusting me.” He kissed Larry’s temple. Larry turned his face up to meet Candy’s lips with his own.


“You didn’t seem to have much of a problem with it,” Larry mumbled, breaking off the kiss and snuggling into Candy. “Damn, you’ve got a hard hand. That really hurt!” He sounded somewhat aggrieved.


“I think that’s the point of a spanking,” Candy said. “At least it’s why I spanked you. You’re supposed to be sore. That’s why it’s called punishment.”


“I know, I know,” Larry said grouchily. “I know that, Candy. Still...”


Candy rubbed Larry’s back, his hand warm and heavy and comforting.


“You’ll feel better in morning, Larry. Then we can do something a lot nicer.”


“‘kay,” said Larry, his eyes already closed, his breathing already deepening. Within moments he was fast asleep.


“Larry my love.” Candy rubbed his cheek over his new boyfriend’s soft hair. “Mine.” Candy drew the covers over both of them and fell asleep, relishing the comfortable weight of Larry’s body pressed to his own.


The wafting odor of coffee and the sunlight streaming through the curtains woke Larry. Candy proffered the source of the tempting smell and Larry accepted the cup eagerly. He took a few sips and lay back, a grin on his face, his hand caressing his morning erection through the thin fabric of his shorts.


Candy felt his own cock stiffen at the sight.


“How do you want it?” Larry asked. He kicked the covers back. Drew his underwear down and off. His cock was rigid.


“Lie there,” Candy said huskily, admiring his lover’s hardness. He dispensed with his own clothing, exposing his solid erection.


Candy pressed Larry into the pillows. Kissed him, his tongue teasing Larry’s lips open. Candy licked his way down Larry’s throat, sucked at the little hollow near the base. Supporting himself on his hands and knees, Candy ran his tongue down the midline of Larry’s body. Took Larry’s cock in his mouth and began to work him between tongue and palate. Larry moaned, arching his back.


“Oh god that’s so good. God Candy god it’s good,” Larry moaned, words giving way to incoherent groans of pleasure. He came, hard, in Candy’s mouth. Candy licked and sucked through his orgasm, until with a final shudder, Larry twitched away.


Candy wiped his mouth on the sheet and stretched out alongside Larry.


“Good morning, Larry my love,” Candy teased gently.


“God. Good. Good morning,” Larry finally managed to say. “Oh god it was good. God. I love you, Candy.”


“I love you, Larry,” Candy said. “You’re beautiful.” Candy ran his hand over Larry’s stubbled cheek, rubbed his thumb over Larry’s lips. “Roll over, let me see what your ass looks like.”


Larry turned obediently onto his stomach. Last night’s red heat was gone. Candy’s exploring hand felt good. Larry widened his legs, wordlessly inviting Candy to continue.


Candy stroked his finger between the taut mounds and gently circled the crinkled ring of muscle within.


“Yes,” Larry said softly. “Oh yes. Please. Have you got stuff?”


“In the night table,” Candy said. “You want me inside you, Larry?” Candy needed to be sure.


Larry twisted sideways, reaching for the drawer. Retrieved the needed supplies and handed them back to Candy.


“Please, Candy,” Larry said throatily. “Please.”


Candy put a dab of lubricant on the head of his cock and slicked the condom over it, then coated his jacketed cock. Took a generous gob of lube on his finger and teased it into Larry. Larry drew his knees under him, exposing himself completely.


Candy knelt between Larry’s legs and positioned himself carefully. Pressing forward steadily, he sheathed himself in Larry’s tight, hot channel.


Larry stayed very still, breathing through the initial stretch, not yet comfortable. Candy waited for Larry’s nod before thrusting again. This time Larry met his movement.


“Good good god that’s good,” Larry chanted. His cock hardened again as Candy stroked him in just the right places. “Oh god!” He stroked himself to a second orgasm, his cum sputtering onto the sheets.


“Larry.” Candy lost himself in the blissful heat of their coupling. A half dozen more thrusts and he too came, deep within Larry. He withdrew carefully. Tied off the condom and dropped it alongside the bed.


“Larry my love.” Candy drew Larry into his arms and kissed him leisurely.


“I love this.” Larry sighed contentedly. “I think I love you, Candy.”


“I love you, Larry,” Candy said certainly. “This is going to be good.”


“I’m not a very good person,” Larry said bleakly. “You don’t know me.”


“I know all I need to know, Larry,” Candy said quietly. ”You’re good enough for me.” He jostled Larry gently, already accustomed to Larry’s mercurial mood shifts. “Get up, get dressed and I’ll make us some pancakes. Come on now, Larry.”


Glad for the distraction, Larry obeyed. Snagged his coffee cup and followed Candy downstairs.


As Candy mixed batter and scrambled eggs, Larry puttered about the kitchen, familiarizing himself with the cabinets. He found the maple syrup and laid the table. Refreshed his coffee; poured Candy a cup. Missed no opportunity to brush affectionately against Candy.

Candy smiled at Larry across the table.


“So what are you going to do first?” Candy asked. “Call your agent, call your editors, let them know where they can reach you?”


“Call Jeffrey and get him to Fed Ex me my cell,” Larry said. “It’s the least he can do, the bastard.”


“I’m sorry, Larry.” Candy touched Larry’s hand. “You up to that?”


“Yeah. It’s a new phone, it’s got great features and it’s mine,” Larry said. “I paid for it,” he added defensively, glaring at Candy as if he’d been questioned.


“Easy, Larry,” Candy said quietly. “I’m not the one who hurt you. You don’t need to take that tone with me.”


“I’m sorry?” Larry swallowed hard. He wanted a discipline relationship, but he didn’t want another spanking.


“It’s all right,” Candy said easily. “It’s a little thing, Larry. Not a spanking offense.” He bit his lip, trying not to laugh, as Larry let out a relieved sigh.


“Are we going to make a list of rules?” Larry asked Candy.


“Do we need to?” Candy answered. “I think you already know what they are, Larry. Basic good manners, no cursing, no tantrums, no lies.”


“Oh.” Larry considered the question. Jeffrey and he had structured their discipline relationship carefully. They had looked at websites and exchanged anonymous emails with men of similar tastes. They had reviewed their previous relationships. They had conferred with friends of Jeffrey’s who knew the lifestyle. They had negotiated rules and consequences. They had discussed the details of their arrangements ad infinitum.


They had hurt each other badly.


“Larry my love?” Candy had watched the play of emotions across Larry’s face. “We can talk about this together. You don’t have to sort this out all by yourself.”


Larry dashed the heel of his hand impatiently across the tears that had somehow begun to course down his cheeks.


“Gentle, gentle,” Candy said reprovingly, capturing Larry’s fist. He took a paper napkin from the holder on the table and daubed the tear tracks on Larry’s face. Cupped Larry’s chin in his hand, ran his thumb over Larry’s lips.


“We don’t need a list,” Larry said hoarsely. “I think you know what you’re doing. I trust you, Candy.”


Candy leaned across the table and kissed him soft and full. Larry closed his eyes and opened his mouth to Candy’s kiss.


“I don’t think I’ve had this much sex in the last month,” Larry giggled. Once again the two men lay sprawled, sweaty and blissfully sated, on the couch.


“I love you,” Candy said. “I think I’m dead. What you do to me...”


They smiled at each other.


“Day’s a-wasting,” Candy said, sorting out their jeans and underwear and pulling on his own. “I’ve got four horses to work this afternoon. You’ve got phone calls to make.” He kissed Larry again. Studied Larry’s face. “How do you feel? You’ve still got some pretty good bruises.”


“I’m fine,” Larry said. He smiled at Candy, his eyes bright and calm. “I’m just fine, Candy. I’m feeling really good right now.”


“‘kay then. I’ll get started and you get to work. I’ll be out in the ring by the barn if you want me.” Candy pulled on his boots and headed out the door.


Larry decided to shower before getting dressed. He stood under the warm spray and considered his new position.


He had somewhere to stay, seemingly as long as he wanted to. He had a new boyfriend who was not only cute and hot and made his cock harden to think about, but also willing and quite able to take him in hand. He had landed on his feet.


Larry sang as he rinsed the shampoo out of his hair, his pleasant tenor blending with the sound of the breeze in the trees outside the bathroom window. For the first time in many weeks, he felt he might have a chance at happiness.


The feeling evaporated quickly. The call to Jeffrey was quick and unpleasant. Clearly, Jeffrey was screening his calls. Larry left a cool message asking Jeffrey to send his phone to Candy’s address.


Numbly Larry unpacked his car and carted his laptop and duffel up to the bedroom. He hung up his few good clothes and then, feeling edgy and dissatisfied, decided to take a walk over to check on Candy.


Candy was putting a palomino quarter horse through her paces. He reined her in as Larry approached the fence. She eyed Larry with interest.


“What a pretty horse,” Larry said, petting her neck. “How’s it going, Candy? I asked Jeffrey to send me my phone.”


“How’d it go, Larry?” Candy asked, studying Larry’s face. Larry looked unhappy.


“He didn’t talk to me. I left a message on his voicemail,” Larry admitted, obscurely embarrassed.


“Sonofabitch!” Candy said under his breath. “I’m sorry, Larry. That wasn’t very nice of him, was it?”


“It doesn’t matter,” Larry said heavily. Not wanting to think about it. Not wanting to feel anything at all.


“Want to go for a ride?” Candy asked. He wanted to see his new boyfriend smile. He wanted Larry to be happy. “I’ve got a horse I think you’ll be comfortable on. Come on, you need a little fun after that.”


“Yeah, okay, I guess,” Larry shrugged. “Fun” hadn’t been one of Jeffrey’s priorities. Larry had stopped believing in fun, except maybe in bed.


Candy swung easily from the palomino’s back, landing lightly on his feet. Brought her reins forward over her head and tethered her to a railing.


“Come on, Larry. Let’s find you a mount.” Candy led the way to the adjacent paddock where a rangy gray mare grazed. Whistling, he undid the gate and slipped inside. She came eagerly, her ears forward. Nuzzled his pockets, looking for the treat she expected.


“I call her Mouse,” Candy said, feeding her a quartered apple as he clipped a lead line to her halter. “Majestic Dancer. She was one of my first ladies. Say hello to Larry, Mouse. You be nice to him, hear me?” Keeping up his stream of patter, Candy led Mouse towards the barn.


“You more comfortable riding English or Western, Larry?” Candy asked. “She goes either way.”


“Um. Huh. I don’t know,” Larry said doubtfully. “It’s been a long time, Candy. I was just a kid on vacation the last time I rode a horse.”


“Western, ” Candy decided. He grinned at Larry. “Riding’s like sex, Larry my love. Once you’ve done it, you never forget how. Hang on to her while I grab a saddle and stuff.” Handing Larry the lead line, Candy headed into the tack room.


Larry gripped the nylon rope tightly. He watched, bemused, as Mouse shifted lazily foot to foot, her outer muscles twitching as she fended off flies.


A horse called Mouse. A cowboy called Candy. Larry shook his head. His life made no sense whatsoever to him and yet somehow, it felt utterly right.


Candy slung a blanket over Mouse’s back, eased the heavy Western saddle with its prominent saddle horn over that, and tightened the cinches. Slipped a snaffle bit into Mouse’s mouth and adjusted the bridle securely.


“Ready, Larry?” Candy asked. He led Mouse over to a raised block.


“Um, sure,” Larry said, moving to Candy’s side. He climbed the mounting block. Slipped his left foot into the near stirrup and swung his right leg over the mare’s back.


Larry had forgotten how good it felt to be in a saddle. He realized that Candy was right; his body did remember. He gathered the reins in his hands.


“Oh, Candy,” Larry said joyfully. “This is just great!”


“Good,” Candy said approvingly. “You have a nice seat, Larry. I bet you’re a natural at this. Come on, let’s take a little ride.” Candy led Mouse back to the training ring. “You comfortable?” he asked Larry.


“Yes,” Larry said, surprised by just how comfortable he really was.


“That’s my boy.” Candy smiled and swung himself easily into the palomino’s saddle. “Just let her follow me,” he instructed.


Mouse followed the other mare, as horses will. Larry’s back loosened as they walked out across the pasture towards the woods at the far edge. He lost himself in the pleasure of being on a horse on a fine day.


Candy’s mood matched Larry’s. To see his new boyfriend relaxed and smiling was a great joy. Candy trusted his instincts and they seldom failed him. Larry was meant for this!


Larry was content to ride at a walk this first time. Somehow he knew this was only a first time, that there would be many more rides. He felt the wind in his hair, smelled the forest leaves underfoot, and felt at peace.


“Oh,” moaned Larry that night, as he lay back against the pillows, body still throbbing from their lovemaking. “Candy, every muscle in my body aches. Oh god.”


“You’re not used to riding,” Candy laughed. “Roll over on your stomach and I’ll give you a good rubdown. Hey, don’t laugh, I’m serious. I’m good at this.”


Candy was good at this, Larry thought, as Candy worked his way down his back, easing the tightness in his muscles.


“Candy? Why? Do you want me?” Larry whispered.


“You’re cute, you’re smart, you’ve got a nice body and you’re good in bed,” Candy responded. “Who wouldn’t want you?”


Larry was silent. I’m all those things and I’m a bastard, too, he thought to himself.


“Hey.” Candy kissed the back of Larry’s neck, making him quiver. “Don’t think so much, Larry my love. Trust me. I want you. I love you, Larry.”


“But can you handle me?” Larry whispered, even as his eyes closed sleepily. “No one ever could before. I hope you can, Candy.”


“I can handle you,” Candy replied certainly. “I can handle you just fine, Larry.” He smoothed Larry’s hair back from his forehead and listened to his breathing deepen. Spooned Larry to him and slept himself.


Larry woke to the smell of horses and hay. Candy was flopped beside him on the bed, his boots off, his chest bare, his jeans bulging conspicuously. His blue eyes eager and hopeful.


Larry caught his breath. It had been a long time since he had seen that look in a lover’s eyes.


“Oh god yes,” Larry breathed, answering the unspoken question. He rolled onto his back, his own erection equally obvious.


The two men kissed, long and deep. Candy licked and kissed his way down Larry’s throat. Flicked his tongue over Larry’s nipples, blew lightly on the wet surface.


“Ahh!” Larry moaned, and Candy took pity on him and moved his attentions lower. Cupped Larry’s balls in a gentle hand and took Larry’s hard cock deep in his mouth. Larry arched upward, thrusting even deeper, and Candy took all of him.


“So good, oh oh oh god...” Larry moaned. “Candy, I’m going to–“ He pushed at Candy’s head, but Candy continued to work over him as Larry came hard, his cum spilling into Candy’s mouth, over his chin.


Candy wiped his face on the crumpled sheets and grinned smugly at his panting lover.


“Good?” Candy asked, laughing.


“I think you broke it.” Larry managed a breathless comeback. Candy flopped on his back and tugged Larry into his arms, kissing him affectionately.


“You’re still hard,” Larry observed after a time. “Can I–“


“Just jerk me off, okay?” Candy asked. “I like that. I like your hand, Larry.” He unbuttoned his fly and lifted his hips helpfully.


Larry worked Candy’s jeans and underwear down and, wetting his palm, did as Candy had asked.


“Did I do good?” Larry asked, snuggling into Candy afterwards.


“Any better and I’d be dead.” Candy stroked Larry’s hair back from his face. Traced the still visible bruising under his eye with a gentle finger. “You feeling all right, Larry my love?”


Larry swallowed hard. Nodded. His throat was too tight with emotion to speak. No one had ever made Larry feel as treasured. No one had ever made Larry feel as safe.


“What time is it anyway?” Larry asked, awareness dawning slowly.


“Eleven or so,” Candy said. “I’ve already worked two horses.” He grinned at Larry. “City boy. Come on, I’ll make you some breakfast. Lunch. Whatever.” Candy got back into his underwear and jeans. Pulled on a fresh tee shirt and headed downstairs.


Larry used the bathroom, scrubbed his teeth, shaved and showered quickly. Once dried and dressed, he traipsed downstairs, grabbed a cup of coffee and deposited himself at the kitchen table. He watched with interest as Candy neatly and efficiently diced onions and peppers, added eggs and turned out a fine omelet.


“Eat,” Candy instructed, and Larry did.


“What have you got planned for the afternoon?” Candy asked. “How late do you think you’ll work?”


“Um.” Larry swallowed hard. Jeffrey had never thought to ask, assuming that freelance work could somehow fit in the interstices between his own needs. “Call my agent, I guess. Email some of the people I work for. I don’t know, about four maybe?”


“Great,” Candy enthused. “I’ve got paperwork and then I’ve got two more horses to work. You want to take a ride up the mountain after you quit for the day? I know a great spot for a picnic.”


“Um.” Larry was speechless. An evening ride and a picnic dinner, how romantic was that? He distrusted the excitement he felt at the prospect.


“It’ll be fun,” Candy coaxed his new boyfriend. “I won’t bite you. Hard.”


Larry laughed.


“Jeez, Candy.” Larry’s face sobered abruptly.


“What’s the matter, Larry?” Candy asked gently. “Can I help?” His voice turned serious.


“Oh, Candy,” Larry said. “You don’t need a neurotic boy like me dragging around.”


“Larry.” Candy studied his new lover for a moment. “We’ll take that ride I suggested,” Candy said. “You need a change of scene.”


Candy waited a moment to see if Larry would smile. When Larry’s face remained flat, Candy ruffled his hair gently.


“You’re no more neurotic than the rest of the world, Larry. Give me a kiss and get to work. We’ll head up the mountain around six.” He kissed Larry thoroughly. Drawing back, he was glad to see Larry’s expression had softened.


Larry deposited his dishes in the sink and stood there indecisively.


“Go on, I’ll clean up in here.” Candy gave him a gently pat on the butt. “Scoot.”


Larry glared at his email box. Not a fucking word from Jeffrey, not even reassurance that he’d sent the phone as promised. A terse note from his agent. A few off topic posts to his mailing lists.


Larry looked over the files in his works in progress folder, trying idly to decide if anything looked worth developing. A piece he’d started on the trials of living with a writer caught his eye. He pulled it up and began to reread it.


It was a light, humorous sketch. Larry grimaced. In the light of his breakup with Jeffrey, the tone seemed ludicrous.


Larry began to work.


Passing the door on the way to his own office, Candy caught a glimpse of his lover, light waves of hair falling in his face, bent intently over his laptop. Candy smiled to himself. A man needed to work at something he cared about, or he was lost. He was glad Larry was writing.


Five o’clock. Larry saved his work and shaking himself out, headed down to the barn. He found Candy doling out grain.


“Can I help?” Larry asked.


“Sure,” Candy said. “Come here.” Larry followed Candy over to two bales of hay in the middle of the aisle. “Break them up and stick two sections or so into the hay rack in each stall. Shake them out like this first.” Candy demonstrated.


“Okay,” Larry said. “We still going on our picnic, Candy?” Larry sounded wistful.


“Absolutely.” Candy smiled at Larry. “When I tell you I’m going to do something, I mean it. Trust me on that, Larry.”


“People change their minds all the time,” Larry said. “Their plans change, or their feelings change...” His voice trailed off.


“This is not about our picnic,” Candy said. “Larry, we need to feed the horses now. We’ll have lots of time to talk up on the mountain. Go on, put the hay out.”


Glad for Candy’s direction, Larry focused on the task at hand.


The horses were clustered at the barn door, eager for their food. Candy motioned Larry over to the tack room, out of the way of equine traffic. Opening the door, he let the herd in. They moved decorously into their own stalls, an occasional laying back of ears in warning the only communication between them. Candy followed behind them, closing the box stall doors, putting up chains at the back of the straight stalls.


Larry watched the orderly process from the doorway of the tack room. Candy leaned back against the side of the tack room next to Larry, enjoying the contented munching of his horses. He took Larry’s hand in his, the gesture coming naturally. What else was a boyfriend for?


Larry was unaccustomed to holding hands casually, yet he had to admit, he liked the feel of it. There was something pleasant in the slight connection. It was definitely something he could get used to.


“Let’s pull together some sandwiches while they finish eating and then we’ll saddle up.” Candy had a large stash of cold cuts in the refrigerator. He and Larry constructed four generous sandwiches and stashed them, along with a few bottles of water, in a small pack.


“Take a jacket,” Candy said, pausing to grab his own from the rack by the door.


“I’m warm enough,” Larry objected without breaking stride.


“It gets cool up there. Take a jacket,” Candy repeated, not budging from the doorway.


Larry glared at him. Candy waited quietly. With an exasperated exhalation, Larry darted upstairs and found his jacket. Clattered back down.


Candy smiled and the two men walked together out to the barn.


The path Candy chose climbed at a gentle grade. Larry felt his habitual tension ease as the horses picked their way along the familiar path, sidestepping the ruts and stones.


A horse called Mouse. A cowboy called Candy. Tickled by the improbability of his new situation, Larry began to sing, softly.


“I ride an old paint, I lead an old dan–“


“I’m off to Montana, for to throw the houlihan–“ Candy picked up the next line.


The slight self-consciousness Larry felt faded as Candy’s voice joined his. The words might be simple and the tune might be old, but the feelings the shared song prompted were neither.


The horses stood quietly where they were tethered. Larry lay quietly, his head pillowed on Candy’s jacket, his legs splayed.


“Need help getting dressed, Larry?” Smiling at his nearly comatose lover, Candy shook out Larry’s shorts and jeans and extended them to him. Found Larry his sneakers. He tugged his own jeans back into place and zipped them.


“I need help moving at all,” Larry said dreamily. He smiled at Candy. “That was so good. God, Candy.” He let Candy pull him up and stepped back into his clothing. “I never did it outside like this,” Larry said. “It felt incredible.”


“The first time I ever did it was outside,” Candy said, his face softening. “Far away from everything and everyone else.”


“You were lucky,” Larry said bitterly. “Your first time is a good memory.”


“I was lucky.” Candy touched Larry’s face gently. “I take it you weren’t?”


Candy’s question hung unanswered for a long time. Eventually Larry spoke again.


“I don’t know if you would call it rape. More that I wasn’t ready, yet, to go that far? I might’ve done it eventually.”


“Oh Larry,” Candy murmured, sorrowing at the thought of anyone hurting his sweet lover.


“We’d done other stuff. Jerked each other off, I’d gone down on him, I was just scared to, you know...to let him fuck me. ” Even now, Larry sounded uncertain


“If you said no, and he did it anyway, it was rape.” Candy sounded quite certain.


“I was scared, but he said it wouldn’t hurt...” Larry shivered. “It hurt, all right. I didn’t cry, though. He said afterwards that he would have stopped, if I had cried. I didn’t want to cry, Candy!”


“I know, love. Be brave, right? It’s what we’re taught.” Candy shook his head. “What happened then?”


“I went home. It was way late and my father was pissed at me. He’d warned me before.”


Larry swallowed hard. Dug his fist into his eyes.


“He pinned me over the back of the couch and laid into me with his belt. I was hurting, I might even have been bleeding, but I couldn’t tell him that. I started crying. He told me to take my medicine like a man.” Larry looked straight ahead, his cheeks tinged red with remembered shame.


“I’m so sorry all that happened to you, Larry.” Candy gently ruffled Larry’s hair.


“Yeah well, it was a long time ago.” Larry shrugged.


“Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me.” Candy kissed Larry very soft and very slow.

“It was an evil thing that bastard did and it was a cruel thing your father did, too.”


“Yeah.” Larry leaned into Candy. Inhaled deeply. Candy smelled of horses and clean sweat and the leaves and moss they had lain together in. Pure, good things.


Candy stroked Larry’s hair, thinking. The story explained a lot: The skittishness, the mood swings, the fear he’d seen in Larry’s eyes the first night. It was going to take time before Larry felt safe.


Candy was willing to be patient.


“Let’s go home, Larry,” Candy said, gently breaking off their embrace. “I’d rather not ride down in the dark.”


“You were right about the riding coming back to me,” Larry said as they dismounted at the stable.


“I’m glad,” Candy said. “You look good on a horse, Larry.”


Larry smiled at the compliment, basking in the warmth of Candy’s gaze. It was a nice feeling.


Larry followed Candy’s lead, removing Mouse’s saddle and bridle and hanging them on the appropriate racks in the tack room. They had taken the ride home slowly enough that the horses were fully cool and could be returned to their stalls.


Candy walked through the barn, checking to make sure all was in order. Patted a nose here, a flank there. Larry sat contentedly on an overturned feed bucket taking it all in, calmer and happier than he had been in a very long time.


Candy extended his hand and Larry took it and rose to his feet. Hand in hand, the two men walked through the deepening night to the house. The evening had turned cool; Larry was glad he had taken his jacket. He hung it alongside Candy’s on the hooks just inside the door. Relaxing, spreading his possessions out. Beginning to feel at home.


Larry shucked his clothes, folded them neatly over a chair. Slid gratefully between the sheets and was out cold before Candy even got into bed. Candy smiled at his sleepy boyfriend. Deposited a gentle kiss on his forehead and slept himself.


Sometime in the night the two men spooned together, their bodies overlapping in ways that were already becoming comfortably familiar.


Morning. Larry rose with Candy, already learning the rhythm of the farm’s life. Candy smiled as Larry rubbed the sleep from his eyes and dressing quickly, followed Candy down to the barn.


It was warmer inside the barn than outside. The horses made their own heat. Candy undid chains, opened the box stalls and let the herd find its way outside. They drank at the water trough, then meandered off across the field in a loose bunch.


Candy began to fork out the soiled straw and manure from the stalls. Without asking, Larry found a second pitchfork and joined him. In half an hour the barn was spotless.


“Great job, Larry,” Candy enthused. “Come on, let’s get some breakfast.”


Larry started coffee while Candy scrambled eggs and made toast. The early morning exercise made for hearty appetites.


“What time does the Fed Ex guy usually come, Candy?” Larry asked. “I want my fucking phone.”


“Don’t curse, please. Around two or so,” Candy said. “What’ll you do till then? I’ve got six horses to work today, and I want to take Sugarfoot over some obstacles out on the trail. He’s getting stale in the ring.”


Larry understood how Sugar might need a change of pace in order to perform well. Larry often felt that way himself.


“Penny for your thoughts?” Candy said, seeing Larry’s grin.


“Just that I know why Sugar likes a little variety,” Larry said. He laughed. “Didn’t you call him a brat, back at Marches?”


“I have a weakness for brats, obviously,” Candy said with a wink. “What’s on your agenda today, Larry?” Candy didn’t want to push Larry too hard, but he wanted Larry to begin to set himself a routine in this new environment.


“I might work on a piece I started awhile back,” Larry said tentatively. “It was about the perils of living with a writer. It’s going to be about the perils of living with a non-writer.” He laughed humorlessly.


Candy took another sip of coffee, studied Larry’s tense face.


“It sounds like a good thing to work on,” Candy said. “It sounds like something you need to get out of your system.”


“Maybe,” Larry said softly. “Candy, do you mind?”


“Larry, it’s your work. What you write about is your business.” Rising, Candy moved to Larry’s side. Tipped his face up and kissed him, thoroughly and gently. “I know somebody hurt you, but I’m not him.”


Larry turned his head away.




“Larry.” Candy cupped his palm around Larry’s cheek, turning his head so their eyes met. “It’s going to work out.” He kissed Larry again, a little harder, a little deeper.


“Let’s go back to bed,” Larry said hoarsely. He took Candy’s hard and pressed it to him, letting Candy feel how hard he was.


“Why not?” Candy laughed and tugged Larry to his feet.


Larry awoke alone in their tumbled bed. Stretched and yawned, feeling sated and deliciously sore. The sun was high in the sky. Clearly Candy was back outside with his horses.


Larry showered leisurely, thinking how right, how easy, this felt. It was a novel feeling.


Loose and happy, Larry settled at his computer. Pulled up his work and began to play with it. Lost himself in the words on his screen.


Larry was startled out of his reverie by the honk of the Fed Ex truck. He zipped down the stairs, but the truck was gone before he reached the door. There was a package leaning against the house.


Larry tore the sticky strip off the end of the box. His phone was wrapped in bubble wrap. There was an envelope enclosed. Larry opened it.


A long letter in Jeffrey’s impeccable hand. A laundry list of all Larry’s sins against their relationship. By the time Larry finished reading, he was pale and furious.


That bastard, that motherfucking bastard, how dare he blame me for everything? Sonofabitch!


Larry wanted desperately to share his outrage with someone. He headed down to the ring, but there was no sign of Candy. Oh yeah. He had said something about taking Sugarfoot out.


Larry had ridden Mouse twice and felt confident he could manage her. Candy had never said he couldn’t go out alone, Larry thought. Why not saddle her up and ride out to find Candy?


Fueled by his fury at Jeffrey, Larry strode toward the paddock. He seized a lead line and whistled for Mouse, patting his pockets as he had seen Candy do. Mouse approached him tentatively, recognizing the gesture, but unsettled by Larry’s agitation. Larry reached for her halter far too quickly. The rangy gray mare reared back, used to Candy’s reassuring quiet and unsure what to make of Larry’s sudden movements.


“You fucking bitch!” Larry doubled the lead line, furious. “You stupid cunt! You–“ He brought his hand back.


Candy was just rounding the barn when he saw Larry begin his swing. He broke into a run.


“That’s enough!” Candy caught Larry’s wrist firmly, turning the blow aside. “Don’t you ever, ever abuse one of my horses like that again. Give me that lead line. I’ll see you up at the house.” Candy’s voice was quiet, but there was steel in it.


Larry swallowed hard and obeyed. As he walked away, he heard Candy’s honeyed voice reassuring and charming the thoroughly spooked mare.


“Easy, Mouse, easy now, easy...”


Oh shit. Already the sheer meanness of what he had almost done was beginning to appall Larry. He shivered in the house’s cool shade. Curled miserable into a corner of the sofa, ashamed of and angry at himself in equal measures.


"You ought to know better, Larry. You can't lose your temper like that with a horse," Candy scolded. "We have a responsibility towards the animals we keep for our own pleasure. We don’t ever strike out at them in anger. I know you can do better, Larry.”


"I didn't mean to lose it, Candy, I was just upset. I got this horrid letter from Jeffrey. It wasn't my fault! Shit!"


"I’m very sorry that Jeffrey hurt your feelings and I understand that you were upset, but Larry, that’s no excuse. What you did was flat out wrong.”


“I'm sorry..."


"I know you’re sorry," Candy said. "But you can’t lose it like that.”


"Don't leave me! Don't kick me out! Candy, I know I'm a prick! I'm sorry!" Larry’s voice was tight with unshed tears. “Every bad thing Jeffrey said about me is true! You’re going to leave me!”


"I don’t give a tinker’s damn what Jeffrey said. I'm not going to leave you, Larry my love,” Candy murmured. He rubbed Larry's back, making soft, wordless comfort noises.


Larry my love. Larry clung to the warmth of that phrase, which seemed to come so naturally from Candy's lips. Larry my love. You didn't say that if you were about to kick someone out, if you were about to send an unruly boyfriend packing. Larry my love.


“I’m sorry, Candy,” Larry whispered repentantly. Then, nervously, "You’re not going to spank me, are you?” He dared a glimpse at Candy’s face. “Shit! Candy, please, I'm sorry..."


"I know you’re sorry," Candy said, "And you know you deserve a spanking. You don't lose your temper like that without consequences. Yes, Jeffrey hurt your feelings and yes, you were upset, but Larry, that’s no excuse. What you did was flat out wrong and yes, you’re getting a spanking.”


"Not a hard spanking," Larry instructed. "I hate being spanked so much, Candy!"


Candy managed not to smile openly at Larry's aggrieved tone.


"Larry my love, the time to think about that is before you lose it, not after. Pants down, underwear down, over my knee.”


“Do I have to?”


“Today, Larry."


Sulking, Larry obeyed.


Candy arranged Larry to his satisfaction; rested his callused palm on the tense, bare buttocks before him. He felt Larry tremble in anticipation. Not wanting to prolong the suspense any longer, Candy lifted his hand. Concentrated. Brought his palm down hard, two swift spanks, one to each cheek. Larry bucked wildly and Candy pinned him with a firm hand at the small of his back.


"Lie still!" Candy emphasized the words with a solid swat to the bottom curve of Larry's ass. Larry's head jerked up.


"OW!!" Larry tried to squirm away.


"I said, lie still." Another swat to the tender area.


Larry whimpered, but when Candy resettled him closer to his stomach, his struggling subsided.


Hardening his heart, knowing Larry needed this even if at the moment he didn’t want it, Candy administered a firm spanking. Larry's ass was once again red and sore and his face was once again red and wet when Candy finally ceased spanking and gathered Larry into his lap.


"All done, Larry my love," Candy crooned. Candy held Larry snugly, though there was no need to restrain him; of his own accord Larry buried into Candy's chest and clung, his hands twisted in Candy's shirt.


"Don't leave me! Don't kick me out! Candy, I know I'm a prick! I'm sorry!" Larry repeated over and over, his voice hoarse with crying, his emotions raw and unguarded.


“I'm not going to leave you, Larry,” Candy murmured, willing to repeat his reassurances as many times as Larry needed to hear them. “I love you.“


It was a long time before Larry quieted.


“You know, Candy. I need this,” Larry whispered. “I don’t know why, but I do.”


“You’re very brave. I know this is hard.” Candy smoothed his hand over Larry’s tear-stained cheeks. Kissed him gently. “I’d like to think you were a quick learner, Larry. Because I am warning you now that if there's a next time, it'll be a nice wooden ping pong paddle and not my hand that makes my point.”


Larry sniffled, thoroughly miserable. He'd been paddled before. He hated it. However, it was certainly a strong disincentive...


"Candy? If I make you paddle me? You'll still...love me?" Larry's question was almost inaudible.


"Larry my love, I wouldn't paddle you if I didn't love you." Candy shook his head ruefully.


Larry began to cry again, quietly, but the tears soaking Candy's shirt were tears of relief at Candy’s sureness. Candy held his new boyfriend close, not hushing him, only wanting for Larry to feel his arms around him. For Larry to feel loved. For Larry to feel held, figuratively as well as literally.


The farm’s stable routines had a settling effect on Larry. He cursed less and laughed more, seemed more at ease and less prone to moodiness and despair. He would join Candy in the barn at dawn, they would breakfast together after chores, and then Larry would work upstairs in his new bedroom turned office until Candy finished working his first two or three horses and quit for the morning.


Larry came down to lunch to find Candy laughing on the phone.


“Fine, George. Uh huh. Okay, George. No, you don’t have to wait, I’ll leave it by your shed. Right. No trouble at all, George.”


Larry listened jealously to the affectionate tone of Candy’s voice.


“Who the fuck is George?” Larry could barely wait for Candy to hang up the phone before pouncing on him.


“Don’t talk like that, Larry.” Candy swatted Larry gently. “He’s a friend who raises Shetland ponies a few miles down the road from here. I need to drop off some stuff at his place.”


“I want to come with you!” Larry said quickly. “If you want me, that is,” he added with a scowl, chagrined at his own eagerness. “I wouldn’t want to fuck up your friendship.” Larry’s fingers made quotes in the air.


“Larry, stop it.” Candy tugged Larry into his arms, kissed him soundly. “Settle down. Let’s have lunch and then I’ll pack up.”


Larry ate silently, brooding. He had never really considered who Candy’s local friends might be and he felt angry and blind sided at the thought of the mysterious “George.” He gulped his lunch and then fidgeted nervously around the truck as Candy secured his gear.


“Stay out of the back of the truck,” Candy admonished as he nearly tripped over Larry for the third time. “I just want to grab my phone and then I’m ready to go.” He headed into the house.


“Fuck you,” Larry muttered under his breath, opening the back to take a final look at what Candy had packed.


They lumbered down the gravel road to George’s place, only to discover the bed of the truck wide open and much of the gear gone.


“The tailgate must have been unlocked.” Candy regarded the half empty truck unhappily. “Larry, didn’t I tell you to stay out of there?” Candy looked at Larry.


"I didn't touch it,” Larry snapped at Candy guiltily. "I didn't! Why are you blaming me for something I didn't do?"


"All right," Candy said quietly. "I'm going to retrace our route and see what I can find of it. You stay put, okay?"


"No!" Larry was panicky, angry. "I'll come too. Don't go! Don't leave me here, Candy, I didn't do it on purpose!"


Candy shook his head.


"Larry, I don’t follow you. You did leave it open, then?"


"Yes. No! Yes..." Larry glared at Candy. "Satisfied? You prick, you tricked me!"


"Larry, shh..." Candy kept his voice soft, although Larry's fast and loose approach to the truth was maddening.


"Fucker!" The more wrong he realized he was, the angrier Larry felt.


"Larry my love, first things first. We need to retrieve our stuff. Do you want to ride along or wait here for me?"


"Motherfucker." Larry glared at Candy.


"Okay, then wait here. I'll be back--"


"You liar, you motherfucking bastard, you're leaving me!" Larry was white-faced, practically spitting with rage. Candy took him by his forearms, gripping hard.


"Be quiet now," Candy commanded. “I’m serious, Larry.”


Larry froze.


"That’s it, easy now, come here." Candy's hands softened and he embraced Larry, his hug leaving no doubt of his affection.


"Candy, I don't want you to leave me!"


"I'm not leaving you. Get in the truck, Larry. I'm going to drive back and see if I can pick up my stuff. Go on now, Larry." Candy gave him a gentle swat. "Sit down while you still can."


Larry swallowed hard and obeyed. Fortunately the missing items were still in the roadbed. It was only a matter of retrieving them. Silently, Larry watched as Candy secured the back of the truck. They left the stuff stacked outside George’s shed.


Larry sat, stiff and apprehensive, in the front passenger seat. He had used up his small stock of defiance; he felt ashamed of his earlier outburst. He was in the wrong and he knew it.


“Come, Larry.” Candy opened Larry’s door.


“I’m sorry! It was an accident! Nothing got lost! Let me alone, Candy!” Larry was in no hurry to get out of the truck.


“Come, Larry. Inside now.” Candy waited calmly.


“All right.” Larry stood up. Hesitated, looking ready to bolt.


Candy took his arm and guided him into the house.


“It was an accident! You can’t punish me for that!” Larry tried again to make his point, but Candy shook his head.


“I’m not punishing you for leaving the truck open. I’m not punishing you for fooling around in the back after I told you not to. I am punishing you for lying to me.” Candy watched Larry take his words in.


“I’m sorry,” Larry said. “It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t know what else to say. I’m sorry! Please don’t punish me!”


"Larry my love, we are going to break you of this habit of telling lies," Candy said. "Yes and no mean two entirely different things.” Candy took a deep breath, centering himself. “What did I tell you would happen if you lied to me, Larry?”


"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Candy, I don't want you to paddle me!" Larry's heartfelt apologies merged with an equally heartfelt plea for clemency.


"I'm sorry too, Larry," Candy said. "Sorry it's come to this. But you had your warning. I'm going to make sure that the truth will seem the less painful choice the next time.”


Larry gulped. Painful. Paddle. Oh no. He let Candy undress him, his heart thumping. Looked with wide eyes at the round wooden paddle Candy had magically produced. Whined as Candy turned him over his knee.


"It's going to be all right," Candy said, hearing the undercurrent of real fear in Larry's whimpers. “It’s going to hurt, but I won’t hurt you.” He tucked the flat of the paddle under his thigh.


Candy spanked lightly, almost lazily, leaving only the palest of hand prints. Larry was lulled into relaxing into the familiar sting.


Candy freed the paddle and snapped it down, hard.


"OW!! Motherfucker! No! Stop! OW!!"


Larry’s head snapped up, his body bracing for the next impact. The paddle hurt! Not like the equal meeting of skin against skin, but a deeper, more resonant pain. A hard thud, compressing tender flesh.


"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Larry cried out at each whack, shocked, pained protests. He was still protesting when Candy decided he had been sufficiently punished.


"No, more!" Larry cried confusedly, shaken at how much it had hurt, but craving the limits he lacked. "Make me stop, Candy, please, I can't stop myself."


"You can stop," Candy said certainly. He held Larry tightly. "I’ll help you stop. Listen to me, Larry my love. No more lying. There isn’t any need for it."


Larry cried for a long time as Candy rubbed his back, his hand as sure in comfort as it had been in punishment.


“Don’t do that again,” Larry said, sniffling into Candy’s shoulder. “It really hurt, Candy.”


“I know it did,” Candy said, stroking Larry’s hair. “I don’t want to do it again, Larry. It’s entirely up to you. Stick to the truth and I won’t need to. Because I am warning you, I will paddle you again if you lie to me again.”


“I know.” Larry closed his eyes. “It hurt, Candy. I wish I hadn’t made you do it.”


“Your lies hurt me. Your lies hurt us.” Candy stood Larry upright. Coaxed him up the stairs and onto his stomach on their bed. Seating himself alongside Larry, he rubbed Larry’s back until Larry subsided into sleep.


Only then did Candy allow himself the luxury of a shot of whisky. He drank it down neat, in a single gulp.


Get a grip, Candy instructed himself. You didn’t harm him. He needs this. You know it and he knows it. Stay the course.


He washed up and joined Larry in bed. Larry whimpered in his sleep, and Candy winced himself. Poor colt. He stroked Larry’s hair sympathetically.


“I hurt,” Larry announced piteously the next morning.


“I can believe it.” Candy cupped Larry’s face in his hand, kissed his pouting lips gently.


“You paddled me,” Larry complained. “It hurt, Candy.”


“Larry my love, I warned you just what would happen if you lied to me.” Candy’s clear blue eyes met Larry’s sad brown pair. “Didn’t I?”


“Yes,” Larry whispered.


“I don’t say things I don’t mean, Larry. The sooner you learn to listen to me when I tell you something, the happier we’ll both be.” Candy’s voice softened. “Come here, Larry. Let me take your mind off your troubles.” He kissed Larry again, lingeringly.


Larry gave way. He opened his mouth to Candy’s exploring tongue. Gave himself up to his lover, letting Candy’s hands roam freely. As Candy stroked him to hardness, excitement eclipsed lingering soreness. Candy moved lower and Larry arched eagerly upward as Candy took him in his mouth.


“Oh god, I can’t believe you did that,” Larry said breathlessly, as he lay in Candy’s arms afterward. “Candy, why? After last night I didn’t think you’d want to be nice to me anymore.” Larry sounded genuinely confused.


“Larry.” Candy traced Larry’s features with a gentle finger, considering the question. “I paddled you because I love you. I made love to you because I love you.”


“Oh.” Larry snuggled closer. “I get it. I think. I hate being paddled, though.”


“I should hope so,” Candy said wryly. “That’s why it’s called punishment.”


Larry dogged Candy’s steps all morning. He helped clean the barn. He helped make breakfast. He leaned against the railing and watched Candy work his first two horses.


“Candy? What are you doing this afternoon?” Larry asked tentatively, as they walked back up to the house for lunch. He leaned into Candy, hungry for contact.


“Curling up in bed with you?” Candy asked with a smile.


“Fuck you,” Larry said, flushing. “Don’t tease me, you sonofabitch!”


“Larry!” Candy swatted Larry smartly; then, before Larry was successful in jumping away, hugged him tightly. “I wasn’t mocking you, Larry. There’s no need to talk that way.”


“Let me go!” Larry dashed the tears from his eyes, embarrassed at crying.


“Stay with me, Larry,” Candy coaxed, even as he released him.


To his own surprise, Larry did as he was told.


Candy smudged the tear tracks from Larry’s cheeks. Kissed Larry, first on the lips, then more deeply, until Larry’s eyes closed and Larry melted into him with a sigh and a sniffle.

Then he walked Larry into the house and up the stairs to their bedroom.


“Take your jeans off,” Candy said quietly. “I’ll be right back.”


“No, Candy, please, I’m sorry,” Larry said, sounding thoroughly miserable. “Please, I’m so sore–“


“Easy, Larry, I’m not going to spank you. I just want you to get comfortable and stretch out. I’m going to make us some lunch and we’re going to eat together up here.”


Larry looked warily at Candy. Candy smiled reassuringly. With a sigh of relief, Larry kicked off his sneakers and began to undo his jeans.


Candy returned with sandwiches and drinks. He set the food on the night stand and settled on the bed with his back to the headboard.


Wordlessly, Larry shifted so that he was lying in Candy’s arms. Tilted his head back, opened his mouth. Candy kissed him thoroughly. He was gratified to feel Larry relax into his embrace.


“Bet you’re hungry.” Candy held a quartered sandwich to Larry’s mouth and Larry ate it from his hand.


“This is nice,” Larry said contentedly. He rearranged the pillows so that he lay propped on his side.


“Drink?” Candy offered Larry a glass. Larry took it and sipped slowly.


“I’m sorry what I said before,” Larry said. “I just felt so stupid...”


“Larry, there’s nothing stupid about needing to be reassured after a night like last night.” Candy ruffled Larry’s hair. “Part of taking the responsibility for punishing you when you do wrong is taking the responsibility for comforting you afterwards. I’d have thought you knew that, Larry?”


Larry shrugged.


“Jeffrey didn’t really like me very much, I guess. He hated me acting needy,” Larry said unhappily. “We didn’t ever do anything like this afterwards.” Larry gestured at the lunch, the bed, Candy lying alongside him. “We’d just talk about my testing him and how I shouldn’t do it anymore.” Larry shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I did?”


“It’s a two way street, Larry my love.” Candy kissed him gently.


“I’m so much happier now.” Larry melted into the kiss.


“That makes me feel very good. You make me happy, too.” Candy moved the remains of their meal aside and turning onto his back, he rolled Larry on top of him. Let Larry feel how hard he was; felt Larry harden in response.


Larry reached between their pressed stomachs and undid Candy’s fly. Candy lifted his hips and worked his jeans and underwear off. Hooked his finger in the waistband of Larry’s shorts and bared him as well.


Candy trailed an exploratory hand over Larry’s ass. Larry exhaled sharply.


“Sore?” Candy asked.


“A little. But not too sore.” Larry grinned at Candy. “Do me?”


“Front or back?” Candy traced feathery figure eights over Larry’s buttocks.


“Ahh,” Larry groaned. He turned onto his back, evading Candy’s fingers, and raised his legs.


Candy scrabbled in the bedside drawer for lube and slicked himself thoroughly. Pressed his cock slowly and surely into Larry, savoring Larry’s throaty, encouraging groans. Paused as Larry tightened involuntarily, letting Larry accommodate to the heft of him.


“Good.” Larry thrust forward and Candy began to move inside him. Larry’s hand worked over his own cock as Candy took his pleasure in deep, even thrusts.


Both men came hard, moaning their satisfaction. They clung to each other, sweaty, panting, astonished at the intensity of their joining.


“Stay with me,” Larry commanded breathlessly, burrowing into Candy. “I love you.”


“I love you, Larry,” Candy said dreamily, tightening his arm around Larry. “I’m right here.”


One high summer day merged into the next. Larry rose early with Candy to free the horses and shovel the barn. He rode Mouse in the security of the ring, gradually relearning the faster gaits.


Sequestered upstairs, Larry worked diligently at his laptop. He started to renew old contacts. Began work on a book proposal. He and the Fed Ex delivery guy became well acquainted as hard copies of manuscripts made their way back and forth between Larry and the small publishers he read for.


But this afternoon it was hot and Larry was tired and disappointed. He’d gotten a check for some work, but it was a good dealer smaller than he had hoped it would be. He watched Candy at the stove, feeling moody and out of sorts.


"Larry, did you refill Choco’s water bucket before you came back up?" Candy asked as he stirred the stew he was reheating. The bay had a small cut on one leg and had been confined to his stall all day. Since the horses were not normally kept in, the stalls did not have automatic watering systems.


Shit, though Larry. I forgot. Ah, fuck it, why make an extra trip out to the barn? I'll water him after dinner.


"Yeah," Larry said, crossing his fingers behind his back. As lies went, this one didn’t even register on his personal Richter scale.


“Thanks. So how did it go today?” Candy asked.


Larry appreciated Candy’s empathetic ear. By the time he had finished talking through his financial worries with Candy, they seemed far less worrisome.


The two men lost themselves in pleasant conversation. Larry was still finishing his coffee when Candy pushed back his chair and headed out to the barn to feed the horses.


Candy glanced automatically at Choco’s water bucket before filling his food bucket. Could it really be empty? He touched the inside with his finger. To his chagrin, it was bone dry.


Goddamnit, Candy cursed to himself, he had to be able to trust Larry’s word. This was no minor prevarication, no matter what Larry thought.


Candy got the hose and filled Choco’s bucket. He splashed his own face with cold water. Leaning his elbows on the side of the stall, he watched Choco drink.


Candy stayed in the barn a solid half hour until his anger faded. It hadn’t been malice on Larry’s part, just ignorance. Larry liked Choco and would never willingly hurt him. Larry just had a fast and easy relationship with the truth.


I’m going to have to paddle him. Again. I warned him: Each and every time he lies. Candy squared his shoulders. Retrieved the hard wooden ping pong paddle from the tack room and returned to the house.


“Hi,” Larry said brightly. He had cleared the supper dishes, wiped down the table and the counters. He was rather proud of what a nice clean up job he had done; it was a task he despised and avoided when he could. He was just killing time, waiting for Candy to come back from the barn so that he could sneak down and water Choco. Larry felt sorry for the undoubtedly thirsty horse, but what could he do?


“Hi yourself,” Candy said, eyeing the shiny kitchen ruefully. A guilty conscience was quite an effective spur to action. “And where do you think you’re going, Larry?” Candy asked, as Larry edged towards the door.


“Out. Do I need permission now, master?” Larry asked snidely, a guilty conscience fueling his tongue.


“Don’t say another word, Larry,” Candy said. “Shut the door and come here.” He laid the paddle on the table.


Larry gaped.


“Choco was dry when I went to feed him,” Candy said. “It was pure luck that I happened to notice it. You lied about watering him, didn’t you?”


“It wasn’t exactly a lie,” Larry objected. “I was going to water him, I just forgot. I would have done it now.” His voice trailed off as Candy’s frown deepened.


"If you’d given him water on top of the grain I gave him, he might've gotten really sick," Candy said.


"I didn't know that!" Larry protested. "You can't spank me for that, Candy. You certainly can’t paddle me! I don't know fuck all about horses."


"The paddling you're going to get is for lying. You told me that you’d watered him. I trusted you."


"Oh." Feeling very small and very guilty, Larry returned unhappily to Candy’s side. "I wish you wouldn't paddle me," he said softly. "I really wish you wouldn't. Please, Candy?"


"Larry." Candy shook his head. "What did I tell you would happen, if you lied to me?"


"Fuck it, let's just forget it," Larry snarled, hating Candy's disappointed look.


Larry took a step backward. Candy caught his hand before he could retreat further.


“Larry my love, we can’t do that.” Candy pulled a wooden chair from the table and turned it face into the room.


“This discussion is over. I warned you that I would paddle you each and every time you lied to me, Larry, and I meant what I said. Undo your jeans. Over my lap, please.” When Larry still hesitated, Candy drew him carefully into position before him. Unbuttoned and unzipped him, turned him over his knee and with a sharp tug, pulled his jeans and underwear down.


Larry’s hand flew back defensively. Candy grasped it in his left hand and pinned it to the small of Larry’s back. Brought his right hand down in a reproving swat.


“Stop that and take what you have coming.” Candy reached for the paddle and brought it down smartly.


“OW!” Larry yelped. It stung. “Ow! Ow!” He began to cry. It really was worse than being spanked. Much worse.


Candy forced himself to continue until Larry’s haunches were a deep red. Larry was sobbing miserably when Candy finally stopped.


“All done.” Candy rolled Larry sideways across his lap and enfolded him in his arms. Larry cried harder, burying his face in the hollow of Candy’s shoulder. Candy kissed Larry’s disheveled hair gently. “All over now. It’s all right. I love you, Larry.”


“I’m sorry, Candy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I’m scared. I’m cold!” Larry shivered, his defenses crumbling in the wake of the paddling.


“Shh, Larry, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Candy said. “Come in the living room and we’ll warm you up.” Letting Larry down gently onto the floor before the hearth, Candy skillfully started a fire in the grate.


“I’m sorry,” Larry said again a half hour later as they lay side by side on the living room rug, gazing into the fireplace. “I didn’t know it could hurt Choco or I wouldn’t have lied about it. I’m sorry for lying to you, Candy. I don’t know why I do that. It’s a bad habit. I love you. I won’t do it anymore.”


Candy shook his head. To his chagrin, he recognized Larry’s certainty for the cheap offering it was.


“Larry,” Candy said softly, hating what he was about to commit them to, but knowing it had to be done. “I’ve just paddled you twice in a week’s time. The next time I have to punish you, I’m going to use my belt.”


“No!” Larry tried to pull away, but Candy held him firmly.


“Believe me, Larry, I don’t want to strap you. But I don’t see that paddling you is having an impact on your choices, any more than spanking you did. And that’s the point of this whole exercise, Larry. For you to learn to make better choices.”


“Candy, I’m sorry, I’ll do better, I will.” Larry sounded shakier than he had since the night of the car accident. “I promise!”


“I hope so,” Candy said soberly. “I really don’t want to have to use my belt on you.”


Larry rested his head on his folded arms and gazed into the fire. Candy wouldn’t really take his belt to me, he reassured himself. No way.


No way was Candy going to catch him out.


“No way!” Larry flared, slamming the door behind him. “No fucking way are you going to punish me! I didn’t do anything wrong!”


“I asked you if you had enough cash for groceries. You said “yes.” I catch up with you in the checkout line and find you charging them. What part of “don’t lie to me” do you find confusing, Larry?” Candy followed Larry into the kitchen, his arms full of groceries, and began to put the perishables away in the refrigerator. He took his time, wanting to give both Larry and himself a chance to cool down.


“I don’t get why you’re so fucking angry,” Larry said. “All I did was buy a fucking load of groceries. You buy them every fucking week. I’m not some sort of fucking leech, Candy!”


“Larry, you work hard around here. You earn your keep.“ Candy took a deep breath, realizing that this was a sensitive issue for Larry. “That’s not the point and you know it, Larry. We talked about this. You’re barely making the minimum payments on your cards as it is. The last thing you need is to take on more debt.”


“You’re not my fucking accountant,” Larry snapped.


Candy counted to ten before he spoke.


“Larry, when I tell you not to charge groceries, I expect you to listen. And when I ask you a question, I expect you to tell me the truth.”


“Fuck you!”


"What did I say would happen if you lied to me again?" Candy asked sternly.


"You'd beat the shit out of me!" Larry was furious. "You try it, you motherfucker!"


"Would I beat you? Larry, look at me." Candy took a step towards Larry.


“NO! Fuck you, get the fuck away from me! NO!” Larry backed into the living room, tripped over the door saddle and sprawled inelegantly on the floor.


“Easy, Larry.” Candy leaned against the doorframe and watched with mounting pity as Larry dissolved in a furious muddle of tears and invective.


“I hate you, you bastard, you motherfucking queer. I fucking hate you. Don’t touch me!” Larry’s protest was raw and desperate. “Don’t fucking touch me!”


“All right, Larry. I’m calling time out,” Candy said quietly. “I’m not going to punish you while you’re this upset.”


"I’m not upset! I don’t want us to stop!" Larry wailed. “I’m sorry, Candy, I’m sorry! Don’t go!”


"I’m not going anywhere, Larry.” He’s his own worst enemy, Candy thought, shaking his head. “I’m right here. Shh...that's it, come to me, shh..." Candy coaxed, seating himself on the couch and patting the cushion next to him. “I’m not going to punish you, Larry. Come, just sit with me. Everything’s going to be all right.”


Larry's fury had faded, leaving him cold and shivery. Nervously, he eased himself off the floor and sat alongside Candy. Candy put his arm around Larry.


“We don’t have to do it this way, Larry,” Candy said. “We can still be friends, we can still be lovers, even if you don’t want this kind of relationship. But I’m not going to punish you if you’re not one hundred percent sure that you want our relationship to include discipline.”


“What about just spanking me?” Larry asked. “I don’t mind being spanked...”


“I’ve noticed that,” Candy said wryly. “Larry my love, no. You either trust me to punish you as I see fit or we agree to a relationship without discipline. I’m not into spanking games. I’ll never abuse you, but how I punish you is my call. I’m not going to waste my time spanking you when it makes zero difference in your actions.”


“It’s a little scary, Candy,” Larry said honestly. “My other boyfriends never went further than paddling me.” He half laughed. “Sure you don’t want me to write lines or do extra chores? That’s what modern tops do with recalcitrant brats. You should read up on it online.”


“How nice for them,” Candy said dryly. “Does it work for you?”


Larry was silent. Reluctantly, but for once honestly, he shook his head. No.


“I didn’t think so. It doesn’t work for me, either.” Candy cuddled Larry closer. “Larry my love, I’ll go as far as I need to to get the lesson home. The sooner you learn to listen when I tell you something, the happier we’ll both be.”


“You do what you think is right,” Larry said very softly. “I trust you, Candy.”


“Are you sure, Larry?” I really, really wish you did, Candy thought. I really wish you believed me, because I know damn well you won’t stop testing me until you do.


“Yes. I want this, Candy,” Larry said steadily. “I know what I’m committing to. I do trust you, Candy.”


“No more exceptions then, Larry,” Candy said. “Next time you deserve a licking, you’re going to get a licking. Whether you cry or not, whether you fight me or not. That’s a promise.”


“I understand, Candy. I need this,” Larry said, softly, but without wavering. He was oddly comforted by Candy’s promise. Why it was so reassuring, Larry didn’t know.


It seemed a lot less reassuring to Larry a few days later, as he surrendered his license and registration to the state trooper who had stopped him for speeding.


Driving too fast was not something we discussed, Larry thought defiantly as he continued on home, the ticket burning a hole in his pocket. Fucking speed trap. Fucking sheriff. Fucking ticket. Fucking bad luck.


“I don’t fucking care.” Larry slammed into the house. I don’t fucking care what Candy thinks. He can’t fucking punish me for speeding. I never agreed to that!


And where the fuck is he anyway! Larry threw the speeding ticket, his wallet and his keys against the table, blind to the ambivalence of his gesture.


Candy looked at the ticket on the table and shook his head. Poor Larry! What a lousy thing to happen to him. And knowing Larry, he’d be furious at himself. Candy shook his head and walked into the living room to see if Larry was all right.


Larry lay sprawled on the couch, papers scattered around him. Eyes on the ceiling.


“You okay, Larry?” Candy asked.


“Yeah, fine.” Larry gave Candy a bland smile. “You okay?”


“Larry, don’t play dumb,” Candy said, taken aback at Larry’s nonchalance.


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Larry said, trying to brazen it out.


“Don’t lie to me, Larry,”Candy said sharply. “I saw the ticket.”


“It’s a fucking speed trap!” Larry snapped. “I wasn’t going that fast! And I don’t think it’s any of your fucking business in the first place.” He glared at Candy.


“Don’t take that tone with me, Larry. I wasn’t prying; you left the ticket in plain sight. You’re my boyfriend; it is my business. I’m very disappointed you would lie to me.”


“It wasn’t a lie,” Larry said. “I just didn’t know how to tell you.”


“Would you have told me the truth if I hadn’t already seen the ticket, Larry?” Candy’s question hung unanswered between them.


“It’s none of your business!” Larry insisted. “I’m going to pay for it. Why the fuck should I have to tell you about it if I don’t want to.”


“We don’t keep secrets like this from each other,” Candy said. “If something happens to you and I ask you about it, you don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s a lie in my book, Larry.”


“So what?” Larry shrugged. “Why are you getting so worked up about this, Candy? It’s a fucking speeding ticket! It’s not a big deal! This is exactly why I didn’t tell you about it. I knew you’d blow it all out of proportion.”


“You don’t lie to me, Larry. I need to be able to trust you.” Candy took a deep breath. “What did I tell you would happen if you lied to me, Larry?”


Shit. Shit shit shit. Candy wouldn’t, he couldn’t...Larry tried to contain his sudden panic.


"I'm sorry! Don’t beat me, Candy, I’m sorry!” As rattled as he was, Larry nonetheless let Candy draw him into a hug.


"A licking. My belt. Your ass." Candy rubbed Larry’s back. He felt how hard Larry’s heart was pounding. They needed to get this clear once and for all. "Never a beating, Larry.” Candy stroked Larry's cheek; smoothed the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. “Do you trust me, Larry?”


“Yeah.” Larry swallowed hard.


“I warned you what would happen if you lied to me again, Larry. You’re getting a licking.”


Slowly, deliberately, Candy unbuckled his belt and tugged it through his belt loops. He doubled the leather in half and seated himself on the couch. Larry watched, mesmerized,


“Please, Candy, don’t strap me,” Larry begged, knowing he had earned the punishment, but hoping against hope for a reprieve. “I’m sorry! I’m really sorry!”


“No more second chances, Larry,” Candy said quietly. “Take your pants and underwear off and bend over.”


”Over the couch?" Larry asked tentatively.


“Over my knee. Now, Larry.”


Sniffling, his hands trembling, Larry cooperated with the inevitable.


The licking hurt. Candy kept his strokes quick and short, but he held his belt doubled and the leather left stripes. Larry was crying earnestly when Candy stopped.


“What if I do it again?” Larry asked a half hour later, after his crying had tapered off. Candy nudged the water glass towards Larry and Larry obediently drank again.


“Then you’ll get another licking,” Candy said with quiet certainty. “We’re going to break you of this habit of lying, Larry.”


Larry cried himself to sleep that night.


“You’re going to leave me! They always do. I’ll do something too bad to forgive and that’ll be it. I know it. I’m going to miss you, Candy.”


Candy didn’t answer, just stroked Larry’s hair gently, straightening the sweaty strands at the nape of his neck.


I know what it’s like to be scared, Larry. I know what it’s like to feel you’re too bad to be loved. I know how it feels to have nobody want you.


Candy toyed with the idea of telling Larry his story; decided against it. He’d been a child; Larry was an adult. It wasn’t the same thing at all.


Words weren’t what his volatile brat of a boyfriend needed. Larry needed limits. Larry needed love. Most of all, Larry needed time.


“Larry my love.” Candy kissed his sleeping lover tenderly. “Mine.”


Both Candy and Larry woke as dawn was breaking. Larry drew his legs up, catching his breath as the movement reminded him how sore his ass was.


“Come here.” Candy drew Larry forward on his stomach, pillowing Larry’s head on his chest. Stroked his cheek tenderly. “Larry.”


“I’m okay.” Larry swallowed hard. He didn’t want to cry again. Shit, he’d done enough of that yesterday. He stiffened, turning away from Candy’s caress.


“Shh, stop that,” Candy scolded. He rubbed his thumb over Larry’s lips until Larry reluctantly turned his face up for a kiss.


Oh God, he was going to start crying again. Tears welled in Larry’s eyes. The harder he tried to blink them back, the faster they overflowed.


“It’s all right to cry, Larry.” Candy could feel Larry was struggling not to break down. “Let it out. I’ve got you. Let it go.”


Larry cried until his eyes were red and his nose was dripping, until he had no more breath and no more tears. His sobs subsiding, he slid, exhausted, into sleep.


Candy eased Larry down on the pillow. Rolling himself upright, he turned back the sheets and studied Larry’s backside. He was glad to see he had gauged the belt’s impact right; the individual welts on Larry’s buttocks had merged into overall redness. There were no bruises.


Candy resettled the covers over his sleeping lover, careful not to wake him. He wanted to finish the morning’s chores while Larry was still out. Larry was going to need his full attention today and Candy wanted to be able to give him it.


Larry resurfaced slowly. The room was bright despite the drawn curtains and shades; the sun was obviously high in the sky. Larry lay quietly, aware of Candy sprawled crosswise on the bed, working his way through a stack of paperwork.


“Hey, sleepyhead,” Candy teased gently. “Back among the living.”


“Unfortunately,” Larry said sourly. He flexed his muscles experimentally. Youch.


“Hey, come here.” Candy rolled towards Larry, folded him into a hug and kissed him until Larry’s scowl softened. “I think you’re going to live.”


“Yeah,” Larry said, exhaling. “I guess so. Huh, I actually thought it would be worse than this,” Larry added meditatively.


“Oh?” Candy said, his eyebrows rising.


“No, no, it hurt plenty,” Larry said hastily. His ass was still good and sore. “I’m just saying...”


This isn’t good, Candy thought to himself, not liking the calculations he could tell Larry was making. He’s not supposed to be wondering if it was worth it. Candy sighed inwardly. There were no quick fixes with this colt.


“Get showered, get dressed and come down for some lunch,” Candy said, not sure what to make of Larry’s reaction. Somehow his belt had not inspired quite the degree of respect that Candy had hoped.


Pushing his worries aside, Candy started to prepare lunch. Smiled as Larry entered the kitchen, hair slick and wet from his shower. Larry looked doubtfully at the kitchen chairs.


“You can sit,” Candy told him matter of factly. “Your butt’s not that sore.”


“How would you know?” Larry groused.


“You think I never had a licking, Larry?” Candy asked him.


“I don’t know?” Larry shook his head. “I guess you had to learn somewhere?”


“That’s right, Larry my love. Which is why I know you can sit, even if it’s not the most comfortable activity.’ Candy was determined to make sure that the aftermath of the thrashing was sufficiently unpleasant that Larry would not be eager to repeat it. Larry’s almost cavalier attitude worried him more than he wanted to admit.


This isn’t the worst thing ever, Larry thought to himself. His ass hurt. If he was being honest, it hurt a lot. But still and all, it was a worthwhile tradeoff if it truly wiped the slate clear


“You ever fish, Larry?” Candy asked as they ate.


“Once in awhile. Why?” Larry was surprised by the question.


“The stream in the back pasture is running pretty fast. I bet we could get us some brook trout if we tried,” Candy said.


“Yum.” Larry looked at Candy. “You taking the afternoon off, Candy?”


“Yeah. I thought we could use a little break in routine,” Candy said. He smiled at Larry, glad that he could offer Larry a treat.


“You’re too nice to me.” Larry leaned across the table and kissed Candy. Candy kissed him back.


No need between them for words. Chairs clattered, the old couch creaked. Nestled in each other’s arms, the two men smiled in lazy contentment. Sorted out their jeans and underwear, dressed in warm and sated silence, retrieved Candy’s fishing gear and headed down to the stream.


Time on a farm had a rhythm all its own, older and more grounded than the deadlines Larry’s freelance work ebbed and flowed by. Meticulously organized by nature, Larry nonetheless lost track of the days. He was surprised when he picked up the mail to see the summer issue of Out Living in their box.


Huh, they didn’t ask me to do anything for them this year, Larry thought ruefully. Oh well, can’t win them all. He thumbed through the glossy periodical until he reached the table of contents. Scanned it curiously.


“Sonofabitch!” Jeffrey had an article in there! An article whose title Larry recognized as a piece they had idly talked about doing someday.


“It wasn’t my idea, but it wasn’t his, either,” Larry said angrily to Candy, who listened sympathetically. “But it’s my editor who gave him the assignment! Why the fuck didn’t he tell the bastard to call me?”


“I don’t know, Larry,” Candy said for the fifth time. Larry’s fury seemed to be growing rather than subsiding. Candy was not sure whether letting Larry talk on and on was calming his lover down or winding him up.


“The fucking bastard! He’s trying to black ball me. I wrote for the fucking magazine for two years before they fucking heard of him. Sonofabitch!” Larry ranted on.


“You’re right, Larry, it isn’t fair, but working yourself into a lather isn’t going to change anything.” Candy shook his head as Larry poured himself yet another cup of coffee.


“Do you think more caffeine is the way to go, Larry?” Candy asked quietly. “You’re wired enough as it is. Why don’t you have some juice or some decaf–“


“Fuck you! Why do you even give a fuck! I fucking hate you! Leave me the fuck alone!” Larry lobbed his cup at Candy’s head, all reason gone. Fortunately his aim was as uncontrolled as his temper.


“There wasn’t any need for that, Larry.” Candy looked behind him at the coffee dripping down the wall, the broken pieces of the stoneware cup, and shook his head. “You’re getting a licking.” He turned a chair away from the table.


Fuck it, he was in deep shit now! Larry cast about frantically for an escape route.


Contrition sometimes worked very well.


"I'm sorry," Larry whined, the picture of regret. "Please, Candy, I don't want another licking."


Would it work? Larry held his breath.


“Next time think about that beforehand,” Candy said unsympathetically, his hand going to his waist. “These tantrums are going to stop.”


Defiance might yet succeed where contrition had failed.


“You licked me before and it didn’t make a fucking bit of difference!” Larry glared at Candy. “What are you doing? No! Candy, don’t make me–“


“You know the deal, Larry.” Candy finished unbuckling his belt and pulling the leather through his belt loops. His voice was calm, his eyes resolved. “Let’s get this over with.”


“No! I don’t want this, I don’t need this! No, Candy, please, I’m sorry!! It’s not my fault.”


“Larry.” Name as reprimand. “Let’s get this over with.”


“Fine, beat the shit out of me! I don’t fucking care what you do to me,” Larry flared. He toed out of his sneakers, undid his jeans and shoved pants and underwear to the floor. Stepped out of them and stood half-naked an arm’s length from Candy, not moving.


Candy stepped forward. He caught Larry’s hand and swatted Larry towards the chair, none too gently. Seating himself, he drew Larry face down over his lap. He took hold of Larry’s hip and settled him firmly against his stomach.


“You don’t throw things! You just don’t do it, Larry!” Candy’s sharp tone made his disapproval clear. He brought his doubled belt down across Larry’s pale flanks a half dozen times, six quick, stinging strokes that left Larry gasping.


“Ow! Oh shit, Candy, that hurts! Ow!!” Larry kicked and twisted, trying to right himself.“Let me go!”


“You’re only making it worse for yourself, Larry.” Candy didn’t budge.


Larry was breathless and sweaty when he finally gave up his struggle. He drooped over Candy’s knees, resigned to the inevitable and already crying hard.


Candy brought his belt down in a final flurry of quick, hard licks. Glad to be done, he laid his belt aside and flexed his hand, which was knotted with tension. He helped Larry to his feet and ushered his teary, clinging lover into the living room. Eased Larry onto the couch on his belly, murmuring reassurances the while.


“I’m sorry,” Larry whimpered. He grabbed for Candy, panicky. “Stay here! Don’t leave me!”


“I’m right here.” Candy seated himself on the couch, pillowing Larry’s head in his lap. He rubbed Larry’s back gently.


“Don’t be mad anymore,” Larry sniffled. His ass was so sore! “I’m sorry, Candy.”


“I’m not mad,” Candy reassured Larry. “I know you’re sorry. I know you can do better and I’m going to see that you do.”


“Okay.” Larry yawned tiredly. ‘M’sorry.”


“I know, Larry,” Candy said softly. “We’ll talk later. Just rest now.”


Larry didn’t reply. His breathing slowed and deepened as he slipped into exhausted sleep.

Candy hoisted Larry over his shoulder in a classic fireman’s carry and carried him to their bedroom.


Larry awoke in the wee hours of the morning, chastened, sore and very, very sad. Candy was sleeping beside him. Larry hesitated, wanting badly to wake him, but reluctant to admit how needy he felt.


Candy stirred.


“Are you awake?” Larry whispered hopefully.


“I am now,” Candy said sleepily. “What’s wrong, Larry?”


“I’m sorry,” Larry said miserably. “I’m trying, Candy. I am!” He stared into the dark.


“Larry.” Candy gathered his lover in his arms. “I know, love, I know. Shh... Just sleep now. We’ll talk in the morning. Everything’s all right, everything’s fine. Shh...” Gradually, Candy’s murmured reassurances lulled Larry to sleep.


An exhausted Larry slept through the morning’s chores. Not until mid-morning was he awake and coherent.


“We need to talk.” Candy refreshed both their coffee cups and sat down at the table opposite Larry.


“I’m very unhappy with your behavior, Larry,” Candy said. “I’ve spanked you, I’ve paddled you. I’ve taken my belt to you. It hasn’t made an impact.”


“You want me to leave, right?” Larry said resignedly. “I’m sorry, it’s my fault, I know it is. It’s always been my fault. I’m sorry, Candy. Please, I’ll do anything you want--” He tried a facsimile of a seductive smile.”


“Larry, love, don’t cheapen what we have,” Candy said sharply.


“I’m sorry.” Larry looked down.


“Larry, I certainly don’t want you to leave. But you are going to learn to listen when I tell you something.” He took Larry’s hand; laced their fingers together. “No more tantrums. No more lying. The next time I have to turn you over my knee, you’re getting a whipping.”


“A whipping?” Larry was startled. “A whipping?”


“A whipping.”


“What are you going to whip me with?” Larry couldn’t believe he was even asking!


“My riding crop.” Candy waited for the inevitable explosion.


“But it’s going to hurt!” Larry yelped. “Candy, please, I don’t need that, I don’t!”


“I think you do, Larry,” Candy said gently. “What I expect of you is pretty basic, Larry. Watch your temper. Keep a civil tongue in your head. Tell the truth. ”


“I can do that!” Larry protested. “I can, Candy!”


“Good,” Candy said genially. “I know you can, Larry. And if you can’t, I’m going to help you learn how. Curse at me, lie to me and you’ll get a whipping. Every time.”


“All right,” Larry said slowly. “I won’t curse. I won’t lie. I promise. You won’t have to whip me.”


“Come here.” Candy opened his arms and a very subdued Larry settled into his lap.

“I know you can do it, Larry.” Candy said calmly. “I’m not asking for anything extraordinary, just common courtesy and honesty. Don’t you think we owe each other that?”


“Yes, Candy,” Larry said soberly. “I know I can be a prick sometimes. I’ll try, Candy, I really will.”


“Good.” Candy took a deep breath. “This is your one and only warning, Larry.”


“You’d really whip me, Candy?” Larry still only half believed it.


“Yes, Larry, I would.” Candy’s blunt reply left no room for doubt.


It was a close question as to which man hoped more fervently that there would be no need to test the new sanctions.


Larry was frustrated. He had half a dozen feelers out and not one of them had garnered a response. He was bored with the manuscript he was editing and spoiling for a fight. So far Candy was resisting rising to his bait.


“Can I take Mouse over the jumps in the pasture?” Larry asked for the third time.


“I want you to wait a bit, Larry,” Candy repeated patiently. “You’ve got a nice seat, you’re making real progress, but she’s a classic hunter. Once she’s out in the field, she jumps fast and she jumps long. Work her over the jumps in the ring for another week or two and then maybe you’ll be ready.”


“I’m ready now, Candy!” Larry thought Candy was being entirely too cautious.


“Another week or two in the ring and then we’ll see.”


“No!” Larry glared at Candy. “It’s not fair! Why can’t I take her outside?”


“You’re not ready, Larry. I don’t feel it’s safe.”


“I am ready. Why the fuck don’t you believe me? What do you think’s going to happen?”


“Larry, I would not take that tone of voice if I were you.” Candy met Larry’s angry eyes without flinching.


“I’ll do whatever the fuck I want! How the fuck are you going to stop me?” Larry said.


“Larry, do you really want to go down this path?” Candy asked very quietly.


“I don’t fucking have to stay here!”


“Larry, are you threatening walk out on us? Over a little thing like this?” Candy shook his head reproachfully.


“Fuck you!” Larry didn’t like Candy calling his bluff. “I can handle her, you asshole, I know I can. I’ll do whatever the fuck I want! You can’t fucking stop me.”


“That’s where you’re wrong,” Candy said, turning on his heel. Enough was enough.


“Candy! Where are you going? Candy, no, please! Don’t leave me!” Sheer panic in Larry’s voice.


Candy turned back; caught Larry in a tight, fierce hug. “Larry. Larry, love, I’m never leaving you. But you’re going to be punished. I’m getting my crop.”


“Your riding crop?” Larry’s jaw dropped. He hadn’t quite believed Candy was serious.




“No, Candy! Don’t! I’m sorry! Give me another chance!”


Hysterics. Larry screamed, pleaded, threatened, begged. Candy was implacable.


“We talked about this, colt. You agreed.” Candy put his hand on the doorknob. “I’ll be right back. Take your pants off meanwhile.” He headed toward the barn.


“NO--” Deprived of an audience, Larry fell abruptly silent.


It was going to happen, Larry knew. He could protest all he wanted. Short of getting in his car and leaving for good, there was no way out of this.


Larry knew he wasn’t going to leave. With shaky hands, he undid his jeans and stepped out of them. Laid them over the seat of the chair. Toyed indecisively with the waistband of his underwear.


“You got your pants off. Good, Larry.” Candy strode back into the house. “Might as well get your shorts off, too.”


Nervously, Larry complied. His eyes flickered to the leather riding crop in Candy’s right hand.


“Oh shit. Candy, please, I’m sorry! It was a mistake. Give me another chance. I don’t want a whipping.”


“I don’t want to whip you, Larry, but you deserve this. You earned this whipping,” Candy said matter of factly.


“But it’s going to hurt. Bad,” Larry sniffled, hanging back.


Candy herded Larry towards the couch.


“Over my lap, please.” Candy eased Larry across his thighs. “Let’s get this over with.”


There was no warm up spanking; Candy began with a staccato series of swishes of the crop.


“OW!!” Larry wailed. Mary mother of god, it hurt more than Larry had even imagined. ”No more, Candy, please, stop!! Please!” Sheer panic in Larry’s voice. “Scared, Candy, I’m scared!”


Candy paused. Laying the crop aside, he rubbed Larry’s back in firm, sure circles.


“Breathe. You’re going to make yourself sick. Breathe. It’s all right, Larry. Trust me. Breathe.”


Larry’s pounding heart slowed as he followed Candy’s instructions. With Candy supporting him, it really was all right. He could do this.


Candy’s reassuring hand stilled. They weren’t through yet...


Reading his intent correctly, Larry tensed.


Candy picked up his crop again.


“Shit! OW! OW!!” Larry’s cries became tears.


“Shh... All done now... Shh...” Candy crooned. “Shh, Larry, all done now. Shh....””


Red-eyed, Larry lay on his stomach, his backside welted. Candy smoothed his hair. Larry leaned into his touch, wanting the comfort, needing the tactile reassurance.


“Come on, Larry my love,” Candy said softly. “It’s over. Won’t you come to me now?”


Larry sniffled miserably. His butt hurt, his heart hurt, and more than anything he wanted the comfort of Candy’s arms snug around him. But he was embarrassed, sure that Candy would think less of him if he accepted the hug he craved.


“Come,” Candy coaxed, knowing Larry’s pride and Larry’s need for reassurance were often at odds with each other.


“Do I have to?”


“Yes,” Candy said simply.


Grateful for the firm directive, Larry obeyed.


“I love you, Candy,” Larry whispered into Candy’s neck. “I love you so much. Don’t leave me! I think I’ll die if you leave me.”


“I won’t leave you, Larry,” Candy said, rubbing slow, reassuring circles on Larry’s back. “You’re mine, I love you, I won’t ever leave you. Shh...don’t cry anymore, Larry. I’m here, you’re safe. Don’t cry anymore.”


“That hurt.”


“I know it did.”


“Candy? You love me?”


“I love you, Larry.”


“You whipped me. What’s next?”


“Is there going to be a next?” Candy asked seriously.


“There’s always a next with me!” Larry began to cry again.


“Then you’ll get another whipping,” Candy said. “I’ll do this another fifty times if I need to. You’ll learn.”


“What about fifty one?” Larry asked.“Candy? Are you going to get sick of me?”


“Never, Larry my love,” Candy said. “We’ll do this another hundred times if we have to. Until you learn the lesson I’m trying to teach you.”


“What if I don’t learn?”


“Eventually you’ll learn.” Candy sighed. “And until you do learn, every time you screw up, I’ll feel bad and you’ll feel bad. I’ll take my crop and whip you and you’ll cry and promise to be good and I’ll believe you.”


“Until the next time,” Larry sniffled.


“And the time after that, if need be,” Candy said softly. “I love you, Larry. This thing you do, it’s a problem, that’s all. I’m not leaving you because you’ve got a problem.”


“But why?” Larry’s eyes were full of tears. “Why not, Candy?”


“It’s not all there is of you,” Candy said simply. “When it becomes an issue, I’ll punish you. Most times it’s not.”


“Oh.” Larry snuggled in next to Candy, enjoying the firm hand rubbing the tension out of the small of his back and the big muscles in the back of his thighs. The sure touch that brought no pain, only comfort.


“Testing you is just problem I’ve got?” Larry whispered.


“Yeah.” Candy shifted Larry more comfortably, kissed him. “You’ll learn to do better. Shh, Larry my love.”


The utter lassitude that strong emotion leaves in its wake gripped Larry. He opened his mouth to Candy’s, but his eyes closed and his breathing deepened even as Candy kissed him again.


“Larry, sleep, you’re exhausted,” Candy said softly, as Larry sank deeper into his embrace. “I’ve got you now. You’re safe.” And when Larry finally believes that, there won’t be any more need for him to push, Candy thought.


Larry awoke feeling stiff and sore. He touched his ass gingerly. Not a good idea.


“I ache,” Larry informed Candy miserably.


“I’m sure you do,” Candy said empathetically. “Come here, let me see what you look like.” He flipped the covers down and studied Larry’s buttocks. They looked tender and puffy, but the individual welts were already fading into generalized redness..


“Meet with your approval?” Larry asked sulkily, yanking the covers back up.


“You got what you deserved and you know it. I think you’ll live.” Candy stroked Larry’s hair back from his forehead and kissed him gently, taking the sting out of his words.


“You still love me?” Larry asked, knowing the answer, but needing to hear Candy say it.


“I love you, Larry.” Candy knew he would be repeating the phrase many times that day.

“You’re a good looking, intelligent guy who’s fun to live with and fun to talk to and great in bed. I’m prepared to give you a hand in the few areas where you need a little help.”


“I think a few areas would be a lot happier without your helpful hand.” Larry yawned tiredly. “My butt hurts, Candy.” He twisted his head backwards, trying for a glimpse.


“You just got a whipping; of course it does,” Candy said practically. “Put your head down and rest, Larry. Shh...” Sensitive to Larry’s need for contact after punishment, Candy sat alongside Larry, rubbing his back gently, until Larry fell asleep.


Larry hewed to his writing routine as the days moved on, confident that eventually something would break his way.


It couldn’t be soon enough, he thought glumly, checking his email without hope of finding anything much.


What was this? Larry read the terse note with mounting excitement.


“Shit, I don’t believe it! They want to meet with me! Holy shit, I can’t believe it! Candy!” Larry raced towards the barn, eager to share his good news.


“Candy, guess what? I just heard–“ Larry’s shouts spooked the young mare Candy was just mounting.


If Candy had been on the ground, he would have been able to hold the shying horse. If he had been fully in the saddle, he would have stayed with her when she reared. As it was, he barely managed to kick free of the stirrup as he fell backwards on the pounded dirt of the ring.


Larry was under the rail and at his side in an instant, his news forgotten, his only thought Candy.


“Oh my god, Candy, oh my god. Are you all right? Oh my God what should I do?”


“I’m all right, Larry,” Candy managed to say before he threw up.


Larry kneeled beside Candy. He rubbed Candy’s back, not knowing what else to do.


“Should I call a doctor? Take you to the hospital?” Larry asked, his voice rising.


“No,” said Candy weakly. “Larry, I need you to calm down and help me.”


Larry was instantly silent.


“Sure, Candy,” Larry said, trying for a normal tone. “Just tell me what to do.”


“Help me up.” Candy took Larry’s extended hand and rose to his feet. He leaned on Larry as they walked to the fence. Propped his elbows on the top rail. “We need to get this gal’s tack off. Can you catch hold of her?”


“I think so,” Larry said. The mare Candy had been riding stood stock still, her head towards them, her nostrils flared.


“Sweet talk her,” Candy instructed. “She’s nervous. You want her to calm down.”


Larry did as he was told. Caught hold of the little mare’s reins and wrapped them over the rail. Remonstrated with her in sing-song, sugary tones as he unsaddled her and slipped off her bridle. Clipping a lead line to the halter she wore underneath, he led her to the pasture and freed her.


Despite the ringing in his ears, Candy grinned. Larry had come a long way in his handling of the horses. He was surer of himself now and the horses responded well to him.


“What now?” Larry asked, returning to Larry’s side.


“Good job,” praised Candy. “Nothing’s broken, but I whacked my head pretty hard. Let’s head up to the house. I want to sit down for a bit.”


“It was my fault,” Larry said softly, after he had settled Candy on the couch.


“It was an accident,” Candy said. “You didn’t mean to spook her. If I’d been more alert I wouldn’t have been thrown.”


“You should punish me.” Larry looked at Candy. “You got hurt because of me.”


“It was an accident. What was that you were shouting about, anyway?” Candy asked curiously.


“Oh.” Larry’s face brightened. “I got an email. They want to meet with me about a book proposal.”


“Terrific,” Candy enthused, trying not to wince at the sharp stab of pain in his head.


“You’re hurting.” Larry’s face fell.


“I’ll be all right. I’m glad they’re interested in your book, Larry. That’s something to be excited about. Just maybe not something to spook my horse over.” Candy tried to make a joke of it, but his wince told Larry how much the effort cost him.


“You should punish me, Candy,” Larry said guiltily.


“No, you just made a mistake. I’ll never punish you for an honest mistake, Larry.”


“I deserve to be punished!” Larry and guilt were a volatile mixture. “How about if I bring you your fucking crop, will you punish me then?”


“There’s no need to curse, Larry,” Candy said quietly, not rising to the bait. ‘It was a mistake. They happen. You’ll never run up to a horse yelling and shouting again.”


“But I feel bad!” Larry yelped. “You have to punish me!”


“Feeling guilty won’t kill you. That’s how you learn, Larry. I won’t punish you for a mistake.”


“Forget it, you fucking sonofabitch!” Larry slammed out the door.


Larry yanked open his car. The keys were still in the ignition. Gravel shot backwards as he revved the motor and shot down the driveway at a furious pace.


Larry, Larry, Larry, Candy shook his head gingerly, not wanting to make the ache worse. He only hoped Larry would calm down and slow down before he hurt himself or somebody else. There was no sense in chasing him; it would only make Larry more careless. Forcing himself to breathe through his fears, Candy checked his watch.


Come back safe, Larry my love.


Larry’s luck held. The road was empty and he encountered no other cars before his breathing steadied and his heart stopped racing. He glanced at the dashboard, took his foot off the accelerator and drove at a saner pace, trying to think. Where should he go?


The better question was, where could he go? Larry eyed the gas gauge warily. It was perilously low. The red Empty light was on.


The fucking car was fucking out of fucking gas.


The road sloped downhill at a steep enough grade that Larry managed to coast safely onto the shoulder. He had no phone, no money, no license and no idea where he was. And night was falling fast, bringing with it a chill. Larry huddled disconsolately into his seat and wished mightily that he had never run away.


Cold and miserable as he was, Larry nevertheless felt hopeful. Surely Candy would not let him drive off forever without looking for him.


Larry realized he was counting on Candy to come. Surely it was only a matter of time.


Larry my love, he thought to himself, Candy’s endearment both familiar and eminently reassuring, you are in deep shit now. Larry winced. He’d be getting a whipping all right.


But knowing that was a lot better than wondering if Candy would come. Candy would come, Larry thought. He would. Larry closed his eyes against the tears that threatened to flood them and exhausted from his own emotions, fell into an uneasy sleep.


Something’s wrong, Candy thought to himself as the hours wore on. He knew Larry. Larry’s temper burnt hot and fast. If Larry was still gone after three hours, he was in trouble.


Fortunately Candy’s head had stopped throbbing. He’d had far worse falls in the past. Hoping against hope that it was only a flat tire or an empty gas tank, Candy started his truck and headed down the road Larry had sped off on.


Candy’s instincts were right on the money. Three quarter of an hour’s drive, and there was Larry’s car at the side of the road!


It doesn’t look damaged, Candy thought as he pulled up behind it. The driver didn’t stir as Candy approached the car. Larry was curled in the front seat, dead to the world. Candy tapped lightly on the window.


“Larry,” Candy said softly. “Wake up. I’m here now. We’re going home.”


“I knew you’d come,” Larry said. “I knew, Candy.” He sniffed, hard.


“You know me.” Candy tilted Larry’s face to him, surveying him for signs of damage. Kissed him soundly, stroked the stubbled planes of his cheek.


“Larry my love, you scared the shit out of me.” The rare expletive made the depth of his feelings clear.


Larry blinked back a sudden rush of tears. Larry my love. No one else had ever called him that. No one else had ever felt that.


“Lock up your car,” Candy instructed. “It’ll be fine here. We’ll come out with a gas can tomorrow. Come on, get in my truck. I’m taking you home.”


“I’m sorry,” Larry said. “Please Candy, don’t whip me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”


“We’re not going to discuss this tonight,” Candy said firmly. “We are going to eat dinner, shower and go to bed. Those are the only things on tonight’s agenda.”


“Oh...” Larry said slowly.


Candy reheated the chili he had made earlier in the week. Ladled out two bowls. Silently handed Larry a beer and took one for himself. They ate without talking.


“Shower, then bed,” Candy said. “I’m going to finish up in the barn. I’ll be up shortly.”


Larry showered. Tried to decide whether or not to dress, opted to crawl naked between the sheets.


Candy took refuge in the calming routines of farm life. Forked extra straw into a few stalls. Closed up the barn and went back to the house. He took the stairs slowly, relief still flooding him. He ought to be angry at Larry for running away, but he wasn’t. He was just glad Larry was safe.


Candy showered, singing happy melodies to himself. Larry was safe.


Candy stretched out alongside Larry in their bed, grateful that Larry’s luck had held.


“You scared me, Larry.” Candy kissed Larry soft and sweet, then harder and deeper.


Larry let Candy plunder his mouth. Let Candy roll him onto his belly. Let Larry part his thighs.


“Larry, what’s wrong?” Candy asked.


“Nothing,” Larry said, willing his voice not to quiver.


“Something is.” Candy withdrew his exploring hand and sat back against the headboard. This distant, passive Larry worried him. “Sit up, Larry. Talk to me.”


“Candy, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to spook her,” Larry said wretchedly. “I’m sorry! Don’t be mad at me! Don’t leave me!”


Abruptly Candy realized how upset Larry really was.


“Shh, it’s all right, Larry my love. Come here to me.”


“I do trust you, Candy.” Larry snuggled into Candy’s arms.


“Good.” Candy kissed Larry again and this time Larry returned his kiss. “Somebody hurt you, but I’m not going to. I’m not going to leave you. You’re safe now. Let it go.”


The sure magic between them worked as it always had. Flesh met flesh, obscuring thought. Need met need, obscuring fear.


Morning dawned, bright and chill.


“Okay, sleepyhead, I’m going to do chores,” Candy said softly to Larry, who was still buried in blankets, clinging determinedly to his pillows. “Then we’ll settle up.”


“I’m sorry?” Larry lifted his head and looked at Candy hopefully.


“Me too,” Candy said, shaking his head at Larry’s wishful thinking. “That doesn’t change anything, Larry.” He swatted Larry lightly, through the covers. “Get up, get dressed. Make us some coffee. I’ll see you downstairs.”


Larry sat at the breakfast table, well aware that it would be some time before that position felt comfortable again. He took another sip of coffee.


“Good morning, Larry,” Candy gave Larry a warm smile as he tromped back into the kitchen.


“Maybe not so good.” Larry swallowed hard, eyeing the riding crop in Candy’s hand. “Candy, I don’t want you to whip me! Why can’t I just get a spanking?”


“Driving off in a rage is dangerous and you know it. You could have been hurt and you could have hurt someone else,” Candy said quietly. “You deserve a lot more than a spanking, Larry. You deserve a whipping. Let’s get this over with.” Candy offered Larry his hand.


Larry allowed himself to be led into the living room and over to the couch.


“Are we clear what this punishment is for?” Candy asked sternly.


“Yes, Candy.” Larry squared his shoulders. “You call the shots, not me. I don’t tell you when or how to punish me. I don’t throw a tantrum and run off.”


“That’s right, Larry. You don’t tell me what to do and you don’t run away if you don’t like my decision about something.” Candy shook his head.


Larry knew Candy was right. He undressed without further protest. He held his breath as Candy positioned him over his lap, willing himself to accept his punishment quietly.


“Breathe, Larry. It’s going to be all right.” Candy steeled himself and brought the crop smartly.


“Ow! No, please!! Ow!!” Larry cried out despite himself. Even a judicious application of the crop hurt like hell.


Candy finished the whipping quickly and dropped the crop at his feet. Carefully, he turned Larry, who was sobbing and gasping wretchedly, face up and gathered him into his lap.


“Will you do it again?” Candy’s question hung in the air between them.


“No! I promise!” Larry swore tearfully, meaning it. “I won’t try to manipulate you into punishing me. I won’t run away again. I love you, Candy. I’m sorry.”


“Larry my love.” Candy untangled Larry’s sweat soaked hair, making soft, whispering noises.


“It hurt! It hurt a lot!” Larry protested hoarsely.


Candy looked sad.


“Do you think I like taking you down like that? Larry, you’re a sweetheart and I love you. But I won’t be played for a fool and I won’t be lied to and I’m going to punish you each and every time you try it.”


“I don’t think I like this deal very much, Candy,” Larry said ruefully, even as the temptation of curling into Candy’s arms proved overwhelming. He leaned into Candy, sniffing back the last of his tears.


“Neither do I, Larry,” Candy said gently. “I hate it. I hate hearing you cry. I hate feeling you flinch every time I bring the crop down. I hate seeing marks on your sweet ass.”


“Oh.” Larry was very quiet. Thinking. “I love you, Candy. I’m all yours.” He sighed. “I hate being whipped, though.”


“I know, Larry. That’s why it’s called punishment. That’s why it helps you change your behavior.” Candy smoothed Larry’s hair from his eyes. Kissed him gently, opening his lips with his tongue. Larry gave way willingly.


“I ought to put you to work, but I’m a soft touch,” Candy said with a sigh. “Come on, Larry, let’s get you into bed. You can have the day off.”


“I think you’re supposed to say it’s my own fault my ass is sore and that you’re not going to let me laze around all day,” Larry said, trying to sound lighthearted.


“Bed, colt.” Candy rose, easing Larry from his lap. He propelled him gently up the stairs.


“You really aren’t mad that I spooked your horse and got you thrown?” Larry asked softly as Candy helped him find a comfortable position. “I still don’t understand why not.”


“An honest mistake is one thing. Getting a little overexcited is something I can relate to.” Candy stroked Larry’s hair. “You never did tell me what got accepted?”


Larry began to cry.


“Shh, shh, shh...” Candy crooned. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, Larry. It’s nothing to cry about. Shh...”


“It’s not that!” Larry said, bringing his tears under control. “Just Jeffrey never cared whether I published anything, whether I was excited about work, whether it was going well or not. And he wrote, too, so he knew how important that kind of support is. And you’ve always been supportive of me, since the day we met.”


“Larry my love, you’re supportive, too,” Candy said sincerely. “You help out whenever and however you can. You pull your weight around here. You’re a real partner, Larry.”


“Partners, that sounds good.” Larry began to giggle.


“Happy now, Larry?” Candy kissed Larry, used to Larry’s mercurial moods. He was a writer; he was sensitive. Candy found Larry’s emotional intensity endearing.


“I feel different,” Larry said, marveling at the feeling. “It started that night in the car. I knew you would come for me, Candy.”


“I love you, Larry,” Candy said simply.


“I know you do,” Larry said, rare contentment in his voice. “You wouldn’t have whipped me if you didn’t. I’m not an easy man, Candy, but I’m not stupid. I know you love me. I love you too.”


“Larry my love.” Candy swiped at his own eyes. “You get some rest, colt. If you feel up to riding later, let’s take a picnic up the mountain. It’s a beautiful day.”


The winding trail to the mountain top was one of their favorites. Here and there, a single tree with leaves already gone orange blazed in the late afternoon sun. Maples and oaks gave way to evergreens.


“They’re still here,” Larry said happily, spotting the circle of rocks they had left the last time.


“Rocks tend to stay put, Larry,” Candy teased.


Larry tossed a pinecone at him.


“I’ll get some firewood while you tether the horses, okay Candy?”


Candy smiled at Larry’s enthusiasm. He was glad Larry was feeling good. He staked the horses and joined Larry on his search for dead and downed wood.


They built up a good blaze and settled alongside it, glad of the warmth as the sun dropped lower. Candy unloaded the ingredients for dinner from his saddlebags. He had brought a feast!


“This is the best steak I’ve ever had in my life,” Larry said sincerely.


“It’s the mountain air,” Candy said modestly.


“It’s the cook,” Larry said. “I really like the cook.” He lay back on the blanket and waited to see what Candy would do.


“I take it you’re dessert.” Candy propped himself on his elbows alongside Larry and kissed him gently. Larry opened his mouth, wanting more.


It was too cold to undress. With the skill of practiced lovers, Larry and Candy adjusted their clothes just enough to allow each other access to the crucial parts. Lay drowsily in each other’s arms until the moon rose high enough to make the way home clear.


It was late in the fall. The leaves were mostly gone from the trees. The lone tourist in the town pulled his Lexus SUV into the parking lot of a local eatery. He had a commission to write a piece on the area for a fashionable magazine. He thought he’d take advantage of his expense account and stop for lunch.


The waitress showed him to a table near the window. His eye was caught, not by the view, but by the young man sprawled at the table on the far wall.


Those shoulders, those glossy, sun-bleached waves! The sort of look that shouted sexy.


No harm in becoming acquainted. The antique map hanging on the wall right by the young man’s table provided the perfect excuse for a stroll over.


“Jeffrey!” Larry recognized his former boyfriend instantly.


“Larry! I had no idea it was you! You look fabulous!” Jeffrey said, surprised into uncharacteristic approval. Hot damn, his ex-boyfriend looked good.


Larry remembered a time when he had longed for the warmth he heard in Jeffrey’s voice. It seemed a very long time ago.


“You look good, too,” Larry said slowly. “What brings you out here?”


“I’m doing a piece for Out Living,” Jeffrey said with a smile. “I’ve done several over the last few months while you’ve been out of the loop.”


“Out of the loop!” Larry gaped at Jeffrey. “You cut me out, you–“


You don’t curse, Larry my love. Larry could hear Candy’s voice, could feel it seared into the depths of his conscience. Self control painfully won. He took a deep breath.


“That’s interesting, Jeffrey,” Larry said, forcing a fake smile. It hurt the corners of his mouth, but nothing like the way Candy’s whippings hurt. It hurt the way doing an extra set of reps with weights did; an effortful burn that he knew would bring rewards.


Jeffrey waited in vain for Larry’s smile to break. For Larry to revert to the mercurial, neurotic behavior Jeffrey had tried in vain to curtail.


“It was nice seeing you, Jeffrey,” Larry said falsely. He stood up. Taking out his wallet, he left the tab and a generous tip on the table and walked out the door.


Jeffrey stood, stunned. This couldn’t be! What had happened to the beautiful, irremediably damaged boyfriend he had been forced to abandon? Where on earth had Larry gotten this new self-possession, this new aura of security?


And why the fuck did he look so damn good? Jeffrey scowled as he returned to his own table. Stared moodily at the menu and tried to come to terms with the fact that he had just seen something he thought was impossible: Larry happy.


Larry swung into the passenger seat of the truck, put his head back and closed his eyes, trying to slow his breathing.


“Larry?” Candy took Larry’s hand. “You okay, love?”


“I love you, Candy,” Larry said, tightening his fingers on Candy’s hand. “Yeah, I’m okay. I’m good, if you want to know the truth. I’m better than ever.”


“I’m glad to hear it,” Candy said with a laugh. “Now tell me what just happened.”


“You don’t miss a trick, do you?” Larry said, shaking his head.


“Not where you’re concerned, Larry my love.” Candy rubbed his thumb over the back of Larry’s hand. “I’ll drive, you talk.”


“...And I walked back to the truck,” Larry finished.


Candy made the turn into their driveway.


“I’m proud of you, Larry. You showed a lot of class. You can be very proud of yourself.”


Larry was silent as they unloaded the truck and took their week’s shopping into the house.


“Candy, do you think–“


“Bed?” Candy asked simply.


Larry nodded.


“Let me just shove these perishables into the refrigerator. There, done.” Candy wrapped his arms around Larry in a firm hug. Kissed him, long and lingeringly. “Let’s go upstairs.”


“I love you, Candy.”


“Larry my love.”