For being in a city the size of New York City, it was small. The vast majority of the people were regulars and all new to each other. They had sex parties together once or twice a month, taking turns hosting them. They were friends, a family.

I walked in and saw a few people in the lounge. They smiled at me, each wearing various leather outfits. I mustered up a smile to return.

“Well as I live and breath,” I heard distinctive southern voice gasp. “Caleb Treadway!”

I looked at the doorway to the back rooms and saw Mistress Valentine, the owner of the dungeon, standing there, grinning widely at me.

Mistress Valentine was the woman who introduced me to the world of BDSM when I first wandered in, lost and unsure of myself. I’d had thoughts of being tied up ever since I was stationed overseas, but hadn’t worked up the courage to try it until I was back in New York.

She was a gorgeous woman, nearly as tall as I was in bare feet. In heels, she was at eye level with me. She’d always been a little curvy and I could tell she’d gained a little weight since I’d last been to her dungeon. Her long auburn hair fell around her in waves, contrasting nicely with the black catsuit she wore. Her eyes were light blue. I thought they were a little cold when I first met her, but I quickly learned she was a caring, compassionate woman. She liked to take care of people, to make them feel good, and she’d done that for me too.

Standing there in the doorway, Mistress Valentine was as sexy as ever. I couldn’t deny that I’d fallen a little bit in love with her once upon a time.

She rushed over to me, wrapping me in a hug. I hugged her back, relishing in the touch of another human being.

“It’s so good to see you, Caleb,” she said when she pulled back. Her hand rose to my cheeks, holding my face in her hands to examine me closely. “Handsome as ever,” she said, giving me a small smile. Lowering her voice so no one else could hear her, Mistress Valentine added, “And looking as lost as you did the first time you walked in here.”

Against my will, I felt my eyes water. “Oh, Caleb,” she said. I could see the sadness on her face. “Let’s talk in private.”

She grabbed my hand and led me back to the office she kept. I’d never been in there before, though I’d seen glimpses of it when she’d walked in and out of it. It was neat and tidy. Small, with just enough room for a desk, bookshelf, and couch.

Mistress Valentine led me over to the couch and gestured for me to sit down. I did.

“Under normal circumstances, I’d never offer one of my guests a drink, but I think I’ll make an exception this time,” she said. “You look like you could use one.”

“Please,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound as desperate as I felt.

Nodding, she unlocked a desk drawer and pulled out a half-full bottle of whiskey and two glasses, pouring a few fingers worth in each.

“I hope you didn’t want ice,” she joked, handing me a glass and sitting next to me on the couch. “I’m fresh out.”

I gave her a wane smile and took a sip.

“So what prompted you to stop in today?” she asked, laying a gentle hand on my knee. “What got you so worked up?”

Honestly, I didn’t mean to tell her everything, but it all tumbled from my mouth before I could stop myself.

By that point, she had both her arms wrapped around me, holding me tightly in her arms.

“That’s a lot,” she murmured sympathetically. “You’re dealing with a lot.”

“I don’t know what to do,” I said, my face buried in the crook of her neck, ashamed that I was crying so much.

She rubbed my back and said, “It sounds like Erin needs time. She experienced a real tragedy when her dad took his life. You told her you sometimes thought about killing yourself, which is a lot to put on anyone, especially in a relationship so new. She doesn’t want to relive any of that tragedy. But in time, she might realize that she’s able to accept you the way you are.”

I wanted to believe Mistress Valentine so much. I wanted to believe Erin would come back, but I just couldn’t. After seeing firsthand how weak I truly was, Erin would never come back and I couldn’t blame her one bit. In fact, I felt proud of the fact that she could take care of herself, that she was strong enough to put herself and her needs first.

“And if she doesn’t come back,” Mistress Valentine said in a soothing voice, “then you’ll move on. It will hurt like hell for a while, but it will lessen with time. Your friend Jackson will be there for you and you’ll be able to heal together.”