His hands shook as he hovered over the link.
Vlad had told himself he wouldn’t actually go through with this, promised himself he’d stop it before things got out of hand. But like most things in Vlad’s life, the point of no return had somehow managed to sneak up on him and had brought with it the razor-sharp focal point of clarity that showed just how dangerously close to the edge he was teetering.
It had seemed so innocuous at first. Small things, little things. Things as simple and mundane as college books, ramen noodles and gift cards that resulted in pictures of drinks taken in Starbucks that looked like the most non-coffee-whipped-cream-frappe-disasters to ever happen to coffee he’d ever seen. The caption had read, “had coffee today! Thank you, Mister V for the SBucks card!!!” in neon rainbow font with several heart emojis after it. It had made Vlad smile, an unexpected heat coming to his face at knowing that somewhere out there, someone was having a good day. Because of him.
He’d very nearly spent himself the first time they’d posted pictures wearing the t-shirts he’d sent them; paralyzed by a bright, searing-hot gratification that was both satiating and arousing all at once. It was like scratching an itch that was just out of reach, maddeningly addictive in its elusiveness.
God, it was positively euphoric.
But Vlad had tangled with addiction for most of his adult life, longer even if he was honest, and he knew all the signs and symptoms of becoming reliant on something for a fix. And while he was technically sober right now, it was only because he’d swapped chasing one high for another. His sponsor at AA thought he was doing wonderfully, but Vlad’s Amazon purchase history told a different story.
Yet he’d still found ways to continue justifying doing it. After all, it wasn’t like he was buying these things for himself. Surely that had to be better, right? Better than hoarding things he didn’t need—not like his father’s second (third, fourth, who knew anymore) wife who had filled the Blutstein manor with collectable trinkets the next wife had swept into the trash with as much afterthought as emptying an ashtray. He was helping people; it was selfless… kind of. And it wasn’t as though the money was an issue, in fact he could quite probably keep up that level of spending indefinitely and never make a dent in his inheritance. God alone knew, what he spent on them in a month Elizabeth could burn through in an hour…
And then they’d sent him that damned invitation, and the whole illusion had come shattering down around him and he’d been forced to concede to reality. It had been a nice little distraction while it had lasted, but he couldn’t allow it to go on any longer. All good things had to come to and end at some point.
Most good things in his life had.
And he’d been so resolved, so sure of himself, sitting there in the light of day in his office with the sounds of city life and normalcy echoing up through the glass walls of the high-rise tower. He’d even started to type out a reply on the app—until his PA had buzzed him, reminding him of the meeting down on the thirteenth floor and he’d been forced to abandon it, telling himself he’d do it later.
Except later had turned into evening, and he’d forgotten that Elizabeth would be home that night. And after another spat were civil pleasantries had been discharged like shrapnel…
Well, here he was.
“Fuck it,” he muttered to himself in the darkness, an innocuous blank page popping up in his browser and prompting him for a name and password. He already knew the password, gift card—unless they’d meant the last book he’d sent them, in which case he had his browsing history open. But he wasn’t sure what to do about his name. He couldn’t put his real one, it was far too rare and well known for them not to find him with a simple search, and simply shortening it to V sounded impersonal, ominous even in its singularity.
Vlad glanced toward his phone, activating the screen out of reflex. He was greeted with the photo of that ridiculous coffee with the even more ridiculous yet endearing moniker they’d given him. Mister V. Yes, that’d do.
Gathering himself, Vlad finished typing in the details, and then, because he was a coward, closed his eyes, and hit enter.
* * *
“He’s not coming,” Ursula pouted, sounding petulant at the prospect of being stood up by their mysterious benefactor.
Nathan glanced reflexively over at the alarm clock on the bedside table, the neon numbers ticking over in the dim light of their apartment bedroom as he rubbed soothing circles over her shoulders. “It’s only five minutes past. Give him time, love.”
“How much time?”
“I don’t know,” Nathan laughed, attempting to pull her away from the screen long enough to plant a kiss on her forehead. “Ten more minutes. He might have stuff to do. Or be stuck in traffic with no Wi-Fi. For all we know he’s Batman.”
“Bruce Wayne does have a lot of money…” she agreed, chewing agitatedly on her thumb before reaching out to hit refresh on the page for the umpteenth time in the last ten minutes. Just in case. “I just… don’t want him to not show…”
“I know,” Nathan soothed, drawing her back to lean against his chest and forcing her to relinquish her hold on the laptop. “He’s been very nice to you…”
“Us,” Ursula corrected him instantly, squirming to look round at him over her brown freckled shoulder. “We’re a package deal, remember?”
“To us,” Nathan amended, remembering belatedly that he was wearing one of the t-shirts Mister V had sent them from their wish list. He didn’t quite get the same thrill from this sort of thing as Ursula did, but he’d be lying if he said there wasn’t a little forbidden zing of something that flashed up his spine at knowing this. “That’s what I mean. But he might not want anything more from this, y’know? He might just be in it for the thrill and not actually want anything except to spend money…”
“Yeah…” Ursula said, sounding more and more dejected by the minute. Which was ludicrous, because wasn’t this the dream? Wasn’t this what most people hoped for when they signed up to be Sugar Babies; to be given things and never actually have to give anything back? Nathan had certainly thought so. But then again, Nathan had also thought he was straight up until college. So what the hell did he know?
“Hey, c’mon,” he said, sliding his hand under her t-shirt (technically his t-shirt, another one from Mister V, that slid endearingly from her shoulders to hang mercilessly on her frame, and made him weak at the knees whenever she ran around the apartment wearing just that and nothing else but a smile) and stroking his hands over her belly, letting them travel over the soft roundness of her body. “No now doesn’t mean no forever. I’m sure he’s just busy. He’s probably got rich man shit to do.”
“Yeah,” Ursula agreed, sighing huffily but leaning receptively into his touch, arching her back as one hand came to cup the swell of her breast, his fingers tweaking over the sensitive peak of her nipple as his other hand moved enticingly lower. “You’re probably right. Which is a shame,” she smiled upside down at him, arching just far enough to tilt her head back to look at him, her smile teasing. “I did my hair and everything…”
Forgotten on the bed, the laptop pinged, and they both froze, their eyes swiveling down in unison toward the screen which was just about to go black from inactivity.
Mister V said : And very pretty it looks too.
Mister V said : Oh dear, please don’t stop on my account…