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Collared: Chapter 56

Michael Bennett Junior couldn’t fall asleep.
As much as he tossed and turned, cuddled, and counted sheep, his brain refused to fall into a deep slumber.
Sleep out of his reach, he turned to face Niall.
He was envious of Niall’s remarkable ability to fend off noise—how he could sleep through thunderous storms, high-pitched sirens, and pending nuptials. His eyelids shielded the crescent moonlight, and his breathing was deep and relaxed as it traveled past his slightly parted lips.
Mike traced along the vibrant stripes of Niall’s sleeve tattoo. His index curved around the two encompassed male gender symbols as they floated above a flowing rainbow flag.
He admired how Niall never shied away from who he was, so much so he’d made it a permanent reminder on his body. Unashamedly, he’d broken away from anyone who had anything against who he was as a person or who he loved. He accepted who he was to the core. If only Mike had met him at a younger age, he’d surpassed many of the struggles a closeted teenage boy carried.
Marriage and a family with a man had always been in Mike’s fantasied future. He’d always seen his partner by his side every night and their children running around their home. What Mike could have never put into words was the feeling that brewed in the deepest part of his stomach whenever his eyes locked with Niall’s. It was like the serendipitous moment when he’d finally realized he was in love, happening in an endless loop every time his gaze landed upon him.
Their love stretched across hundreds of fields and overcame all adversaries. In Niall’s arms, there was no chance of him ever being harmed. He could never imagine hurting him, emotionally or physically, much less on purpose like Preston did Abby.
Images of Abby’s red stain on her bathing suit flooded his mind. As much as his thoughts ran back to Niall, he was unable to get the disturbing images from his head. Although it wasn’t for him to understand, he couldn’t wrap his mind around Abby’s need to be belittled. Was she that insecure? Did she find no value in her being? Or was she so deep in an abusive relationship she couldn’t tell love from manipulation?
“Babe?” Mike whispered, lightly pushing Niall’s shoulder. He needed his arms to cradle him back to sleep and his reassurance to soothe his worries. “Are you sleeping?”
At a snore for a response, Mike rolled his eyes as fast as he rolled out of bed.
He made himself decent by putting on a pair of sweatpants and shoes. Before making his way down the stairs, he closed the bedroom door behind him quietly. Rounding the curved staircase, he detoured to the left, past the living room, and into his father’s office. This was where Michael Bennett Sr. held his most prestigious bourbons. At two in the morning, Mike needed something stronger than beer to wash away the horrid images of his sister being mistreated.
Sneaking into his father’s office, Mike’s eyes scanned the dimmed room. His determined gaze sought the bourbon barrel where he grabbed a Glencairn glass and poured himself four fingers of the mahogany. He took a sip of the smoky liquor and shuddered as the charred oak traveled down his throat. Needing to dilute the tangy flavor, Mike made his way to the kitchen where he popped two ice cubes into the glass.
He took a second sip of the drink and exhaled in delight. “Much better.”
Mike’s eyebrows scrunched in question when he noticed the patio doors were slightly ajar. He opened them just enough for his head to peer outside. In the cloak of night, he found Preston sitting on the steps that led to the pier. Was he contemplating what he’d done to Abby?
Michael Bennett Jr. wasn’t one to pry into other’s relationships. He knew it was no one’s business what two consensual adults did behind closed doors. He did not wish to be the Overprotective Big Bad Brother, either. But he couldn’t feign the fact that when Abby showed him her bruised back, the first thing he wanted to do was punch the living shit out of Preston Trice.
When Abby confessed her sexual preferences, he wondered if it was because of their mother’s upbringing, but he crumbled the thought as easily as it had formed because it was not for him to understand what she liked or who she loved. Abby was the first person he had talked to about his sexuality, and she was the first to accept him with open arms without the human need to reason or understand why.
Abby was there for him, and he would be there for his sister a thousand times more. But although prying in relationships wasn’t in Mike’s DNA, Abby was his little sister and he felt the need to protect her, so he stepped forward.
“What’s keeping you up?”
Preston didn’t move a muscle at Mike’s abrupt voice, almost as if knowing he was being watched. “An entitled feline who has claimed ownership of my girlfriend and bed.”
Mike chuckled, propping a hip against the deck’s railing. “I don’t know why she gets a bed for him. He never sleeps on it.”
Preston tilted his chin at Mike’s glass. “Where did you find that?”
“Dad’s office.”
He offered the glass to Preston, but he declined. “Abigail isn’t comfortable with me drinking hard liquor.”
“Hmm, I thought she was the bottom,” he mumbled.
Preston crooked his neck and squinted his eyes, stunned by Mike’s forthright comment. He quickly recovered with a rebuttal, “She is. She tends to take after her big brother.”
Mike let out a whistle. “Dick.”
Silence filled the night for only a moment as Mike asked intuitively, “Do you love her?”
“I do.”
“Why hurt her then?”
“You have a misunderstanding of what an s/m relationship is. I have never hurt her, and I never will. What most find abusive, your sister finds within it the true meaning of being alive. For every hateful word that spews from my lips reaches her ears as a caress and every punitive beating she receives from my hands, touches her body with loving passion.”
Mike allowed Preston’s words to sink in. He, more than anyone, understood the judgmental looks that accompanied an unconventional relationship.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It doesn’t bother me. You’re her brother. You want to make sure she’s safe.”
“For years, Abby refused to play a part in society and kept to herself. She rarely dated anyone other than work. I could tell there was a part of her missing and I only wished for her to find it soon. When she met you, it was as if she had finally found her place on earth, surprisingly at your feet. I am happy for her, and I trust you to always keep her safe.
There was a pause in the air before Preston spoke again. “I’m going to marry her.”
Mike almost lost his footing. “Does she know that?”
Preston’s silence said it all.
Mike cleared his throat, realizing Preston wasn’t telling a joke. “Why haven’t you asked her?”
He grabbed Mike’s drink from his hand and took a swallow. “I’m afraid she’ll leave.”
“Do you doubt her love?”
“I fear her hesitance if she feels any ounce of her independence might be lost.”
“Maybe Sir Trice would be better suited for the proposal she can’t deny.”


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