If only by Cherise Sinclair




  Masters of the Shadowlands 8:

  IF ONLY

  Cherise Sinclair

  www.loose-id.com

  Masters of the Shadowlands 8: If Only

  Copyright © November 2013 by Cherise Sinclair

  All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the original purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  eISBN 9781623003975

  Editor: Maryam Salim

  Cover Artist: Anne Cain

  Published in the United States of America

  Loose Id LLC

  PO Box 809

  San Francisco CA 94104-0809

  www.loose-id.com

  This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Warning

  This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. Loose Id LLC’s e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

  * * * *

  DISCLAIMER: Please do not try any new sexual practice, especially those that might be found in our BDSM/fetish titles without the guidance of an experienced practitioner. Neither Loose Id LLC nor its authors will be responsible for any loss, harm, injury or death resulting from use of the information contained in any of its titles.

  Author’s Note

  To my readers,

  The books I write are fiction, not reality, and as in most romantic fiction, the romance is compressed into a very, very short time period.

  You, my darlings, live in the real world, and I want you to take a little more time in your relationships. Good Doms don’t grow on trees, and there are some strange people out there. So while you’re looking for that special Dom, please, be careful.

  When you find him, realize he can’t read your mind. Yes, frightening as it might be, you’re going to have to open up and talk to him. And you listen to him, in return. Share your hopes and fears, what you want from him, what scares you spitless. Okay, he may try to push your boundaries a little—he’s a Dom, after all—but you will have your safe word. You will have a safe word, am I clear? Use protection. Have a back-up person. Communicate.

  Remember: safe, sane, and consensual.

  Know that I’m hoping you find that special, loving person who will understand your needs and hold you close.

  And while you’re looking or even if you’re already found your dearheart, come and hang out with the Masters in Club Shadowlands.

  Love,

  Cherise

  Acknowledgment

  With eternal gratitude to my brilliant critique partners, Monette Michaels, Fiona Archer, and Bianca Sommerland, who walloped me over the head until I got the story right.

  Much love to my Shadowkittens for their amazing pouncing and playing. Life would be so dull without you. And a special bow to Leagh and Lisa who (quite sadistically) laced my corset for RomCon.

  A thousand thanks to my new editor, Maryam Salim, who cheerfully hammered this manuscript into submission.

  Hugs to the incredible Liz who blessed a group of stressed-out authors with a laughter-filled weekend. (I’ll never look at a dinosaur in the same way again).

  Kisses to my dearheart who manned the kitchen during my last deadline.

  And to you, my readers: if this book gives you a few happy moments of escape, then I am well rewarded. You are the reason I write.

  Chapter One

  If only trying to be a hero wasn’t so disgusting.

  The center of the Tampa police station stank of sweat and fear and blood. And death. Holding her breath, Sally Hart trotted across the noisy hub to the investigations department.

  In the quiet hallway, she slowed, giving her stomach time to crawl back out of her throat. When she’d started school to be a computer forensics specialist in the law-enforcement arena—as close to a hero as a nerd could get—no one had mentioned these minor details.

  Really, blood and bodily wastes should remain in a body, not out. She gave herself a shake. Onward.

  Dan Sawyer’s office door stood open. Seated at his desk, the detective waved her in.

  “Hey, Dan.” Sally walked in. “The lieutenant said you needed my help.”

  Before Dan could speak, Sally spotted the owner of Tampa’s exclusive BDSM club standing inside the door. “Mas—”Duh, don’t call him Master Z. “Uh, it’s a surprise to see you here, Sir.”

  Black-haired, gray-eyed, in his midforties, Master Z was one of the most gorgeous men she’d ever met. In the Shadowlands, he wore only black, and she was a bit scandalized to find him in a pure white shirt and dark tie. But not even standard business attire could diminish the sense of power he exuded.

  She had a feeling her jeans and tucked-in polo shirt didn’t convey anything except, maybe, clean.

  “Sally.” Master Z held out his hand. When she put her fingers in his, he tugged her a step closer to study her with a frown. “How are you doing?”

  I’m lonely, and I want to come home to the Shadowlands. “I’m fine.” God, she was such a liar.

  And he knew. One brow inched up.

  “Actually,” she said in a rush, “I wanted to talk to you. I broke up with Frank and…” And she just couldn’t tell him her request. She hadn’t been able to call the Shadowlands and ask, and now, here she was in front of him and still choked on the words.

  “I’m sorry it didn’t work out, little one,” he said.

  “Oh, well.” She looked down, absurdly relieved that enough time had passed for her bruised face to heal. Why did choosing a creep for a boyfriend make the girl feel like a loser? How could she possibly ask Master Z to—

  “Would you like to return to the trainees?” he asked gently.

  She clamped her jaw shut, fighting tears, and nodded.

  “It will be nice to have you back, Sally. I’ll put you on the schedule starting Saturday.”

  Joy welled inside her. She could return to her friends. Could try again to find someone…special. A Dom of her own. “Thank you, Sir.” And just like that, she found a smile.

  “You’re very welcome.”

  God, she loved Master Z. Not as a potential master—no way—and she’d been thrilled when he married Jessica. But he always made her feel…special. As if he found her delightful.

  After kicking Frank out, she’d felt as enchanting as a hair ball hacked up by a cat.

  “It’ll be good to see you in the club again.” Dan tossed his pen on his paperwork and leaned back in his chair with a smile.

  “Thanks, Dan.” On his desk was a photo of his wife and son. “Awww.” Could the beaming black-haired baby really be over seven months now? “Zane looks adorable—and Kari looks tired. How’s she doing?”

  Although he answered, “Fine,” his mouth had flattened. He was obviously not a happy camper, which was strange, since he adored Kari and his baby.

  Sally frowned. As soon as school was out, she’d try to catch up with her friends. Kari and Dan lived only a few blocks away. Easy enough to make a little impromptu visit.

  Meantime… “Lieutenant Hoffman said you had a laptop you needed me to get into?”

  Dan nodded. “I do. One of the men forgot his password, a
nd we need the files he has on the hard drive. You got some time right now?”

  “You bet.” Breaking into computers was one of her favorite things.

  Her phone rang, and she gave the display a quick check. Ugh. Frank. He’d taken to calling her every couple of days since they’d split up, which was ridiculous. She swiped the REJECT CALL icon.

  “So, where’s the laptop?” Dan’s desk held only a regular computer flat screen. Beside the monitor lay an open folder labeled Harvest Association. Oh, she knew that name. They were the organization who’d been kidnapping women for slaves. Leaning forward slightly, she casually did an upside-down read, and… Wait just one little minute here. “Why’s my name in there?”

  Dan frowned and moved the paper out of reading distance.

  Spoilsport.

  Behind her, Master Z chuckled. “You might as well save yourself some nagging, Daniel, and indulge her curiosity.”

  “Guess it’s not confidential information any longer.” Dan glanced up at her. “Last fall, they had you targeted to be kidnapped.” A corner of his mouth pulled up. “Seems they thought you’d be perfect for the rebellious slave auction.”

  “Me?” A chill ran through her as she realized she’d have been a slave if Master Z hadn’t sent her away. Linda and Kim had suffered horrors at the hands of the slavers. “Haven’t those stupid Federal agents closed the Harvest Association down yet?”

  “All but the northeast section.” Turning his chair around, Dan motioned toward a table against the wall. “There’s the laptop. After I escort Z out, I’ll be back to give you some ideas of what Brendan thought his password might be.”

  Oh please, as if I need help? “Sure.” As the two men left, Sally started toward the laptop…and paused to stare at the report containing her name. She could swear it was calling to her. Saaaaally. What had the asshole kidnappers said about her?

  Curiosity itched at her worse than any mosquito bite. And, look, her cell—complete with camera—was conveniently right there in her hand. Ignoring her second—and third—thoughts, she snapped shots of the papers scattered over Dan’s desk.

  God, I am a bad, bad person.

  After shoving her phone into her pocket, she virtuously sat down in front of the laptop.

  Such was the power of a guilty conscience, she’d finished the job before Dan returned. Not that hacking in was difficult. Seriously, what kind of fool uses a pet name for his password?

  * * * *

  In the Shadowlands that weekend, Sally set dirty glasses from a table onto her tray. The pounding bass of Nine Inch Nails from the dance floor drowned out her heavy sigh. I’m tired. My bare feet hurt. I want to go home.

  As she stretched the ache out of her back, she looked around. On the left, a new Dom had completed setting up a suspension scene.

  On the right, Mistress Anne was flogging a lanky male submissive.

  At one time, Sally would have stopped to admire the slender brunette’s technique.

  Then again, at one time, Sally had loved being in the Shadowlands.

  But somehow, the magic had faded—damn you, Frank—and she wanted it back. Maybe she could carry a Tinker Bell wand. Instant magic, right? Or maybe a stick like Harry Potter used. No, Tinker Bell’s wand was prettier and required less effort.

  “Here you go.” A sour-looking Dom walking past handed her a dirty glass.

  “Why, thank you, Sir,” Sally said in a saccharine voice. Someone was in dire need of a little happiness charm. What would he do if she bopped him with a magic wand? Nah, the sparkling dust might catch in his overabundant chest hair and look like stars in bondage.

  Shaking her head, she swiped a wet cloth over the table. Jeez, she was in the Shadowlands. Why did she feel so miserable?

  The BDSM club hadn’t changed. The sounds were familiar—the music, the slapping of whips, floggers, and hands against tender flesh, the crying and moaning punctuated by occasional sharp cries. The perimeter of the mansion’s bottom floor held St. Andrew’s crosses, spanking benches, cages, rope spiderwebs, stocks, and chain stations. In the center, at an oblong, gleaming wooden bar, members chatted with the gregarious bartender.

  So if the Shadowlands hadn’t changed, the problem must be with her. What a purely upsetting thought.

  She swung by the bar to unload the empties and nudged past some single Doms scoping out a group of unattached submissives.

  Sally knew the Doms. Had played with most of them. Had usually annoyed them. None had clicked for her. And wasn’t that a stupid phrase? Had clicked. Did that mean when meeting the right person, something inside would make a noise like hitting a button on a mouse—select this man.

  Didn’t that sound a little ridiculous to anyone else?

  And yet, what she wouldn’t give to have some clicking going on. But face it, her God-I-want-you mouse selector was busted. None of her scenes had been that great, and she was tired of playing with bungling Doms.

  She nodded a greeting at the men and headed out to clean more tables and take orders. Be fair. Most of the guys weren’t incompetent. She was too fussy. And…and withdrawn. Even with skilled Doms, she somehow tucked her emotions away to a place where nothing could reach them…probably in the same location as her broken clicker.

  With a snort of exasperation at her idiotic thoughts, she stopped to watch Master Marcus restrain Gabi in the stocks, then tease her with his hands until her face flushed pink.

  Gabi and Marcus had clicked right away.

  Why could everyone else find a good Dom, when she couldn’t?

  For a little while, she’d thought she had found someone. She’d even quit the club’s trainee program to be his slave. Yes, Frank had been intelligent. Had been masterful. Had been perfect.

  Frank had been Frankenstein.

  “Hey, it’s good to see you, Sally. Where’ve you been?” A burly, older Dom smiled at her.

  “I-I just took some time off for a bit.” Thinking I’d found the Dom of my dreams.

  Her smile was so unsuccessful that his eyes narrowed in his bulldog face. “Right. I heard that you hooked up with—”

  Before he finished, she pretended to recognize someone and hurried past. She felt the heat in her cheeks. Poor submissive couldn’t find herself a Dom, even after being a trainee for so long. Master Z felt sorry for her that she’d fallen for a loser. Maybe all the other Doms did too.

  Excuse me, but did I issue invitations to a pity party? She was the only person allowed to feel sorry for her.

  “Oh, sister, what’s wrong?” Rainie walked over, a tray in one hand. The trainee’s belly dancer’s costume made the most of such lush curves that Sally felt underendowed. “You look like you just stepped on your pet turtle.”

  Sally shuddered. “Ew. Major disgusting.” She could almost hear the crunch of the tiny shell.

  “True, but that’s how you look.” Rainie bumped a hip against Sally’s. “You’re supposed to be overjoyed to be back, not all quiet.”

  Bouncy Sally, that’s me. Scene with anyone, fuck them as well. The more the merrier. Why had she thought screwing around with everyone would find her a Dom? “Guess I need to work my way back into it.”

  “I know what you need—some fun. It’s time to raise some hackles, upset some Masters. How do you feel about pissing off the unpissoffable Mistress Anne?”

  “Well.” Picking on the average Doms wasn’t a challenge, but going after the experienced, powerful Shadowlands Masters and Mistresses? That took skill. Courage. Daring.

  Intrigued, Sally leaned a hip against an unoccupied leather couch. Pulling a joke on Mistress Anne would be about as safe as playing catch with nitroglycerin. Perilous pranks—a surefire way to raise her spirits. “We’ll die in pain, but it will be worth it. Got some ideas?”

  “You know her submissive, Joey?”

  “Sure.”

  “He says she’s squicked out by big bugs. Any big bugs.”

  “Reeeaaally.” The idea was awfully tempting. “Being supportive trainee
s, we should help her overcome such an unreasonable fear.”

  “My thought exactly.”

  “Uzuri will want in.” Who else? Sally saw Maxie near the back of the room and shook her head. “Not Maxie or Tanner. Way too nice.”

  No one ever called Sally nice. She’d never aspired to such a designation…until Frank. Then she’d tried, bent over backward to be his sweet slave. And failed miserably.

  Rainie tapped her fingers against her tray. “We could get spiders. Cockroaches. Beetles…”

  Sally yanked herself back into the plan. “The bugs have to be fake, or Master Z will make us catch them, then clean the entire room with toothbrushes.”

  Rainie winced. “Not a good chore for me—my tits would drag on the floor. Imitation insects it is.”

  “I’ll gather what I can. You and Uzuri do the same. Then we’ll figure out the perfect date for the Night of the Monster Zombie bugs.”

  “There’s my Sally girl. Been really boring here without your clever, twisty brain.” Rainie glanced over at the front wall clock. “We’re off duty in a couple of minutes. The new Dom, Saxon, is going to commandeer the poly room for furry play. Want to be a kitten or puppy?”

  She didn’t feel at all bouncy and cute…more like a badger. A very bad-tempered badger liable to bite off dangling boy bits. Imagine the mess. “Not this time.”

  “Then I’ll see you later.” After a quick squeeze, Rainie cheerfully sashayed toward the rear of the room. Even the tattoos covering her back looked happy.

  Sally felt the prickle of tears in her eyes. Face it, she’d only returned to the Shadowlands because she’d missed her buddies.

  Not to find a Dom. As she filled her tray again, her shoulders slumped. Pretty sad to realize a dream had died. Years ago, her mama had blown bubbles, sending the iridescent balls floating over the green lawn. Sally had caught them. Time after time, the bubble would pop, leaving only a wet spot on her little hands.

  There was a dirty analogy in the story, she knew, wet spots and things blown up and deflating too soon. But she wasn’t in a naughty mood. More of an all-my-bubbles-escaped mood.

 
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