Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair

  The little subbie looked as if she’d have hugged Alastair if she’d been standing. Softhearted, all right.

  After a second, she took a sip of her drink. “I’m going to talk with my friends, let them know about Jarvis and the school, and try to explain why I never told them before.” Her eyes grew damp. “I’m not sure how to go about it though, because they’re going to be hurt I didn’t share and that I shut them out.”

  “It hurts to be shut out,” Alastair said mildly. His gaze met Max’s. Showing the pain.

  Oh. Fuck.

  Max closed his eyes. Yeah, he’d been an idiot. Letting go of Uzuri’s hand, he twisted enough to pour another shot into his glass and down it. He’d need the alcoholic spur because he wasn’t leaving the room before unloading on Alastair. And Uzuri as well, since they actually had something in common. His nod told Alastair he’d won.

  Alastair’s nod said he knew. Asshole.

  Max cleared his throat. “Good start, Zuri.”

  Her gaze had followed the silent interplay, but unlike the grand majority of people, she let it pass. That politeness of hers had something going for it.

  Max continued. “You might have done better in Cincinnati if you’d had people there to support you. What else are you planning?”

  “I’m scared of big men and sometimes I’m just scared. Like I’m…paranoid about stuff. I need to work harder to get over all that, only I’m not sure how.”

  That sounded like something he could help with. “Have you thought of taking self-defense classes?”

  Her shoulders hunched slightly. “I do already, with the Shadowkittens. Andrea and Anne teach us.”

  Max frowned. “All women in the class?”

  “Mmmhmm. It’s nice with only women, and I’m not the only one who…” Her voice trailed off.

  Who’d been attacked by some bastard? Yeah, Dan had filled him in on the slavery ring that’d targeted BDSM clubs. An all-women class would be easier on those survivors; however, comfort wasn’t the point of self-defense classes. They needed to learn to fight against man-sized attackers—despite their fear.

  “Simply being around bigger men will help, pet,” Alastair pointed out. “You’ve gotten better already being around us.”

  “I have?” After thinking for a second or two, she lit up. “You’re right. I have.”

  Damn, she was cute.

  “Sharing with your friends should help put things into perspective.” Max grimaced. Man up, Drago. “Let’s see if it works.” He looked straight at his cousin. “It’s time to tell you what happened in Seattle.”

  Alastair set his drink down, stretched his legs out, and prepared to listen. Silently and without preconceptions. One of his cousin’s finer traits.

  Max glanced at Uzuri. “A year ago, I worked in the Seattle Police Department. The reason I moved is…” As he remembered the clusterfuck his life had become, his jaw tightened until he felt as if he’d crack his teeth.

  Alastair’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Uzuri, if you would, I think Max could use someone to hold onto.”

  Still perched on his belly, she looked down at him, and her eyes filled with sympathy. To his surprise, she set her glass on the floor and lay down on top of him. He didn’t move.

  Putting her head on his shoulder, she melted against him, giving of herself—the most beautiful of a submissive’s gifts. She was soft, curvy, and warm. His arms went around her slowly, careful to keep her from feeling trapped. As she snuggled against him, he breathed in the fragrance of lavender and rose from the soap in the guest shower.

  Nice. He wouldn’t mind holding her for a year or two.

  Alastair cleared his throat. “The reason you moved…”

  Story. Right. “One night, I backed up some officers on a domestic violence case. The abuser was wealthy. Powerful. Quite a bit older than his wife who was in her thirties and also rich. He’d beaten the shit out of her off and on since they’d married a couple of months before. After he was jailed, her family rallied around her, but for some reason, she latched onto me. I tried to support her. Figured she needed the extra encouragement to testify. It takes courage to face an abuser in court.”

  He felt the tiny movement as Uzuri nodded. Yeah, she’d know.

  Max stroked her back, wishing he’d been around to help when she went up against her own stalker-abuser. “The husband was sentenced to prison. She obtained a divorce. All done. Or so I thought. But, when I wished her well after the trial, she had a fit. Cried. Said she couldn’t live without me.”

  Alastair frowned. “A woman? This isn’t what I’d imagined went wrong.”

  Max almost smiled. His cousin had probably figured Max had been in a shoot-out or something.

  Still frowning, Alastair folded his arms. “I can’t see a clingy woman driving you out of Seattle.”

  “Who knew?” Max said lightly. “Trouble was, no matter how often I told her that I had no intention of dating her—ever—her possessive behavior kept escalating. If I went out with someone, she’d show up and cause a scene. When I ignored her, she insisted someone was out to get her and made phone calls to my police station—even to 911—begging for me to protect her. She used her family’s influence to try to have me appointed to be her bodyguard.”

  “Did you believe her?” Alastair asked.

  “She showed us a half-dozen threatening notes. Damned if I knew what was the right tactic to take.”

  Uzuri lifted her head. “You’re a cop. You knew she was probably making everything up to get to you, but if there was a chance she was truly in danger, you couldn’t ignore it. Right?”

  Max’s arms tightened. Uzuri didn’t really know him, and she already understood him. “Yeah.”

  Alastair tilted his head. “You investigated? Which meant being around her again?”

  “Yeah. She lied and told my lieutenant that we’d been intimate, so he was pissed-off at me. Told me it was my mess to clean up and dumped the investigation on me.” Max felt his jaw tighten. Fuck, he’d felt betrayed. He’d worked there for years and only his closest friends in the station had believed him.

  “What happened?” Alastair asked.

  “The threatening notes were always left on her bedroom pillow. Without telling her, I put a camera in there. The recording showed her writing the notes herself.” Although the lieutenant had been forced to eat his words, most of the station still believed he’d done something to set her off.

  Uzuri pressed her hand against his chest in a surprisingly comforting gesture. “Didn’t she stop when everyone knew she was lying?”

  “She felt justified. Felt it was the only way she could get my attention and make me see we should be together. She went back to putting on pressure.”

  “I never thought about men having stalkers,” Uzuri whispered, almost to herself. One little hand patted his shoulder as if to comfort him.

  Such a sweetie.

  Max kissed the top of her head. “When Alastair settled here in Tampa and asked me to join him, it seemed like the right time.” Seattle had no longer felt like his home.

  And he’d missed his cousin. His blood brother.

  Alastair’s grim expression disappeared with his white grin. “In that case, perhaps I shall write her a letter of thanks.”

  “There are benefits to being chased out of the northwest, I guess.” Max squeezed the warm body on top of him. “It got me a sweet subbie to snuggle with.”

  The curvy body went stiff, and he grinned before he whispered, “You forgot all about my size, didn’t you?

  A tiny growl came from her. “I remember now.” She tried to push up.

  He didn’t loosen his hold and deepened his voice to a command. “Stay put, baby.”

  Damned if she didn’t relax, although it took her a couple of seconds to put her head back down. But she did.

  How fucking appealing could one woman be? He wouldn’t forget how she’d put aside her fears in order to comfort him.

  And she loved dogs.

  Alastair lifted an eyebrow. Well?

  After a glance at Uzuri, Max rocked his head slightly. Explore, yes. No promises.

  Despite a snort to express his opinion of Max’s wariness, Alastair raised his glass in agreement and rose. Stopping beside the couch, he ran the backs of his fingers over Uzuri’s cheek and gave Max a slight smile. “I have early rounds at the hospital in the morning, so I’m calling it a night.”

  “Night, cuz,” Max said.

  “Good night,” Uzuri said. When she started to sit up, Max tightened his arms around her.

  Alastair motioned to Hunter, and the two headed out.

  Alastair had Hunter; Max had Uzuri. Good deal.

  Max ran his hands up and down her back. He remembered her shape from playing with her at the Shadowlands. Slender neck. Strong shoulders. Soft waist widening into curvy hips. Unable to resist, he spread one hand over her beautifully round ass and felt her shiver.

  His cock thickened. Demanded.

  Too bad. Tonight, his dick would just have to suffer.

  Sure, Zuri had enjoyed Max’s intimate attentions during the blackout game at the Shadowlands, and she knew him fairly well. Hell, he probably knew her better than a lot of her friends did.

  However, neither of them was close to sober, and it had been an emotional evening. This wasn’t the time to complicate matters with sex, especially when she was so fucking vulnerable. All right. He gripped her shoulders and pushed her up so she could see his face—and he could watch hers. “I’m going to kiss you, princess,” he murmured. “And then we’ll head for our own beds.”

  Although her lips held a trace of a pout, her body relaxed slightly. She wanted him and yet didn’t.

  Yeah, this was the right decision.

  He boosted her higher on his body, enjoying the feel of her full, firm breasts against his chest, then put a hand behind her neck and guided her to his lips. Just as at the Shadowlands, she had a generous mouth with soft, willing lips. The shiver that ran through her now wasn’t from fear.

  Long before he wanted to quit—hell, he wanted to bury himself inside her—he broke off the embrace and helped her to her feet. From the way she was moving, she was still pretty bruised up.

  “C’mon, darlin’.” He tucked an arm around her and guided her up the stairs, giving her another kiss before tucking her inside her own bedroom. Alone.

  He was a fucking saint.

  Chapter Ten

  TUESDAY, MAX FOLLOWED Detective Edith Umbers through the women’s clothing section at Brendall’s. When Max asked if he could tag along when she investigated the hit and run, the gray-haired, lean, and New England-terse detective had simply said, “Not a problem.”

  Brendall’s was a high-end regional department store, Tampa’s version of Nordstrom’s. Max followed the detective past a perfume counter where exotic fragrances drifted in the air. The underwear section was next, and a mannequin wearing a sheer pink negligee caught his eye. Wouldn’t Zuri look fantastic in that? Unfortunately, that led him into wondering if she already owned sexy nightwear…and what she normally wore to bed…and how much fun he’d have removing anything she wore. Even sweats and a T-shirt would be fun to yank off of her.

  Aaand this wasn’t the time to be playing out scenarios. Although he’d like to see how she’d react if Alastair joined them, and—

  Get a grip, Drago.

  A shame she’d gone home Sunday. Dammit, she’d only been with them two nights, and he already missed seeing her in their home. Considering he wasn’t sure he wanted anything more serious than brief scenes in the Shadowlands, he was being an idiot.

  But that was why Alastair was taking the lead with the little submissive. Then they’d see what happened. Nonetheless, he couldn’t help looking for her in the store even though she probably hadn’t returned to work yet.

  Regaining his focus, he joined the detective in the department manager’s office.

  After hearing about the flat tire and hit and run, the manager filled them in about Carole Fuller’s animosity toward Uzuri and why. Apparently, Carole Fuller and a friend had left together that night.

  Max leaned against the wall. Without a dead body, homicide wasn’t involved. He couldn’t help thinking that Uzuri could well have died in that parking lot—and ended up one of his murder cases. The idea was so god-awful, he felt like putting his fist through the wall.

  The manager glanced at him and retreated a pace. “I’ll fetch Carole and Retta Jean.” She almost sprinted from the room.

  Edith huffed a laugh. “Drago, if you scare the suspects too much, I won’t get a word out of them. Lighten up.”

  “Sorry.” He forced his muscles to relax…but a smile wasn’t going to happen. “How about I play the silent, bad cop.”

  “I’d say you have that role down pat.” She turned as the manager escorted two women into the office, and the tiny space grew crowded.

  The manager motioned to the heavy-set woman whose brittle blonde hair was teased high and wide. “This is Carole Fuller.” The other suspect, a late forties brunette, had the peeved expression of a discontented bulldog. “And this is Retta Jean Potter.”

  Edith displayed her ID badge. “Ladies, I’m Detective Umbers.”

  Both women took a step back and turned pale.

  Yeah, they did it.

  Ignoring the nervous glances at Max, Edith continued. “I have some questions about last Friday night. Why don’t you tell me what you did on the way out of the parking lot?”

  The bulldog glanced at Carole. “N-nothing. We didn’t do anything. We just left.”

  “You didn’t deliberately run your car into Uzuri Cheval and then drive away?” Edith gave them a cold look. “That’s hit and run at a minimum. Possibly attempted murder.”

  “What?” Carole gasped, her hand going to her chest. “I never… We only gave her a fl—” Her mouth snapped shut.

  “You cut the valve stem and flattened her tire. Is that correct?” Edith asked politely.

  Carole didn’t speak.

  Time for bad cop. Max straightened, folded his arms over his chest, and narrowed his eyes.

  Under the silent intimidation, timid Retta Jean wilted. “We did.” The brunette swallowed. “I gave Carole my scissors, and she cut the tubing.”

  When Carole glared, the bulldog scowled back. “I knew we shouldn’t do such a stupid thing. What is this—high school?” Her gaze flicked to Max before she spoke to Edith. “That’s all we did. We both drove out of the parking lot at the same time. I didn’t see Miss Cheval.”

  “What time was this? And did you go home after that?” Detective Umbers asked Carole.

  Carole’s shoulders slumped. “Around seven or seven thirty.” She knew she was caught. “We ate at the buffet down the street. After that, I babysat my grandchildren while my daughter went out on a date.”

  “I, uh, went home.” The bulldog flushed. “My father lives with me. He can tell you I was there.”

  Family would say anything to keep a loved one out of trouble, but Max wasn’t hearing any lies. They’d vandalized Uzuri’s car, but hadn’t been the ones to run her down.

  Question was…had the hit and run been an accident or something more deliberate?

  Chapter Eleven

  UZURI STOOD IN the door of the closet and stared at her arranged-by-color wardrobe. She had something—lots of somethings—for every occasion, so why was she angsting over what to wear on a Friday night date?

  Well, duh. Because the date was with Alastair.

  He’d called her midweek and invited her out to eat tonight. Normally, she’d be going to the Shadowlands, but Master Z had told her not to show up until she was moving easily.

  She felt pretty good. After all, it’d been a whole week since she was knocked down by that car. However, she did still have a bit of a limp—enough of one that the exacting Master would send her home.

  So instead of going to the Shadowlands tonight, she had a date. With a man.

  A Dom.
  It was the first objective on her list of ways to get out of her self-imposed, paranoid prison. You go, girl.

  So…what in the world was she going to wear?

  As she waited for inspiration to hit, tiny butterflies of anticipation danced in her stomach. She had a date with Alastair.

  And last Saturday, she’d kissed Max. Oh, more than that—she’d made out with him. If he hadn’t stopped, they’d have had sex right there in the TV room.

  She put a hand over her lower belly, remembering how badly she’d wanted to continue and how completely aroused she’d been, as every long-repressed hormone in her body had flooded her system. His hands had been hard. Firm. He’d possessed her mouth in a way that made everything inside her melt.

  She’d dreamed about him…and about Alastair. Both of them. That seemed so wrong.

  Tonight she’d go out with Alastair. Oh, that man scared her spitless, although she’d sighed over him since the first time she saw him. In fact, she’d yearned over him so obviously that Master Sam had noticed and arranged for Alastair to top her. Only she’d ruined the whole scene by panicking.

  But tonight, Alastair knew all about her fears…and he intended to deal with them. The butterflies in her stomach grew to Godzilla-size.

  Her cell phone rang, and she retrieved it from the dresser. Alastair showed on the display.

  “Hello, Sir. Um, Alastair.” This was a date. What was she supposed to call him?

  His chuckle was so deep and perfect that shivers ran over her skin. “We’ll talk about terms of address sometime. For now…” “For now.” His tone sounded…off. Grim.

  “Is something wrong?”

  He paused, as if surprised. “Yes, and no, pet. I had the kind of a day that would make me bad company, and I fear I cannot tolerate a crowd tonight. Can we reschedule for tomorrow?”

  Although disappointment surged up, her concern for Alastair rose above it. She’d never heard him sound so…unhappy. Whatever had happened, she knew—knew—he shouldn’t be alone. Hesitating, she bit her lip. She was supposed to be learning to be brave. Why did it have to be so scary?

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