Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair

  Nolan leaned forward and handed over something.

  Cullen held up a gold filigreed cuff-bracelet glittering with diamonds, then fastened it around Andrea’s wrist.

  “Wow,” Kim murmured.

  “It’s beautiful.” Uzuri gave another happy sigh. A bracelet that wide would overwhelm her small wrists, but the size was perfect for Andrea, and the gold was lovely against her golden-bronze skin. Even better, the cuff was a classic that Andrea could wear with anything, from jeans to formalwear. Like fairy dust, it would add sparkling beauty to her day.

  Cullen lifted Andrea’s chin and stared into her eyes, his other hand circling the cuff. His low voice reached the first few rows. “You. Are. Mine.”

  She melted against him.

  Uzuri smiled. Only Master Cullen would give a wedding present like this—after all, Wonder Woman’s cuffs were named the “Bracelets of Submission.”

  A sniffle came from beside Uzuri. Kim had her hand on her day collar, her fingers fondling the small heart-shaped padlock. She was looking down and blinking hard.

  In the row of groomsmen, Raoul was watching her, his dark, dark eyes soft.

  Standing with the bridesmaids, Jessica was running one finger over her own necklace and smiling at her husband and Master.

  His gaze on her, Master Z’s expression was filled with love.

  Uzuri looked down and bit her lip. She had never wanted anything called a “slave” collar. All the same, she did envy Andrea the cuff that both concealed and displayed her submission and her Dom’s love for her.

  Would she ever find someone like that?

  When the wedding ceremony came to an end, Uzuri waited for her pew’s turn to file out and felt reality setting in. After watching all her friends and their Doms, she was feeling awfully single. Maybe she’d only stay a short time at the reception.

  She’d hoped to hear from Alastair or Max last night, but neither had called. And she was being silly to think they might, since she knew full well they’d been incredibly busy with both work and the wedding stuff. And they knew they’d see her today.

  Yet…they’d had sex with her, and it was the way of the world that scoring often wiped out a man’s interest. If the Dragos were…were distantly polite to her at the reception, she wasn’t sure she could take it. Not today.

  Kim nudged her. “Time to go, girlfriend.”

  “Right.” Uzuri rose—and was startled when a man gripped her arm and guided her out of the way of the others filing out of the row. She looked up.

  Alastair’s concerned hazel eyes met hers. “Where have you been, pet? We were looking for you.” With her chin in his palm, he frowned and kissed her damp cheek. “You’ve been crying.”

  “Well, yes.” A breath brought her his seductively masculine scent, and quivers started up in her low belly.

  “Women and weddings.” The exasperated rough voice was Max who was ushering the other side of the aisle. “Hang onto her, cuz. If she disappears, I’ll have to beat on her.”

  Alastair snorted. “We will all watch in awe.” As Kim started down the aisle, he snagged her arm with his free hand, still gripping Uzuri, as well. “Stay here, please, Kim. Since Raoul has to be present for the formal wedding pictures, he asked us to escort you to the reception.”

  “Oh. Okay.”

  Once the rest of the row had left, Alastair seated Uzuri and Kim. “After we usher out the rest of the guests, we’ll drive you both to the reception.”

  Uzuri shook her head. “I can take a—”

  “Both of you.” Alastair’s gaze was that of a Dom. One who somehow knew she was considering a retreat.

  “But…” The strength to argue with him wasn’t there.

  Kim took her hand. “I’m glad we’re going together.” She leaned forward and whispered, “But don’t tell Raoul I was crying, okay?”

  And, just like that, Uzuri’s mood changed.

  She put her hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. “Too late. He was watching everything you did.”

  * * * * *

  AS THE LIMOUSINE headed to the hotel for the reception, Andrea smiled at her Señor. Her husband. Mi esposo. His black tuxedo fit perfectly over his broad shoulders. His usually tousled brown hair was neatly trimmed. Yet, nothing could make his powerful frame and hard-hewn face look civilized. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

  She still couldn’t believe they were married. Oh, it was nice to be alone with him for this little space of time. “I wish we could simply run off now.”

  He chuckled, pulling her closer. “Aye, love. It’ll be hard to sit down at a fancy formal reception and pretend any interest in food when all I want to do is get you naked.”

  Heat shimmied over her skin. How did he do that? They’d been living together for months now, having sex…often…and he could still drop the ground out from under her with a look. A statement.

  Tenderness filled his green eyes. “Thank you, little sub.”

  She frowned. “For what?”

  “For trusting me. For loving me. For marrying me.”

  “I trust you, mi Señor, and I love you so very much,” she whispered and smiled at him. “We’re going to have a good marriage.”

  “Be nice if we could start it right now.” He leaned down and kissed her with such devastating skill that all she could think about was the night to come.

  Eventually, she realized the limousine had halted, and the driver was getting out. Dios. Andrea straightened her hair, laughed, and wiped a smear of her lip-gloss from Cullen’s chin.

  The chauffeur opened the door and offered his hand.

  Gathering her gown, Andrea stepped out—and stared. “Where are we?”

  This wasn’t the stuffy hotel where the reception dinner was to be held. After a second of shock, she recognized the location.

  She turned to Cullen who’d stepped beside her. “This is mi abuelita’s street.”

  It was almost unrecognizable. Decorated sawhorses and barriers closed the street to traffic. At the far end were chairs and teal linen-covered round tables. The near end boasted a massive speaker system. Teal and gold streamers and balloons festooned houses, streetlights, and trees. Pagodas and booths dotted front lawns.

  Andrea’s aunt and abuelita stood with Cullen’s parents at the entrance, all beaming.

  Andrea gestured helplessly. “This is not…”

  “It is different, no?” Aunt Rosa smiled. “We saw you getting unhappier as the size of the wedding grew. As things became more formal.” She exchanged glances with Andrea’s grandmother. “We didn’t care about the…how you call it…venue, just that all the people who love you could be part of your happiness.”

  “Mija,” her grandmother said. “We didn’t realize we’d made you sad until your amigas visited us.”

  Andrea stared. “My bridesmaids came here?”

  “No.” Her abuelita looked embarrassed. “I think I had already told them no too many times. Your other friends visited me.”

  Her aunt got teary-eyed. “You have many good friends. I love that.” She counted off her fingers. “It was Kim and Gabi and Uzuri and Rainie. And Linda who is a mother herself who said a girl should have the wedding she wants, not what her family wants.”

  Cullen’s mother took up the story. “Rosa called, and we discussed alternatives. Cullen, when you and Andrea got engaged, you’d both said you’d prefer a street party to some fancy affair. We decided to give you one.”

  “A street party?” To keep from screaming aloud, Andrea put her hands over her mouth. People in the street saw the limousine and were turning—and they were all relatives and friends. Cheering began at one end and went in a wave down the entire street.

  Aunt Rosa patted Cullen’s arm. “Dancing is at this end. The DJ was delighted to set up here rather than the hotel. There is a buffet and drinks at the far end—no fancy sit-down meal. Your best man—is his name really Zee?—and the groomsmen have the program and will round you up whenever you have to do something,
like cutting the cake.”

  Cullen’s dad snorted. “Your groomsman named Dan said he’d arrest anyone going over two minutes for the toasts, and I noticed he has a stopwatch and a weapon.”

  Cullen was beginning to grin.

  “Thank you.” Andrea had shrunk from the thought of a formal dinner and having to be oh-so-polite. Now, her dread was wiped away like grit and mildew, making way for the sparkling joy filling her. “Oh, thank you.”

  Past the barriers decorated in her wedding colors of gold, teal, and champagne waited the Shadowkittens.

  * * * * *

  AS THE MUSIC changed to Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are,” Master Cullen escorted Andrea out onto the “dance floor.”

  With a bounce of pleasure, Uzuri sat up higher to watch.

  Beside her at the round table, Alastair held her hand. On her left, Max had his arm across the back of her chair. She was sitting between some seriously fine man candy.

  Intimidatingly confident, Alastair wore his black tuxedo as casually as if he were in jeans. It set off his long, lean body. His short sculpted beard outlined his squared-off chin and strong jawline.

  In contrast to his cousin, Max wore his tux like a uniform—and his military bearing made her stomach all quivery. The excellent tailoring showed off his rock-hard body, flat stomach, and shoulders that seemed to go on forever. His swept-back, rich brown hair had been trimmed and now curled right at the collar.

  Mustn’t play with his hair, she told herself firmly, or, being Max, he’d play with hers.

  Across the table, Rainie held hands with Jake, and Sally was between her two husbands. Everyone turned to watch the bride and groom’s dance.

  After a minute, Rainie grinned. “Cullen’s singing the words to her.”

  “He doesn’t have a shy bone in his body, does he?” Uzuri exchanged smiles with the other women. In everything he did and said, Master Cullen showed how much Andrea meant to him.

  When Uzuri’s lips started to quiver, she turned her gaze away to safer targets. Considering that every table was filled, she had plenty of people to watch. Who knew that a wedding reception could be so much fun? When Uzuri and the others had talked with Andrea’s grandmother about how upset Andrea was, well, she hadn’t expected the family to go crazy.

  And at the last minute, no less. She’d been appalled. Nevertheless, everyone—including the entire neighborhood—had pitched in to make the new venue both fun and beautiful.

  The sun was setting, bathing the newlyweds in a soft golden glow. Andrea’s cousins were turning the strings of tiny gold and teal bulbs. Wrapped around each lamp pole, tree, and booth, the lights turned the street into a fairyland.

  “The kittens did well.” Alastair squeezed her hand.

  On her other side, Max was running his finger over her bare arm, sending tingles across her skin. “You did. I don’t think either the bride or groom has stopped smiling.”

  “That’s all we wanted.” Uzuri watched the couple dancing. When she’d helped Andrea shop for her wedding dress, she’d advised her to get one with a detachable skirt. Although she’d been thinking of dancing in a hotel, it was even better here. The floor-length underskirt was gone, leaving an angled lacy hem that was knee-length in front, ankle-length in back. Perfect for partying in the street.

  Across the table, Jake leaned forward. “Hey, Dragos. Did Uzuri mention that someone threw a rock through her front window?”

  Rainie sent Uzuri a guilty look.

  “What?” Max’s growl made the hair stand up on Uzuri’s arms. He turned and pinned her in place with simply the power of his gaze.

  Alastair’s hand tightened on hers to the point of pain. “Have we missed discussing your apparent inability to communicate?” His resonant voice held an edge of steel that sent quivers through her stomach.

  She tried to smile. “Dudes, this is a wedding. Not the place to talk about…ugly stuff.”

  With fine timing, the song finished, and Cullen kissed his bride to rousing cheers that, thankfully, drowned out Max’s response.

  Another song started. Uzuri knew Andrea had told the DJ to skip the customary Father-Daughter dance. “This should be Cullen’s dance with his mom.”

  “Actually, Cullen will have to wait his turn.” Alastair rose. His gaze was disquieting. “Stay here, pet. We have ‘stuff’ to discuss.”

  Max stood and set a hand on her shoulder. “You be good. If we have to search for you, you won’t enjoy the consequences.”

  Her mouth dropped open. A threat? Alastair was ordering her and Max was threatening her as if they were her Doms or something. “You…you can’t say that to me.”

  “Baby.” Max gave her a firm, close-mouthed kiss before whispering, “I just did.”

  Following Alastair, he prowled toward the bandstand, so big and threatening that people stepped out of his path instinctively.

  Uzuri leaned back in her chair. Her heart was racing as if she’d been the one dancing. Well, honestly. Alastair and Max weren’t her Doms. Not truly. Sure, she’d been to bed with them, but a smidgeon of sex didn’t put them in charge of her. Did it?

  She tried to muster up annoyance…and couldn’t. Because the sensation of being cared for and growled at and ordered around was amazing. Wonderful. She realized she was staring after them. Close your mouth, fool.

  Across the table, Sally and Rainie were having a giggle-fest at her expense. The two looked up in surprise as their Doms rose.

  In fact, all the Shadowlands Masters were moving toward the dance floor. Meantime, Master Z was escorting Andrea out to the center of the dance area. The music changed to…

  Uzuri frowned. Wasn’t that the music from some Disney movie? “Is that from Sleeping Beauty?”

  “That’s it. It’s Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz”. Disney used it.” Rainie grinned. “Might have figured Master Z wouldn’t dance to country-western.”

  As Master Z and Andrea waltzed to the lushly romantic music, sighs came from every table. Andrea was smiling—and crying—and then Master Z twirled her out and into Master Dan’s arms.

  Master Dan turned with her, not missing a step, and said something that made her laugh as they danced. Halfway around the floor, he spun her out…and there was Master Nolan.

  Uzuri’s mouth rounded.

  Smoothly, wonderfully, each Master took his turn with the submissive who had once been a Shadowlands trainee. Raoul, then Sam. Vance, Galen, Jake, Holt, Alastair, Saxon, and Max.

  Rainie’s gaze met Uzuri’s. Growing up without fathers, they’d had to endure the Father-Daughter dances at school.

  But their friend had gotten to be a princess for a night with a dance she’d never forget.

  When the music ended, Cullen guided his mama out to the dance area—pausing to kiss his bride on the way.

  Max was escorting Andrea toward the table, but they stopped to talk with Madeline Grayson. Uzuri watched, admiring how the woman’s charcoal gray dress matched her eyes, and how her dark purple and blue scarf enhanced her coloring. Mrs. Grayson was always elegantly attired and always perfectly composed.

  Master Z was a lot like his mama, wasn’t he?

  Smiling, Uzuri turned back to the dance floor. As the song ended, Cullen’s petite mother reached up to pat her son’s cheek.

  A pang of loss ran through Uzuri. Did a girl ever get over missing her mother? Her sociable mama would have loved how Andrea’s wedding turned out. She’d have been proud of Uzuri for making it happen.

  Miss you, Mama.

  With a sigh, she let her gaze drift. So many people. Shadowlands members were everywhere, along with a ton of firefighters from where Cullen—and Holt—worked. Andrea owned a cleaning business, and her crews and clients had come. From Chicago, Cullen’s hefty, blond and redheaded relatives were scoping out Andrea’s Hispanic cousins. There would be some interesting pair-offs this evening.

  Unlike some fancy wedding receptions, the guests here ranged in age from newborns to seniors. In the gatheri
ng twilight, three preschoolers were playing tag, weaving in and out of the people dancing. As one laughingly irate mama shooed them off, Uzuri’s gaze snagged on a huge…hulking…figure on the other side of the street. Standing perfectly still. The lights from a booth gleamed off his shaved, dark scalp.

  His head was turned toward her—and she could almost feel his gaze.

  A chill ran up her spine, and she half rose from her chair.

  “Uzuri, did you want something to drink?” Rainie asked.

  “What?” Startled, Uzuri glanced at her friend, then jerked her attention back to the man.

  He had disappeared.

  Slowly, she sat back down, trying not to shiver. She was being silly. Paranoid. Jarvis was in Cincinnati. Even if not, he couldn’t have gotten into the party. There were people checking invitations at the entrance to the blocked-off street. Not that that would stop a determined person.

  And someone had thrown a rock through her window. The apprehension deep in her center didn’t dissipate as she shook her head at Rainie. “No drink, but thank you.”

  “Hey, you guys.” Accompanied by Max, Andrea approached and gave Uzuri, then Sally and Rainie hard hugs before dropping into a chair in typical Andrea-fashion. She pulled in a long breath and swiped a finger beneath her eyes. “Dios, I’m so glad you gave me my wedding present early, Zuri, or I’d have black streaks all down my face. Am I still presentable?”

  As Max took his seat again, Uzuri tipped her friend’s face up for a quick scrutiny. The waterproof makeup she’d given Andrea had held up to the task. No smears. “You look beautiful. Perfect.”

  “The ‘new bride’ glow doesn’t hurt either.” Rainie poured a glass of sweet iced tea and handed it over.

  “I think part of that glow is from the heat.” Andrea drank half of the tea in one breath. “Next time I get married, I’m choosing Alaska.”

  Approaching with Holt, Cullen heard and set his hand on her shoulder. “There will be no next time, love. I have you ringed and cuffed. You’re mine.”

  Andrea rubbed her cheek against the back of his hand. “Sí, Señor.”

  As the music changed to “Hotel Nacional”, the dance area filled with the younger crowd. Holt pulled out an empty chair and sat down across from Uzuri. “Great job with the decorations, sweetie. It all looks great.”

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