Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair

  Doll time was thinking time, and a good time to go over the past five days. Talk about a roller coaster.

  Every day, she was a businesswoman—creative, assertive, and professional.

  Every night, she was a submissive. Talk about a role reversal. And yet, in the presence of either Max or Alastair, she slid right into surrendering.

  Actually, the mere thought of them—she set her hand over her stomach—made her insides feel all quivery.

  But, as they’d pointed out, she was…mostly…a sexual submissive, not a slave or servant. Although the guys had added her to the cooking rotation, they hired a weekly housekeeping service to clean, do laundry, and stock the refrigerator. Spoiled Doms. Then again, they did both work long, hard hours.

  Unfortunately, they also believed in exercise. Omigod, they had her sweating like a pig.

  She frowned. Did pigs sweat? Was she maligning little porcines?

  Anyway, she’d never exercised like this in her life. She’d gone jogging twice with Max and Hunter. Kind of jogging. Okay, mostly walked.

  On alternate evenings, she joined Alastair to swim laps in the pool. That was more fun—although the sadist wouldn’t let her stop until her muscles were so exhausted she was in danger of drowning.

  She didn’t even want to think about how they made her work in the weight room. Scowling, she held out her arm, trying to see if she had achieved a visible biceps.


  But…aside from the Dragos’ unfortunate affinity for exercise, she’d had a wonderful time.

  Most evenings, they’d all gather in the TV room to watch television or read. She never sat alone though. Alastair insisted snuggling with them would help her conquer her fears—but Max had laughingly said, “Actually, we only want to cop a feel.”

  They were so fun. Max and Alastair would bicker about what shows to view, since Max was a sports junkie and Alastair liked documentaries. After a couple of days, she’d jumped into the battles, and they’d had to give her equal viewing time. They sure hadn’t liked watching Fashion Police, but Scandal was a different story.

  Watching all that sexing on the TV had led to very interesting activity afterward. They said they’d watch Scandal with her anytime she wanted.

  The Doms kept surprising her with their kindnesses. One night, when she’d come home complaining that her new shoes hurt her feet, Alastair had given her a foot rub…and after she was a happy, limp heap on the couch, he’d worked his way up her body. She gave a little sigh. That Dom had magical hands, no matter where he put them on her body.

  Coming into the TV room, Max had only laughed and closed the door behind him as he left. She shook her head in amazement. The Dragos really weren’t jealous of each other.

  Finishing the Alastair doll, she picked up a different Ken doll. More heavily muscled. Blue eyes. Yes, this would do.

  The Dragos weren’t all about sex all the time, which was also nice.

  One night, when Alastair was called to the hospital, she and Max had played a strange board game called Pandemic about combatting viruses like the plague and Ebola. Omigod, talk about insane. Before they’d found the cure to one disease, all of Asia had been wiped out.

  She’d felt so guilty—and Max had laughed his ass off at her.

  Yes, they were amazing.

  Each night, one of them would join her in her bed.

  As she worked on the Alastair doll’s sculpted beard, she smiled. In bed, perhaps the only thing they had in common was how generous they were. She always got off at least once—if not more times. Just thinking of their skills sent a little wave of heat through her.

  Max loved using toys—and he was a blatantly bossy Dominant.

  Alastair was a more subtle Dom, but she was never confused about who was in charge. Whew. He liked to drive her right to the edge—of pain, of orgasms—and it was scary how well he could read her.

  Most of the time, they treated her like a roommate. Then, without warning, they’d slide into Dom mode. Like when they’d watched the movie, Set It Off, which had a sexy scene with oil and massage. The way Blair had dragged the chain down Jada’s back… She’d gotten all hot simply watching.

  “You look a bit warm, darlin’.” Oh, Max had picked up on her arousal immediately. “I think she has a chain fetish,” Alastair had said. “We’ll have to remember that.”

  She’d found their conversation more than a little scary.

  On the coffee table had been the long strand of pearls she’d worn as a chunky bracelet to work. Without even talking about it, they’d lain her on the coffee table and played with her. And the pearls. Teasing her breasts, her pussy. Around her neck. And she’d come. And come. And come. Alastair had smiled at her afterward. “Since you can’t stand up, you might as well be on your knees.” He’d ordered her to give Max a blowjob—then to do him.

  Even now, she got all excited thinking about it. The Dragos—her Dragon Doms—were simply too sexy to be real.

  At the sound of the front door and two sets of footsteps, she looked up, her heart starting to dance.

  Then, she realized what she was working on and froze. Oh, no. She grabbed the basket to hide the dolls. Too late.

  “Uzuri, would you—” Alastair spotted the doll she’d made up to look like him.

  The beard was perfect. Hair nearly so. Eyes the exact shade. The doll had on a white lab coat, and she’d even used a fabric printed with tiny kittens to give the pediatrician a kid-pleasing tie.

  Alastair busted out laughing.

  “What’s up?” Max appeared in the doorway and saw his doll look-alike. Brown hair swept back, not quite touching its shoulders. A dark shadow of beard stubble along its jaw. Intense blue eyes. Jeans and a T-shirt with a pistol holstered at its waist…and a pair of tiny handcuffs dangling from its back pocket.

  Max didn’t laugh. Didn’t smile. Didn’t even enter the room.

  Uzuri frowned. In fact, he hadn’t even said hi. This wasn’t like him at all. When he turned to leave, she called, “Max, are you all right?”

  “Fine. Bad day.” Expression closed-off, he headed toward the tower room stairs.

  Uzuri turned to Alastair. “Is he mad?”

  “No, love.” Alastair shook his head. “He gets like this at times. He has a difficult job.”

  She couldn’t even imagine the horrible things a homicide detective must see. Dead bodies, day after day. When Sally had tried law enforcement, it’d only taken a couple of brutal murders and she’d switched careers. Max was dealing with horrors day after day.

  Would he feel better by suppertime?

  Oh, no. This was her day to prepare supper. She should have started already. Since the Doms were scheduled for the Shadowlands tomorrow, everyone would be home tonight.

  She jumped up. “I need to get supper started.” She’d picked up the fixings for Mama’s favorite gumbo, but that would take too long. Okay, then, a jambalaya would only take an hour or so.

  “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Alastair said. “We don’t have a set time to eat.”

  Maybe not, but Max was already upset. Only…he didn’t look like he’d have an appetite.

  Abandoning her kitchen prep, she poured a shot of Casa Dragones. The hike up the stairs to the third floor made her puff…although less than before. Maybe jogging and swimming were paying off.

  She stepped out onto the rooftop terrace.

  Max was sitting on one of the dark red couches, his gaze focused on the darkening waters of Hillsborough Bay and Davis Island’s skyline. Although he was always aware of his surroundings—and she’d made noise coming up the stairs—he didn’t acknowledge her presence at all.

  She walked closer. “Supper will be ready in an hour.”

  He nodded.

  She set his tequila on the coffee table, hesitated, and then sat beside him. “I’m sorry you had a bad day.”

  He eyed her and looked back out to the water.

  Okay, that didn’t work. Maybe she should smack him on top of his hea
d. That’s what her mama had done when Uzuri was being a butthead.

  Hitting a Dom—especially one like Max—would be a bad idea.

  Maybe he was dim-witted today and didn’t understand she was there to help. “I listen well, you know.”

  “Nothing to talk about.” After a frown, he picked up the drink and took a sip with a grudging, “Thanks.”

  She steeled up her nerve. He wouldn’t hurt her for being pushy. Jarvis would have; Max wouldn’t. “You said that sharing with friends helps put things into perspective. Talk to me. Let me help.”

  His voice came out in a rasp. “Listen, princess. I don’t want your help; I want to be left alone. Go play with your dolls.”

  She couldn’t suppress a flinch, although he hadn’t made a motion toward her. He hadn’t hurt her—so why did she feel like crying? She rose. “I’m sorry I bothered you, Sir.”

  When she reached the doorway, Alastair was there. Watching. His expression darkened. “He didn’t strike you. Max wouldn’t—”

  “No, he wouldn’t hit me.” She glanced back at the still figure on the couch. That might have hurt less.

  The dismay in Alastair’s eyes made her realize she’d spoken aloud. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

  “Yes, you did.” He held his hand out. “Uzuri, let’s—”

  She stepped around him and ran down the stairs, hoping he didn’t follow. Hoping he wouldn’t say anything to Max. It would be awful if she caused trouble between the cousins.

  She couldn’t do anything right, could she?

  Moreover, since it was her night to cook, she couldn’t even leave and go hide somewhere. Part of her wanted to let Max starve, but…that wouldn’t be right. He hadn’t been horrible; he’d simply pushed her away. She’d done the same to them before, and they hadn’t gotten all…all butt-hurt.

  Get over it.

  At the foot of the stairs, Hunter was waiting. He loved her. Down on one knee, she put her arms around him and pressed her face against his furry neck.

  MAX FELT THE cushions compress and sighed inside. Persistent, wasn’t she? Undoubtedly, if he ignored her long enough, she’d go away.

  She needed to leave him alone. Everything inside him felt raw, cut open, like flayed meat. What he’d seen, what that family had endured, shouldn’t—


  Not Uzuri, but Alastair. With a sigh, Max turned.

  In white shirt and tan pants, Alastair hadn’t changed yet. A Transformers tie hung loosely around his neck.

  “Problem?” Max asked, hoping against hope not. He was in no good place to help. “Need me for something?”

  Alastair gave him a level look. “I need you to stop burying your problems and let others help. Specifically me…and the woman we share.”

  “No.” Max shook his head as nausea swept through him. “This was gruesome. I can’t—”

  “You can’t continue to bury your emotions. Either you’ll break or turn to harmful methods of coping.” Alastair half-smiled. “We’re alike, you know. Sharing pain isn’t what we do.”


  “Yet, when Uzuri managed to coax me into talking about a child who’d died”—a flash of pain crossed his face—“it helped. More than I’d realized it would.”

  “You don’t know the shit I deal with, cuz. Neither of you can handle—”

  Alastair’s bitter laugh cut him off. “I spent years repairing the damage to bodies from IEDs, shellings, and machine guns.” Alastair met his gaze. “And my patients were usually women and children.”

  Fuck. “Sorry. I was out of line.”

  Alastair never held grudges. He nodded, and then his gaze hardened. “I believe Uzuri would prefer the ugly “shit” to you shoving her away. She didn’t mean for me to hear, but she said getting hit might be easier.”

  Hearing that was a goddamned gut punch. “Hell. I didn’t… I was trying to fucking protect her.”

  “I do know that, but she doesn’t. Or if she does, she sees that you don’t believe her to be strong enough to pull her own weight, let alone help someone else.”

  “She’s…” Max stopped before saying she wasn’t strong enough, because it wasn’t true. She’d survived a hell of a lot, and rather than holing up in Cincinnati in fear, she’d packed, moved, and started a new life. She had a satisfying career, good friends—and was working to overcome the last few problems. She sure as hell wasn’t weak. “She’s probably braver than I am.”

  Max tossed back the tequila she’d brought, squeezed Alastair’s shoulder in thanks, and headed down to try to make amends.

  She wasn’t in her bedroom.

  She wasn’t in the TV room. He paused there and frowned, then realized why the room looked different. She must have found the storage room upstairs. The dark red and white Turkish pillows that he’d bought at the military mall in Baghdad were piled on the leather couch. Looked…homey. Nice.

  She wasn’t in the living room.

  Finally, he found her. In the kitchen, she stood by the stove, stirring something that smelled damned good.

  He sat at the island, and as she determinedly ignored him, his mood lightened moment by moment. Fuck, she was cute when she was pissed-off.

  Her lips were pressed together, gaze anywhere but on him. She’d obviously been home a while since she was in classy shorts and a sleeveless blouse that was somewhere between pink and purple. Weird color, but it made her brown skin glow.

  Hunter walked over to rest his head on Max’s thigh.

  Silently, Max stroked the dog and tugged on his flopped over ears. “Uzuri.”

  She stiffened. After a long moment, she looked at him.

  “I’m sorry.” He searched for words to explain why he’d been rude

  “Think nothing of it.” She turned away from him to add the cooked chicken, rice, and tomatoes to the vegetables in a heavy pot. After covering the pot, she reduced the heat to a simmer.

  He checked her cooking preparations. His mother had taught him that heavy conversations shouldn’t be conducted when the cook was busy. But she had nothing out, and the pot was on simmer. Good enough.

  He rose and walked across the kitchen. “Zuri.” Gripping her shoulders gently, he turned her around and backed her against a counter. “Let me finish groveling, please.”

  “No need.”

  “Darlin’, there’s every need. I was rude when you were only trying to help. That’s not acceptable.” He put his forehead against hers. “You know, every day, I deal with assholes, people shooting at me”—he felt her stiffen, but soldiered on—“my boss yelling at me. I don’t get upset often, but when I do…”

  As she finally met his gaze, he knew he’d gotten through.

  “What happened today, Max?” she asked gently.

  He swallowed. Even knowing he’d volunteered to share, it fucking wasn’t easy. “I’m a homicide detective. Death is never pretty, baby, but some…some are…” There were no words. Find the words. “A teenager decided his friends were laughing at him, and he found his daddy’s AR-15. Why a civilian needs to own an assault rifle, I have no fucking clue. The kid went after his buddies and hosed them down.” God, it had been ugly.

  Uzuri’s hand curled around his.

  Max continued. “Trouble is, unless a bullet hits something, it goes a long ways. Lotta bullets. He got other people on the street.

  “A young woman who was pregnant.” She’d been even younger than Zuri, dammit.

  “The owner of the craft store.” He’d recently retired and bought the place. His elderly wife said that all his life he’d dreamed of sharing his joy in crafts.

  “A taxi driver.” A younger man with three children who was working long hours so he could buy a house. The American dream. Shot to hell and gone.

  Max’s voice came out husky. “One weapon and so fucking many people shattered and dead.”

  “Oh, no. N-no.” With a choked-off sob, Uzuri pressed against him, head on his chest, arms tight around his waist. Her tears w
ere wetting his shirt. “How can you s-stand it?”

  With her tears, her acknowledgment of the same horror he’d felt, and her distress—for him—his edgy, off-balance feeling started to ease. The world wobbled and tilted back level again.

  And damn, after he’d snapped at her like an asshole, she was hugging him and trying to make him feel better. Of the two of them, he was probably the weaker one.

  He sighed. “I’ve never been good about talking about shit—feels like I’m bringing all that violence home. Like I’m not protecting you.”

  She made a tiny, snorting sound. “You brought your mood home. What’s the difference? I’d prefer to know why you’re upset.” She squeezed him harder. “I can take it, Max. And I’d rather you get things off your chest. So…you can stew for a bit, but then you share.”

  Bossy, wasn’t she? “I’ll try to do better.”

  Her head came up in surprise. “You will?”

  “Yeah.” He kissed her soft lips. “I’m sorry I made you feel bad, baby.”

  She hugged him hard, and the corners of her mouth tilted up. “Don’t worry. I’ll make you pay for it.”

  “Sure you will.” Softhearted subbie.

  * * * * *

  A COUPLE OF hours later, after a long, hot shower, a fantastic spicy meal, and a long walk with Hunter, Max felt almost back to normal. Although he still felt guilty about being rude to their little submissive. He should be horsewhipped.

  As he walked out onto the patio with Hunter, he saw Alastair doing laps in the pool. For some strange reason, the doc preferred evening swimming to sunrise jogging.

  As usual, Hunter started to run in circles around the pool. Water tag with the human, oh joy! Max figured about thirty seconds before the dog jumped in to play.

  Alastair saw Hunter, then Max, and halted. He smiled. “You look better.”

  “Yeah. So, do you or Zuri have plans to watch anything on television tonight?”

  “I don’t, and Uzuri went out with her girls,” Alastair said. “The room is all yours.”

  “Great.” Leaving Hunter outside to annoy his cousin, Max swung by the kitchen for a beer. In the TV room, he dropped onto the couch, and hell, he was already missing Zuri’s company.

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