Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair

  “That was my day,” Alastair finished. He stared at his hands, turning them over as if somehow they’d let him down.

  Uzuri slid onto his lap and pulled his arms around her. With a slow sigh, Alastair rested his cheek on top of her head. In a gentle voice, she told him, “You can’t fix it all, Sir. The last time I looked, even a Master isn’t God.”

  Max snorted. “Baby, are you trying to depress him? You’re supposed to think we walk on water.”

  When Alastair chuckled, Uzuri’s shoulders lifted with her breath of relief.

  “Is that what I was supposed to think?” She turned her head far enough to grin at Max. “No wonder no Dom wants me.”

  Actually smiling now, Alastair leaned back and put his feet on the coffee table. His arm stayed firmly around her waist, keeping her planted in his lap. “Wrong, pet. We want you.”

  When Alastair picked up his drink, Max did the same.

  Meeting Uzuri’s eyes, Max lifted his glass in a quiet toast to their big-hearted mischief-maker.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  OUCH, OUCH, OUCH. Uzuri dropped the comb back in her lap. The instrument of torture might be seamless and wide toothed, but this Tuesday evening, her hair wasn’t in the mood to cooperate—and neither were her muscles. Sitting on the floor in the television room, she stared blindly at her taped Project Runway show…and she stewed.

  Exercising sucked. Seriously.

  Weightlifting? So not fun. Her legs and butt felt as if someone had pounded on her muscles with a big stick. Max insisted he wasn’t a sadist, but who else would have assigned an exercise called “squats”.

  And sit-ups? Oh Lord in heaven. Her stomach muscles hurt every time she moved.

  But to top off the misery that was her life, Max had decided yesterday she needed more “upper body strength.”

  Bench presses and military presses and incline presses. When she’d told Max she was tired of all the “presses,” suddenly she was doing “pulls.” Pull-downs and pull-ups. And rowing sans any boat.

  He was a mean person. Period.

  Blessed Mother, even the muscles beneath her breasts were sore. That was just wrong.

  Her Dragon Doms were trying to kill her.

  Every other morning, Max would drag her out of bed to jog with him. Around dawn. Who could be enthusiastic about getting all sweaty before the day even started? Although… She smiled. Sweat looked really fine on Master Maximillian. His tank would darken in a line between his pectorals and cling beautifully to his washboard abs. Yummilicious.

  But to do all that sweating herself? Thank you, no.

  On alternate days, she’d swim in the evenings with Alastair—and the eye-candy was just as fine. Smooth rippling muscles beneath wet, dark skin. When those finely sculpted muscles pumped up, she had a burning need to trace every perfect definition. With her tongue.

  But the swimming stuff as it applied to her? Did they not realize what chlorine did to hair? The Brillo pad look was so not a good one on her.

  This had been swimming day. Not being an idiot, she’d wetted and conditioned her hair beforehand, then washed and conditioned afterward. Once mostly dry, she’d applied a leave-in conditioner and sealed it in with hair butter.

  She should buy stock in the conditioner companies.

  Now she had to comb her hair out. Only…her arms felt as if they weighed at least fifty pounds—each—and were growing heavier by the second.

  Just do it. Gritting her teeth, she sectioned off her hair and started combing.

  Max was in the kitchen now. He’d cheated on his cooking day by bringing home a ready-made pizza to bake. At least there would be a salad, too, since Alastair insisted on a minimum of healthy food with the evening meals.

  Neither of them would have thought to make sure there was chocolate, though.

  Stupid men.

  She heard the thump of footsteps. Boots. Max. Continuing her combing, she ignored him. The couch behind her groaned as he sat down. She felt like groaning herself.

  Hunter had followed him in and happily curled up beside her.

  Max put his beer on the coffee table and picked up her jar of hair butter. After a second, he set it down.

  Finished with one section of hair, she took a break…and considered screaming. Five more sections to go. Her arms might fall off. She’d been so proud of getting her hair from the big chop to almost shoulder-length…but if she stayed here another week, a TWA was looking good. There was a lot to be said for a teeny-weeny Afro.

  “I love your hair when it’s all shiny and springy like this.” Max started to play with the hair she’d combed out.

  “Hey.” Without thinking, she slapped his arm away. “I’m not some dog you can pat without permission.”

  Oh. Omigod.

  She felt the weight of Max’s silence behind her. And spotted Alastair in the door, his expression grave.

  With a merciless hand, Max gripped her hair and firmly pulled her head back.

  Helplessly, she stared up into intense blue eyes.

  “Want to explain what the fuck that was about?” He didn’t bother to say that, as her Dom, temporary or not, he could touch her. Anywhere he wanted. Anytime he wanted.

  Silently, Alastair took a chair.

  “I’m sorry.” Uzuri tried to look down, but Max didn’t release her.

  “I’m sure you are. I’d rather hear why you reacted that way.” He paused. “You mad at me about something I don’t know?”

  Shame filled her. All he’d done was give her a compliment. And touch. “Even if I explain, you won’t understand.”

  “And if you don’t explain, I won’t understand for sure.” Releasing her hair, he gripped her waist, lifted her up, and sat her on the couch. As he turned to face her, the steel in his eyes softened. “Talk to me, darlin’.”

  “I…I had a bad day, and I took it out on you.”

  “Mmm. That you did. What made this a bad day?”

  He wasn’t going to let it go, was he? The effort not to glare probably skyrocketed her blood pressure into the danger zone. Okay, fine. He wanted to hear about her day? “I wanted to be super feminine today, so I’d pulled my hair to one side and made corkscrew curls on one side.”

  “I remember. It looked great.” He always noticed her hair. Liked her hair.

  “Well, I was at a design show, and this white woman comes up and tells me my hair is so cool and starts fingering the coils. Handling my hair. And she yells to her friend, ‘You should feel her hair. It’s all soft and kinky.’ ”

  “And that pisses you off.”

  “Honestly, how would they like it if I walked up and fingered their ’do.” She forced the swear words back. “My hair is mine. My body; my hair. I’m not a pet dog everybody gets to touch.”

  Beside her on the couch, Max regarded her quietly, obviously thinking about her words. His nod was…a relief. “All right, baby, I see why that’d piss you off. Touching someone against her wish is a form of assault.”


  He offered her his hand, palm up, and waited until she gave him her fingers. “Zuri, I don’t think of you as an animal to be disrespected. Nonetheless, I do think you’re our submissive, and touching without permission falls under the Dom rules. Unless you want to negotiate otherwise.”

  She shook her head, feeling like an idiot. “I don’t. I reacted before I thought about it.”

  “Because you were angry,” Alastair said.

  She sighed and confessed. “I’ve been kind of mad all day.”

  Expression thoughtful, Alastair set down his whisky and looked at his cousin. “The beauty of home is that we can, hopefully, set aside the racial stress and relax. There are days, especially in the States, when being a person of color can leave a person full of anger…and sometimes that relaxation takes time to achieve.”

  Uzuri saw Max’s brows come together. “I’m white. Can’t get around that detail.” His gaze came to her. “Do I make things worse?”

  She bit
her lip. How many people did she know who would drag everything out in the open? These two were amazing. “No, not worse…”

  “Some would consider her a traitor to her race for being with you.” Alastair’s lips quirked. “Of course, that means my mother—and Uzuri’s—were also traitors for having sex with white males. As mixed-race children, we’re considered damaged goods in a way.”

  Max snorted. “Not if you listen to Sam. He’s not much for purebreds in any species. Told me he prefers hybrids—and that Uzuri was a shining example of the beauty of crossing races.”

  Her mouth dropped open. “Master Sam said that?” The sadistic rancher-farmer never said anything he didn’t mean.

  “Yeah. But… Zuri, we asked you here to help you. And because we wanted to see how we’d do together. Not to make life more difficult for you.” His hand opened, letting hers go.” If being with a white man is—”

  “No.” She wrapped her fingers around his. “It’s true that, in some ways, it’s easier to be with another person of color. There’s a shared history and pain and acceptance.” She thought about it. “But I don’t think that keeping races separated is best for the human race as a whole.”

  He nodded. And waited. He and Alastair had an ability to…listen…that she found incredibly compelling.

  “But it’s hard,” she confessed. “And sometimes, I want to go out and slap stupid people.”

  “I’ve felt the same,” Alastair admitted. “That anger isn’t confined to our race, though.” He motioned to Max with his glass. “Our cop here is driven by a need for fairness and justice—which means, every summer in Colorado, he fought more battles over prejudice than I did.”

  Max snorted. “Never did see how you could be so fucking laid back about that shit.” The growl in his voice was…sweet.

  Uzuri squeezed his fingers. “I spent a couple of years enraged all the time, seeing injustice and putdowns and micro-aggressions everywhere. One day, on the subway, this blonde kept glancing at me as if she thought I planned to steal her purse or attack her or something. I got madder and madder.”

  Max frowned. “Being a cop, I hope you ignored her. Personally, I hope you punched her one.”

  His annoyance on her behalf came through loud and clear. Uzuri laughed. “When I walked past her to get off at my stop, she stood up—and said she’d fallen in love with my suit. Would I tell her where I bought it?”

  Max stared at her, and then his lips curved up. “Didn’t see that coming.”

  In Alastair’s gaze was the miles-deep understanding of what she was saying. She squeezed Max’s hand. “The way people of color are treated isn’t fair. Yet, the expectation of hostility was ruining my life. Now, I try to judge each person and each interaction without preconceptions.”

  Alastair nodded. “Pick the battles and speak out when you can make a difference.”

  “Although it’s too slow, we make progress each generation.” Her grandmother would never have been able to work as a fashion buyer. All of Mama’s friends had been black; Uzuri’s came in all colors. “The next generation will do even better.”

  Max nodded.

  “So, I don’t choose my friends or lovers or Dominants by race. Other things are more important.” At one time, she’d made a list—and hadn’t consulted it. The Dragon Doms had walked into her life, and she’d simply said yes. “The answer to your question is that you don’t make things worse. But sometimes I will have an I’m-black-and-I’m-angry day.”

  “All right. Then, if that’s settled…” Max smiled and pulled her onto his lap.

  She squeaked—a sound she hated.

  Ruthlessly, he held her in place with a powerful grip on her wrists. Typical Dom. The air was cleared, now he’d remind her she was the submissive.

  She was the submissive. And there was nothing she wanted more than to be held right now.

  “I love this robe.” Releasing her wrists, he pulled her closer. “Your silky ones are sexy as hell, but this one makes me feel as if I’m cuddling a kitten.”

  A kitten. She could only smile. After being mad enough to claw him like an angry alley cat, now she wanted to purr. Apparently, she hated being touched without permission or feeling like a pet—unless Alastair or Max did it.

  Life was crazy. Or maybe she was.

  He ran his hand under her hair, down her shoulder—and she tensed when his fingers hit her sore muscles. He stilled, huffed a laugh, and pressed harder.

  “Ow.” He was a sadist. She tried to pull away and got nowhere.

  “You’re not used to all this exercise—especially weight training.” He glanced at Alastair. “You like hurting little subbies. Why don’t you give her a massage before bed?”

  “Excellent idea.” Alastair smiled slowly. “Are her pectorals sore?”

  Ignoring her struggles, Max tightened his arm around her waist, set his other hand between her breasts, and dug into the muscles on each side of her sternum.

  Her shriek made Hunter jump. “Owww!”

  Mercilessly, Max continued, stroking firmly down her ribs, over incredibly painful muscles.

  Her whining escalated until it sounded as if she was being murdered. “Pauvre con, stop!”

  He did.

  She sagged against him.

  “Yep, you’ll have fun with her, cuz.” Max tipped her face up. “Speaking from experience, any massage the doc gives will hurt like hell, but when he’s finished, you’ll feel a lot better.”

  “Uh, that’s not necessary. I’ll finish my hair and go to bed early. I’m sure a good night’s sleep will fix my muscles.” That sounded like a much less painful plan to her.

  Alastair’s low laugh rumbled in a way that reminded her it was her night to sleep with him. And how massage might lead to other things.

  She licked her lips.

  When he smiled at her, she knew she’d be getting a massage…and everything else. Well, okay.

  “If her shoulders are sore, a comb out might be difficult,” Alastair said.

  “Huh. Good point.” To her shock, Max set her on the floor and picked up the wide-toothed comb. “I’ll help with your hair.”

  “No, you will not.” She held out her hand for the comb.

  “I’ve been well trained, baby.” To her surprise, he easily finger-combed out the next section.

  “You had a black girlfriend?”

  “A few. More importantly, I have a black aunt who loves having someone else mess with her hair.” He gently started at the ends with the comb. “She’s a neurosurgeon, and her hands are tired by the end of the day.”

  Alastair’s mother was a neurosurgeon. Why was that no real surprise?

  STRETCHING HIS LEGS out, Alastair enjoyed their little mischief’s bemused expression. She wasn’t used to being pampered—especially by men.

  She was indeed a sweetheart, and one who’d survived everything thrown at her. It was good to see her in a temper, even better to watch her identify the cause of her anger. She had apologized sweetly.

  As he sipped his whisky, contentment welled up inside him. The better he knew her, the more he liked her.

  With a low hum, his cell phone vibrated. He pulled it out. “Drago.”

  The voice was low. “Holt here. You out of Zuri’s hearing?”

  “Please wait a moment.” He stepped into the quiet foyer. “Go ahead.”

  “This isn’t especially good news,” Holt said. “Sometime last night—at the duplex—my Harley got tipped over, and my Forerunner got keyed.”

  Alastair’s hand tightened on the phone. “Do you suspect Uzuri’s stalker?”

  “The neighborhood kids are a pretty nice bunch, and I’m not inclined to point a finger at them. Still…there are a bunch of teens here.”

  “Teens are unpredictable.” However, if the vandalism wasn’t caused by locals, then possibly Kassab was in Tampa. Alastair hadn’t forgotten that Zuri’s window had been broken on the day of the wedding.

  “I called Anne. The asshole works long factory
shifts several days in a row, then gets three days off. He wasn’t working yesterday or the day before. However, he didn’t buy any plane or bus ticket. Didn’t use his credit card…anywhere…for those days.”

  “Which gives us nothing. He might be here or might not.”

  “Yeah.” Holt sighed. “Just in case, keep an eye on her?”

  “Oh, we shall do that.” Anger tightened his voice. Uzuri was trying to recover from the past. The stalker’s mere presence would set her back. Jaw tight, Alastair swiped the phone off. For Kassab, he’d make an exception to his rule of not beating a person into bloody mincemeat.

  When he returned, Uzuri gave him a worried look. “Are you all right?”

  “I am, thank you.” He glanced at Max.

  His cousin caught his grim mood, and his eyes chilled before he nodded. Yes, they’d have a conversation later.

  But for now, Alastair introduced a new topic. “We didn’t have a chance to do our day’s catching up, and I miss it. However, this was a quiet day for me, mostly sniffles and coughs. How about you, Max?”

  Max worked the comb through Uzuri’s hair. “Quiet, too. This close to Halloween, there are more drunks and vandals than murders. I spent most of the day in court and the rest doing paperwork.”

  “That’s a nice change.” Uzuri’s expression was relieved.

  Max kissed the top of her head. “And you, baby?”

  “Everything in the office is going well.” Her mouth turned down. “But…”

  When she didn’t continue, Max gave her a gentle shake, as if to rattle the information out of her.

  “Stop that.” She glared over her shoulder at him, then at Alastair for laughing.

  “Fair’s fair, pet. Sharing is what we do,” Alastair said. “How is it going with those rumors?”

  “Not good. Sales are still down because of the poor morale, and administration is angry.”

  Max stiffened. “At you? If they think that—”

  “No, no, no. The sales staff is in trouble.” She frowned. “Management is considering replacing a lot of the sales associates, but some of those women have worked there almost their entire lives. That would be horrible.”

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