Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair


  As he stepped off the curb to cross the street, he rubbed his cheek and felt the scrape of beard. Better shave, too. Nadia didn’t like him looking scruffy.

  Zuri, though, might not even notice. She was distracted these days. Falling head over heels in love would do that.

  Max and Alastair were lucky guys. Little Zuri had all the sweetness of a submissive combined with the strength of a person who’d made her own way in life.

  He wished them well. The chemistry hadn’t been right for Uzuri to be his, but she made a damn fine friend.

  Besides, he had a woman of his own. He smiled, hearing his aunt’s voice. “Alexander Sullivan Holt, the woman who wins my wonderful nephew will be a lucky woman.” Only, he’d learned that a man who found a good woman was the lucky one.

  Nadia might well be the one for him.

  At the duplex, he unlocked the front door and stepped inside…into darkness. Hadn’t he left the window blinds open? He turned toward the light switch and heard an angry shout, “Bastard! She’s mine.”

  Someone from behind hit Holt high on his shoulder.

  Fuck. Someone was in his place. Instinctively, Holt spun and knocked his attacker’s arm away. Cold pressure slid across his face. Jerking sideways, he punched out blindly and connected solidly with a chin or cheekbone.

  The man bellowed in anger.

  Warm liquid poured down Holt’s face—and more flowed down his back. Blood. A fiery pain blossomed over his scapula.

  Holt spotted a knife in the man’s right hand. The fucker had stabbed him.

  The bastard swung.

  Holt jumped back—and was almost sliced by the knife in the man’s left hand. What the fuck? The bastard had a knife in each hand and had nailed him good. Shit.

  A knife lifted. “I’m bigger, asshole.” The guy lunged.

  Holt sidestepped, blocked with his left, and tried to punch. The searing pain in his right shoulder made him gasp, stole the strength from his blow.

  “My cock’s bigger.” A knife slashed Holt’s forearm. “I’m better.” He kept coming. “You can’t satisfy her.”

  Holt blocked.

  The bastard twisted, and a line of fire ran across Holt’s forearm as the bastard got him with the other knife. “You touched my bitch. Nobody touches my bitch.”

  Slice by slice, Holt was forced back. His forearms were being cut to shreds as he tried to keep the knives from his torso. A sidestep gave him a chance to get his balance, and Holt kicked, scored a partial hit on the guy’s knee, and gained some space.

  His shirt in back was soaked—he was bleeding badly. As his eyes adjusted, he could finally distinguish more of the shadowy form.

  Dark skin, dark clothes. Couple inches taller, maybe fifty pounds heavier. Far too well armed. Holt grabbed a lamp, yanked hard to rip it from the electrical socket, and flung it at the window.

  The heavy ceramic punched between the cheap vertical blinds and busted through the window with a crash of glass. Should get attention. “Call 911!” Seeing the guy lunge, Holt jumped back again.

  Not far enough. The knife laid open his chin. “Leave my bitch alone, cocksucker.”

  Glancing behind for obstacles, Holt retreated again. “Who do you mean, man?” Nadia? Wait, could this be Zuri’s stalker? “You mean Uzuri?”

  The roar of rage confirmed it. “You touched what’s mine.”

  “You’re Jarvis.” Dammit, he needed to down this bastard. Holt circled the coffee table and kicked it into the bastard’s legs.

  Cursing foully, frothing with anger, the guy tossed the coffee table across the room and charged, slashing wildly.

  Dodging sideways, Holt punched Jarvis’s forearm. That knife dropped.

  But Jarvis buried the other blade in Holt’s gut.

  Fuck.

  Holt’s legs went weak. Grabbing and anchoring the knife with one hand, he slammed his fist into the guy’s face repeatedly.

  Jarvis backed up, shaking his head.

  Someone pounded on the door. “Holt? Hey, Holt.”

  “Here!”

  Sunlight blazed across the room as the door was flung open.

  “No!” Jarvis raced toward the back of the house, flinging furniture out of his way.

  As Duke and his friends poured into the room, Holt’s knees buckled. He tried to catch himself on the couch—his arm didn’t work. Falling, he heard a god-awful crack before blackness rushed in.

  * * * * *

  HUMMING “ONCE UPON a Dream”, Uzuri did a mini-waltz step as she walked up the sidewalk to her duplex. Holt’s car and Harley were in the driveway, so he hadn’t been called out for a fire or anything, which occasionally happened, even on his days off.

  She couldn’t wait to tell him about the meeting on Monday. Even the administrators had been impressed. And this morning, the sales associates had welcomed her when she’d been checking the racks in the petite section. Her admission that Madeline Grayson had shown up without an invitation and scared her to death had put her back on easy terms with everyone. Two of them had taken the time to share their customers’ input about the new winter clothing line.

  Life was good. She smiled up at the billowy clouds in the blue sky and breathed in the scent of freshly cut grass. A pleasing breeze ruffled the hem of her copper-colored faux wrap dress and made the tall palm trees rustle. The peaceful neighborhood was so quiet, she could hear the low hum of the distant lunch hour traffic.

  In fact, it was too quiet.

  She frowned. Where were all the children? The only ones she saw were Duke and his fellow jocks gathered on the front porch a few houses down.

  How odd. Uzuri walked around the untrimmed plantings by the front door and…

  What?

  Yellow tape across her doorway made a garish barrier. The front window—the one the landlord had replaced—was all in pieces. Surely, that didn’t require police tape. Fear ran a cold hand up her spine, and she took several steps back.

  “Uzuri!”

  She turned to see Duke jog across the street. The linebacker-sized teen skidded to a stop in front of her. “You can’t go in. The cops left a few minutes ago, an’ they said nobody can go in.”

  His strained face warned this was more than vandalism, and she grabbed his shoulder. “What happened? Where’s Holt?”

  “Oh, man, some asshole attacked him. They had a fucking fight right in your place.” Duke shuddered. “Like, this lamp came flying out the window. Crashing and glass fucking flying everywhere. Holt yelled about 911. We come through the door, and some huge fucking dude runs out the back.”

  “Is Holt—” Heart hammering, she couldn’t get the words out.

  Duke didn’t notice. “Sucks that the guy got away. Wedge tried to catch him. No joy. The asshole ran through Mrs. Avery’s flowerbed and went over the back fence.”

  Uzuri shook him. “Where. Is. Holt? Did he get hurt? Did he go to the police station?” Please let him be all right.

  Holt was tough. He could hold his own against anyone.

  “Fuck, Uzuri, he was bleeding bad. They took him away in an ambulance, sirens and all.”

  * * * * *

  FOLLOWING THE PINK lady’s directions, Uzuri hurried down the hospital corridor to the surgery section. Surgery—that couldn’t be good. Hands cold, heart thumping in her chest, she burst into the waiting room.

  People everywhere. After a second, she recognized Holt’s firefighter buddies clustered in one corner. Warren, the one built like a tank, spotted her and walked over. His normally tanned face was pale. “Uzuri, right?”

  She stared up at him. “How is he?”

  “Seriously fucked up.” Warren shook his head, not even seeing her. “Christ Jesus, I’ve never gone out on a call to one of our own, you know?”

  “Warren.” She gripped his arm, forcing him to see her. “How is he? Is he going to be all right?”

  “Dunno. He’s in surgery for the gut stab. The kids said he bashed his head on the TV stand. He wasn’t tracking right when we brou
ght him in.”

  “Lost a ton of blood, too.” Another firefighter with an Australian accent chimed in.

  A ginger-haired guy said, “Whoever attacked him sliced him up like hamburger.”

  Uzuri swallowed. “Sliced? Like…with a knife?” A knife.

  “Two knives,” Warren said. “One was still in Holt. We found another on the floor.”

  Jarvis had boasted about using two knives. He’d attacked her dates before. Uzuri couldn’t seem to move. All the way to the hospital, she’d told herself not to jump to conclusions. To wait. However, she knew.

  Jarvis was here. Had attacked Holt—because he was living in her place. Was her friend. My God, what have I done? Despair was an avalanche, burying her until she couldn’t breathe.

  Warren said in a harsh voice, “He’s got knife wounds going up his arms. More on his face. Stabbed high in the back.” He put his hands on his belly. “Caught one in the gut. Deep enough to—”

  The Aussie gripped Warren’s shoulder. “Easy on the description, bro. You’re talking to a civilian.”

  “Oh.” Warren blinked. “Sorry, Uzuri.”

  “It’s all right.” She walked over to lay a hand on the door to the operating rooms. Oh, Holt. She needed to be beside him, to give him strength.

  To say she was sorry.

  She should never have let him move into her place, should never have touched him, should never have been his friend.

  She shouldn’t have any friends. None.

  “They’re not going to let you see him, even when he comes out of surgery,” the ginger-haired firefighter said. “He’ll be in recovery and in ICU at least overnight and only family’s allowed there.”

  Uzuri turned. “He has a girlfriend. Nadia. Does anyone know how to call her?”

  “Hell, that’s right.” The man pulled out his phone. “My wife’ll have her number. She’ll call.”

  Walking over to an isolated corner, Uzuri took a seat. Jarvis. Here. Horror clung to her shoulders as even the air in the room darkened. I’m sorry, Holt.

  He was fighting for his life because Jarvis thought they were together.

  Ice slid down her spine. What if Jarvis found out about Alastair and Max? He’d go after them, too. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of Max being attacked. “…sliced him up like hamburger.” Or Alastair opening the front door, and Jarvis stabbing him without warning. Hurting him. Kicking him.

  Even though she was panting, she couldn’t seem to find enough air in the room.

  Surely Jarvis didn’t know she was staying with them. He’d attacked Holt, not her men. Only…if he checked further, he’d find out. Or he’d trail her from Brendall’s to their house. And he’d hurt them.

  Maybe kill them.

  “Uzuri?” Warren was looking at her.

  She realized she’d stood up. Her hands were fisted at her sides.

  Jarvis would kill her Doms. She couldn’t let him know about them. No matter what happened to her, she had to protect them.

  And he’d hurt them if he knew. He would. Oh, God, she had to stay away from them. Chills chasing over her skin, heart pounding, Uzuri ran out of the waiting room.

  * * * * *

  SOON AFTER LUNCH, Max pulled into the driveway with Alastair’s vehicle in front of him. Right on time, cuz. They’d decided to take this afternoon off and set up something special for Uzuri. Their little romantic deserved a treat.

  But… Zuri’s car was parked under the portico. Well, damn. There went their plans of doing some stage setting. However, if she had the afternoon off, there were other ways to take advantage of all three of them having unexpected time together.

  And when they were done, they could sit down and have their talk.

  The talk.

  To Max’s surprise, Alastair didn’t pull into the garage. He stopped his car right in the U-shaped drive, and Max had to slam on the brakes to keep from rear-ending the dumbass.

  Alastair jumped out of his car and headed toward Uzuri. Fast.

  What was going on? Max shut the car down and followed.

  Uzuri’s car was running, and she was getting in. Her oversized suitcase stood upright in the back seat.

  “Uzuri.” Alastair lengthened his stride.

  “What the hell?” Max broke into a run.

  Uzuri hesitated and straightened.

  “What is going on?” Alastair asked as he neared the car.

  Her hand on the open car door was visibly shaking. She bit her lip, then raised her chin. “I’ve been here well over two weeks. It’s time for me to go home.”

  “Is it now?” It was plain Alastair was trying to keep his voice level, but Max heard the shocked pain.

  Yeah, it fucking hurt. Max stared at her. “So you’re sneaking out without even talking to us. Did you leave us a note?”

  She winced.

  Yeah, she’d obviously left a fucking note in her room.

  Her grip visibly tightened on the door. “I thought a note would be easier for all of us.”

  His anger was growing from sparks into a full-fledged wildfire, one that would send any animal in its path fleeing. “Easier for you, maybe. Me, I’d rather have some fucking answers. When you left this morning, you were all hugs and kisses. Now you’re walking out?”

  The pain in the doc’s eyes sent Max’s rage flaring higher.

  It felt as if someone was using a heavy drill bit on his heart. All day, he’d been thinking of how she’d react, what she’d say, when he and Alastair told her how much they cared. And asked her to stay.

  Meantime, she’d been packing her bags.

  “Zuri.” He struggled to keep his voice reasonable. Talk about reasonable—this wasn’t. Hell, this was totally unlike their little Miss Politeness. He softened his voice. “Zuri, did we do something to upset you?”

  “Sir. Um, Max. There isn’t anything to talk about and I appreciate the help and this…whatever this is…was…is over.” The words didn’t even sound like her.

  She wouldn’t look either of them in the eye.

  Did she think they’d hit her or something?

  Jesus.

  Alastair took a slow, careful step forward, as if she were one of his terrified kid patients. His gaze stayed on her. “I think you should talk with us, pet. It’s obvious there is something wrong.”

  Yeah. Something was fucking wrong. This wasn’t her.

  “No. We’re done. Forever.” Her wide eyes filled with tears. Looking hopeless, looking helpless, she slid into her seat, slammed the door, and stomped on the gas.

  As her car shot down the drive, Max glanced at Alastair. He looked as stunned as Max felt.

  Max scrubbed his hands over his face. “We’d better look at that note.”

  * * * * *

  AT BRENDALL’S, UZURI left her bags with the security guard and headed upstairs. Not to work. She simply needed a place to think where she’d be safe. As she walked through the hallway and into the reception area, the sense of unreality tugged at her. But being here helped her feel more stable. In fact, she’d felt stronger simply walking through the door. My store. My life.

  As she strode toward her office, she knew she wasn’t going to cut and run again. No, this time, she’d fight. Somehow.

  The administrative assistant gave her a worried frown. “Ms. Cheval, you don’t look well at all. Are you ill?”

  “Something at lunch didn’t agree with me, but I’ll be fine.”

  After managing a smile, she stepped inside her office, closed the door, and leaned against it. The air-conditioned room felt cold and dry with a faint scent of cleansers.

  Oh, she wanted to run back home—to Max and Alastair’s house. To breathe in the comfort and safety and—and love—that was there. Her Dragon Doms’ home would hold the brisk fragrance of the sea, the perfume from the tropical flowers in the yard, a hint of chlorine from the pool—and sometimes more than a hint of wet dog.

  The TV room would smell of leather and more recently, the vanilla candles she??
?d lined up on the mantle.

  In the mornings, the kitchen smelled like coffee and the bacon that Max loved—and that Alastair considered a fast road to a heart attack. Or sometimes popcorn in the evenings.

  Her eyes burned. Not good, girl. Not when even the memory of a smell makes you choke up.

  She walked to the window and looked out over the sunlit parking lot. With all that light, why did she feel engulfed in darkness? As she set her forehead against the cool glass, the condensation of her breath fogged the view.

  Alastair had been hurt. She’d hurt him. And he’d still been gentle.

  Max had been angry. Then concerned. Worried.

  Yes, she’d hurt them both. Wasn’t it funny that she could love them so, so much and give them only pain?

  There was nothing else she could have done. Never, ever would she let them be hurt like Holt.

  Oh, Holt. Everything inside her urged her to go to him—but she couldn’t get in to see him. She huffed an angry growl. The hospital wouldn’t even give her any information. She’d had to call Warren. Holt was out of surgery and in recovery. The doctor wasn’t offering odds, but said it looked good.

  Uzuri pulled herself straight. She needed to talk with Anne—to let her know about Holt so he had friends to be with him.

  And…if the attacker was Jarvis—and it was—the police needed to be told. Only they wouldn’t believe her, not with Jarvis living in Cincinnati. They’d treat her like the Cincinnati police had for months and months—as if she were some paranoid idiot. She’d learned her lesson.

  But Max and Dan were police. They’d believe her. Only…she couldn’t see Max, and Dan was his partner. Oh, this was such a mess.

  First, she needed to see where Jarvis was.

  Pulling out her phone, Uzuri winced. No phone calls showed in the history…because she’d blocked her Dragon Doms’ numbers. If she heard Alastair or Max, her resolve might waver. Waver? It would disintegrate like centuries old fabric.

  In her ear, the ringing stopped. “Hey, Uzuri. What’s up?”

  “Anne.” Uzuri straightened her shoulders. “Can you do a quick check for me? On Jarvis?”

  “I’m already at the computer. Hold on a second.” There was silence on the line. “He’s still employed at the factory job.”

  “Oh.” Uzuri felt a rush of relief, then her fingers tightened on the phone. That didn’t rule him out. Employed didn’t mean actually there.

 
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