Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair


  His fingers tightened around hers, and the ache in his chest grew. He’d wanted this from Nadia. Sure it was best to realize early on he’d made a mistake about her, but now there was an…emptiness.

  “Does it hurt?” she whispered. “How bad? Can I get you anything? Should you have a pain pill or something? Or…since it’s boring in hospitals, I should go get you some books or your iPod or—”

  “Hey.” Fuck, it hurt to laugh. Seriously hurt. He did need some pain med. Unfortunately, the damn button for the medication was clipped next to his pillow. No way to hit it unobtrusively. Damned if he’d admit to pain and increase the worry in her big eyes. “No, it doesn’t hurt. I’m doing fine.” His brows drew together. “You’re not here by yourself, are you?”

  “She came with us.” Max stood inside the door.

  A movement behind Uzuri caught Holt’s attention. Alastair stood next to the head of the bed. He glanced at the pain control button, and his eyebrow lifted in a silent inquiry. Clever guy, the doc.

  Holt nodded enough to agree without letting Uzuri notice. He squeezed her fingers instead. “I figured you two might be close.”

  ALASTAIR SHOOK HIS head. The poor bastard had lied to Uzuri about not hurting. He was almost gritting his teeth with pain.

  Best Uzuri not know or she’d burst into tears. She felt bad enough thinking she was to blame for Kassab’s attack on him.

  Alastair glanced at the bright bouquet in the window. “Uzuri, who sent the flowers? Can you check?”

  “Sure.”

  As she walked around the bed to the flowers, Alastair quietly set the button in Holt’s hand and re-clipped the cord in a better location.

  The firefighter squeezed the button and gave Alastair a grateful look.

  “They’re from your firehouse.” Uzuri returned and took Holt’s hand as if she could somehow take away all his pain.

  The stubborn little minx. Bloody hell, he didn’t like having her anywhere outside their home. Not until Kassab was behind bars.

  But she wasn’t going to listen to them. He and Max had told her it wasn’t safe to visit Holt and offered alternatives. Skype, phone calls.

  Alastair hadn’t known she could yell that loud. In fact, she’d had a total shit-fit, as Max had called it. She’d insisted she had to see her friend for herself, to make sure he was cared for, to be there if he needed her, to find out if he wanted anything, to bring him some goodies if he could have them, and on and on.

  As rain spattered against the window in furious gusts, Alastair moved to lean against the sill beside Max. Their woman might think she wasn’t brave, but he pitied any poor bastard who got between her and someone she loved.

  And she loved them. The joy of it sang through his veins like a massive infusion of endorphins. She was going to stay.

  Which was a good thing, since he and Max would have trouble ever letting her go. Her response to taking them both had been dazzling, not only reaffirming the love they’d given to her, but also deepening the bond he had with Max. Sharing with his cousin had always felt right; sharing someone they both loved was…more. With her mischief, energy, and sweetness, she filled the missing place in the triangle in a way that no one else could.

  And she loved them. Loved him.

  He listened to the wind screaming outside and the hammering of rain on the windows and watched his woman. How did she keep getting more beautiful?

  Her lips were swollen, and her cheeks were beard-burned from almost twenty-four hours of lovemaking. Worried they’d change their minds about visiting Holt, she hadn’t taken time to apply makeup or spent much time on her hair.

  Alastair half-smiled. Max had undone her braids during their play, and her hair had stuck out in all directions. After glaring at the cop, she’d quickly bunched her hair up, made a long roll from crown to nape, and ruthlessly bobby-pinned it all in place.

  Quite impressive, actually.

  “Alastair, Max.” Veering around a short male janitor who was talking on a cell phone, Dan Sawyer walked into the room, glanced at Uzuri, and back at them. “You two are smiling. I take it the reacquisition of your subbie went well?”

  “You’re as nosy as a girl, pard,” Max muttered. “Did you talk with the Captain about Zuri and this bastard stalker?”

  “Yeah. He’s all for setting up a trap. In fact, he’s staying late to meet with the four of us once we leave here.”

  “Dan, are you here to talk to me?” Holt asked.

  Dan turned. “Good to see you awake. And yeah, I have a few questions.”

  “I figured. Although a couple of detectives interviewed me earlier, I had a feeling I’d see you and Max.” Holt squeezed Uzuri’s hand. “Let me get this over with, sweetie.”

  “Okay to talk with him, Doc?” Max asked.

  Alastair checked. The medication had kicked in, and the tight muscles around Holt’s eyes and mouth had relaxed. He was moving, rather than holding himself stiffly immobile. Alastair nodded at Max.

  “All right, then.” Max stepped closer to the bed, Dan beside him.

  As Uzuri came to stand beside Alastair, he frowned at her slumped shoulders. “You can stop worrying now, love. He’s doing well.”

  She nodded without looking up.

  Hmm. He lifted her chin. Tears had filled her eyes. Curving his hand around her nape, he asked softly. “What’s wrong, pet?”

  “His face. He’ll have scars, won’t he?”

  Alastair hesitated. The truth would hurt her. Nevertheless, honesty was what he gave his friends, his patients, his lovers. Everyone. “Yes. None of the deeper nerves were damaged, so his movement isn’t impaired, but he’ll have some loss of sensation for a while.” Holt’s mouth didn’t droop. His lips curved up equally on both sides. “The scars will fade slowly until all that will remain will be white lines.”

  “They won’t go away completely though. He’ll never look the same.” She drew in a shuddering breath. “Because of me.”

  “No. This wasn’t your fault.”

  “I shouldn’t have come to Tampa. Or I shouldn’t have made friends. I should have known Jarvis wouldn’t give up, that he’d come after me. I shouldn’t have let Holt move into my place.”

  The anguish in her voice squeezed his heart, and he pulled her closer. “If Kassab didn’t come after you, wouldn’t he go after someone else? Maybe someone more vulnerable?”

  “Maybe.” Her gaze dropped. “Probably.”

  “Well then.” Alastair saw Max lean forward intently as Holt answered a question.

  What were they talking about?

  “She’s mine. Kassab said that…a lot.” Holt tried to scratch his cheek and winced when his fingers hit the stitches. With an annoyed grunt, he dropped his hand. “Got a comment about him being better than me.”

  “Better how?” Dan asked.

  Holt saw Uzuri watching, and he grinned at her. “I’d say he meant better in bed since he followed up with the size of his dick. And how I couldn’t satisfy her.”

  Max snorted and glanced at their little submissive. “Usually get that shit from insecure bastards. What do you say, princess? Is he insecure?”

  The skin on her cheeks darkened slightly. “If you mean was he better or bigger, then the answer is no.”

  “Go on.”

  Uzuri gave him an exasperated look. “Seriously?”

  Max waggled his fingers in a give-me-more gesture.

  “Oh, fine. He was, um, average length, and…um, a pencil dick? And he could last pretty good, but his idea of skill was to get on and pump.” She hid her face against Alastair’s chest.

  He kissed her head. “Thank you, love.” The entire discussion had knotted his gut, and yet he felt a trickle of amusement at her embarrassment.

  The corner of Max’s mouth tipped up as he met Alastair’s gaze.

  Dan chuckled. “Odd how women can discuss sex exhaustively with their buddies and get fucking embarrassed with anyone else.”

  “No shit. Have you heard those Shado
wkittens?” Max shook his head. “Could give a guy a complex.”

  Holt laughed, grabbed his side, and groaned. “Fuck, Drago, if you’re going to be funny, do it elsewhere.”

  “Sorry.” Max glanced at Uzuri. “But it’s good to know what triggers the asshole has. Never know when it might come in handy during the interview process.”

  “Gotta say, those interviews must make for interesting reading.” Holt grinned. “You donut munchers are just plain weird.”

  Uzuri giggled, and Holt grinned at her.

  Max shook his head. “Least we’re not always playing with our hoses like you nozzle jockeys.”

  When Holt reached up to scratch his face, Alastair warned, “Uh-uh.”

  Holt scowled. “It itches.”

  Under Alastair’s arm, Uzuri turned to look and made a helpless sound.

  Holt’s expression softened. “Zuri, it’s simply a cut. Nothing to get upset about.”

  “It’s going to scar,” she whispered.

  “It will,” he agreed evenly. “Do you think I care?”

  “But… Women will…”

  “If Alastair got a scar on his pretty face, would you turn away from him?”

  “Of course not.” Her fingers fisted Alastair’s shirt. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say anything like that!”

  “Well, sweets, that’s the kind of woman I want. If the shallow ones fall by the wayside, I don’t see it as a problem.”

  After a moment, Uzuri’s shoulders relaxed. Alastair gave Holt a nod of gratitude. Well handled. On the other hand, had there been bitterness there? Hadn’t Uzuri mentioned the Dom had a lady friend?

  Dan checked his watch. “We need to get going.”

  “Yeah.” Max glanced at Holt. “You gonna get out of this place soon?”

  “Couple of days. Because of the gut stab, they’re dumping in antibiotics for a while.” Holt smiled. “The landlord finishes the remodeling tomorrow, so my apartment will be quiet.”

  “We’ll take care of packing your stuff at Uzuri’s and bringing it over,” Alastair said.

  Dan grinned. “You realize you’ll be swamped with Shadowkittens for a while, right?”

  “Like I’d object to help with cooking and cleaning?” Holt’s lips curved. “Be good friends and send the single ones. And have them wear those little ruffled aprons Z keeps in the costume boxes. Only the aprons.”

  Max snorted. “Yeah, he’s feeling better.”

  NAKED SUBMISSIVES? THAT sounded like Holt, Uzuri thought, and still…last week, he’d said he was serious about that redhead. Uzuri frowned. “Should we send an apron for Nadia?”

  Holt’s face went still before he said lightly, “Hey, I play the field. Remember?”

  Play the field. Right. That girlfriend—that bitch—had dumped him, hadn’t she? Had left him when he was down and hurting.

  Uzuri clenched her hand. If she ever ran into the woman, there was going to be some hair pulling. Or punching. She knew how to punch now.

  Forcing a smile, she gave Holt what he needed. “Holt, you play the field better than any gambler betting on horses. I’ll ask Master Z to round you up some gorgeous fillies.”

  His lips curved up, although no smile showed in his blue eyes. “You’re a good friend, Zuri.”

  Her heart felt as if it was cracking in half. “I’ll be back tomorrow. What can I bring you?”

  “Be safer if you stayed away.” His gaze turned to Max. “Keep her—”

  “I will be here.” Her voice came out hard and mean—how rude was that? She lightened up. She needed to buy him a comfortingly fuzzy bathrobe—steel blue to match his eyes, of course. What else? “What should I get for you?”

  Max snorted. “Might as well tell her. She threatened to disappear if we try to keep her from seeing you.”

  Her Dragon Doms. Uzuri glared at them. They’d actually discussed locking her away. For her own good.

  “Stubborn subbie,” Holt muttered. He grinned at her. “In that case, how about my eReader from the duplex?” Then he shook his head. “No, come to think of it, it’s at work. Since they won’t let me eat real food for a couple of days, can you bring me a milkshake? Strawberry.”

  “Sure.” Uzuri kissed him lightly on the cheek. His eReader was at the duplex—she’d seen it. However, like her Dragon Doms, he didn’t want her to go to the duplex where Jarvis had been. Rather than feeling crowded, all these protectors made her feel safe and…and cared for.

  They’d all go together to get his eReader.

  “Come, pet. Let’s be on our way.” Alastair held out his hand.

  Taking his hand, she glanced out the window. Lighting flashed erratically in the pitch-black clouds. Thunder rumbled almost continuously, and rain slammed against the window in ugly gusts. They’d have to make a run for the car.

  Outside the room, Dan led the way. Without missing a step, Max and Alastair bracketed Uzuri as they walked down the hospital corridor to the elevator. Uzuri loved how everyone from janitors to MDs greeted Alastair with smiles, comments, and jokes.

  “Drago. Got a second?” In the first floor hallway on the way to the lobby, a short, gray-haired doctor stopped them. “I have a question about the med regimen Laring is taking.”

  “Of course.” Alastair cast them all an apologetic look and bent slightly to listen to his colleague.

  Putting a hand behind Uzuri’s back, Max guided her out of the way of the people going by.

  Dan followed. “I meant to ask you, did you hear about the body they found in St. Pete? It might tie into one of ours. The coroner’s report says…”

  As the two cops discussed the grisly murder, Uzuri quickly stepped out of hearing. Ewww. The contents of a person’s stomach shouldn’t be a topic of conversation.

  Her phone chimed with an incoming message, and she pulled it out of her small purse, taking another step away. The caller ID said RAINIE—and text messages from Rainie and Sally could be extremely…perverted.

  Uzuri thumbed the message open.

  “IF YOU DON’T WANT THAT CUNT RAINIE TO DIE, GET YOUR ASS ACROSS THE PARKING LOT TO THE BLACK VAN.”

  What? Cold stabbed into her chest like an icy dagger. She read the message again. Cunt? Rainie?

  The message had come from Rainie’s phone…knowledge swept through her like an icy wind. Jarvis had sent the message.

  He had Rainie. Her knees threatened to buckle.

  He wanted her outside.

  He’d hurt her.

  Kill her. Her mouth went dry, and her hands started shaking so hard she almost dropped her phone. I can’t.

  Gripping the phone hard, she turned toward Max, holding the phone out. She opened her mouth.

  Her cell chimed, and words scrolled up the screen.

  “IF I DON’T SEE YOU RIGHT FUCKING NOW, I DRIVE AWAY. HOW HIGH WILL THE BITCH BOUNCE?”

  Bounce? He’d run over Rainie or do something horrible.

  If Max and Dan came with her, he’d see them. He’d kill Rainie before leaving. My Rainie. The big-hearted woman who had dropped everything to stay with Uzuri after the attack at Mistress Anne’s house. Like Holt, Rainie would get hurt or killed only because she knew Uzuri. I can’t let that happen.

  But what could she do? Go outside? To Jarvis?

  He’ll kill me. Uzuri stood paralyzed. Her heart felt as if it’d beat out of her chest, and she couldn’t breathe. I’m a coward.

  She couldn’t afford to be a coward. Rainie needed her.

  “Courage is endurance for one moment more.” She could do this.

  The men would stop her. There was no time to talk. To explain. She lurched into a run.

  “Uzuri,” Max sounded startled. “What—”

  She turned and threw the phone at Dan. “Dan, Jarvis has Rainie. Make the Dragons be smart.”

  As she dashed out, running full tilt into the lobby, she glanced back. Dan caught her phone in one hand and grabbed Max’s shirt with the other. Alastair was just turning around.

  Uzuri ran out
the front door and came to a stop as a crack of thunder shook the ground. Like crashing waves, rain spattered the ground, eased, and increased, whipped by the gusting wind. The palm trees lining the edges of the parking lot bowed under the onslaught.

  The sun was blotted out, as if night had set already.

  Terrified Max or Alastair would catch her, Uzuri hurried farther away from the entrance, then stopped to scan the dark parking area for black vans. Go left or right?

  Arbitrarily, she chose right. Halfway down the first line of cars, she slowed. There.

  A woman stood motionless behind the open cargo door of a black van as the exhaust formed a white fog around her. In an oversized man’s raincoat with the hood and collar up, Rainie was barely recognizable.

  Oh no. Hands clenched tightly, Uzuri crossed the sidewalk and stepped off the curb. Rain drenched her clothes and hair as she crossed the lane toward the line of cars—toward where Jarvis must be. Her legs, her body, everything inside her screamed a protest. Each step forward was hard-won.

  Run, Rainie.

  Why didn’t she run?

  In a few more steps, Uzuri saw a leather dog collar was cinched around Rainie’s neck. The collar was attached to a heavy metal chain that ran into the van. The raincoat’s sleeves hung empty. Did she have her hands tied behind her back?

  Uzuri was close enough to see how the hood’s bottom had been pulled shut to conceal the duct tape over Rainie’s mouth. In the pouring rain, no one would even notice. If they did, Jarvis would probably kill them.

  Seeing her, Rainie shook her head frantically and then jerked her head for Uzuri to get away.

  And if Uzuri left? The message text had asked, “How high will the bitch bounce?” If Jarvis drove away, Rainie would be dragged behind the van. By her neck.

  Leave you here? Never.

  WHEN DAN GRABBED his shirt, Max turned, fist lifted. “Let go.”

  “Wait, Drago, dammit. Alastair, get over here!” Dan dragged Max down the hall. As he stepped into the lobby, far enough to see out the huge windows, he slapped Uzuri’s phone into Max’s hand. “Read that.”

 
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