Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair

  Choking back tears, she spun and headed in the other direction. Behind her came Alastair’s deep resonant voice. “Rainie, if you have a moment, can you tell us something about this dog?”

  AN HOUR LATER, Uzuri’s time as a barmaid was ending. With a list of drink orders and empty glasses on her tray, she wove her way through the sitting areas.

  Earlier, she’d found Rainie and apologized. Her softhearted friend had forgiven her, and thank heavens, had promised not to push pet adoptions again. Uzuri sighed. Someday, she’d give Rainie an explanation for the outburst.

  “Hey, girl.” A blond man motioned her over. Sprawled in a leather chair, he was dressed in a black T-shirt with black jeans tucked into military boots. His gaze ran over her and lingered on her breasts. He licked his lips.

  Be polite, she told herself. Master Z said submissives didn’t have to like every Dom, but politeness was required. “May I get you something to drink, Sir?”

  “I have a drink.” When he leaned forward, she took an involuntary step back. “I like race-play. You into that at all?”

  She didn’t roll her eyes, but it was close. “You mean you want to treat me like dirt and call me names, like nigger bitch, coon cum slave, and black slut?”

  “Oh, yeah.” His ruddy color heightened, and his breathing quickened. “That’s it exactly. I can—”

  “No.” She forced herself not to retreat, kept her spine straight, and pushed assurance into her trembling voice. “I suffer too much of that kind of behavior in day-to-day life, and it’s sure not my fetish. Sir.” She wanted to say, go find a white girl to degrade, but she had a lot of white friends, and some had already suffered from assholes like this. Sisters—no matter the color—needed to stand together.

  His eyes turned mean. “You—” But he bit it back and waved her off.

  Submissives weren’t the only ones who had to be polite.

  She walked away, head tall, wishing she could throw her tray at him. But he wasn’t the first Dom who’d wanted race-play. It was simply another fetish, after all. The guy might well find a black submissive who was into that, just as some women enjoyed being called slut and whore. Consent was everything.

  Still, it left her feeling icky and shaky inside.

  When she reached the long oval bar in the center of the clubroom, she set her serving tray on the glossy, mahogany bar top. Rough-looking Master Nolan and his redheaded wife, Beth, were dispensing drinks, which meant Master Cullen was probably doing a scene with Andrea.

  “I’ll be right there, Zuri.” Beth called from farther down the bar.

  Zuri, hmm? Beth’s youngest had shortened Uzuri to Zuri—and somehow the name was spreading through her friends. She was getting fond of the way it sounded.

  Beth hurried up and took her tray. “Wow, I love your outfit. Only you could make white and cute look perfect in a BDSM club.”

  “Thank you.” The gratifying compliment came from a woman who owned the nicest fetwear in the club. Tonight, the rich blue corset Beth wore made the most of her slender figure and brought out the color of her eyes. Excellent attire.

  Beth took the drink orders and smiled. “I’m so glad Master Z went back to using our own members for the waitresses. It was weird having outsiders in the club.”

  “It was.” Uzuri wrinkled her nose. When the trainee program ended, Master Z had tried hiring waitresses. The way they’d stared had been off-putting. “It’s nice to get a cut in the membership dues, too.”

  “Clever Master Z. No wonder there are plenty of volunteers.” Beth headed off to fill the orders.

  Since Uzuri had been the last trainee left, Master Z told her she didn’t have to pay, since ‘no dues’ had been part of the trainee deal. However, she didn’t feel right taking and giving nothing back. Besides, she’d never been a typical trainee. All the rest had wanted to find permanent Doms. She’d only wanted a safe place to explore submission, gain some experience with men, and work through her fears.

  In the initial interview, she’d expected Master Z to toss her out. Instead, he’d said the trainee program was flexible enough to accommodate her. But when he’d wanted to discuss why she was afraid, she’d flat out refused and told him her credo: “My life started here, and I have no past.”

  She still couldn’t believe she’d told Master Z no.

  He’d been so kind. He’d let her join with the proviso that if she didn’t work through her problems, she’d tell the Masters about her past, let them help, and pay a penalty for stalling.

  Hopefully, he’d forgotten. After all, she wasn’t a trainee any longer.

  And that was good—it was.

  She shook her head. At one time, she’d dreamed of a career in fashion and a gorgeous husband—a Dom—who would adore her and care for her, just as she’d adore and care for him.

  After Jarvis, her longing for that dream husband had frayed into nonexistence.

  Although one bad garment on a rack didn’t mean the entire designer line was off, and one crazy stalker didn’t mean all males were evil, she wasn’t willing to chance the risks. Being betrayed again was one thing, but having those she loved hurt? Never again.

  “Here are the beers. And that’s water for you because I know you forget to take care of yourself.” Beth returned with a half-loaded tray. She waved at Master Nolan who was pouring rum in a glass. “He’s handling the mixed drinks for you.”

  “Thank you.” Gratefully, Uzuri drank and realized she’d been thirsty. “How are Grant and Connor doing these days?”

  “They’re great.” The mention of her two soon-to-be-adopted youngsters brought a smile to Beth’s face. “Connor already has his alphabet down; he’ll be able to read before he gets out of kindergarten.”

  Uzuri smiled. “They’re amazing. Do you need a babysitter this weekend? I could use some little boy time.”

  Bottle in hand, Master Nolan looked over. “You free Sunday afternoon from two to five? We need to do something without the boys.”

  “You bet, Sir. I’m your girl.”

  “All right.” Beth grinned at Uzuri and her Master. “Shopping it is!” She danced a little in place, then hurried over to get a drink order from a Dom at the end of the bar.

  “You do have to ask for something in return, pet. That’s how it works.” A corner of Master Nolan’s mouth lifted in his version of a smile. Even having seen how sweet he was with the children, the Dom still scared her a bit. After setting the rum and Coke on her tray, he nodded at someone behind her.

  Uzuri turned to see Master Z and Alastair’s cousin, Max.

  With a frown, Max lifted his chin at Nolan in a guy greeting and moved away.

  “Z.” Nolan picked up the vodka. “Been a while since you spent an entire evening down here. Are you escaping your miniature Domme?”

  Uzuri giggled. Master Z’s daughter was around seven months now—and adorably demanding.

  “In a way. After a day with my in-laws, she and Jessica returned with a carload of presents. Every toy emits ear-splitting noises.” The most powerful Dom in the Shadowlands—probably in the world—shook his head ruefully. “I hadn’t realized my mother-in-law hated me that much.”

  Nolan’s harsh laugh burst out. “So you escaped down here?”

  “Precisely.” Master Z set his hand on Uzuri’s shoulder, warm and very firm. “I need to steal your barmaid, Nolan. Austin will fill in for the remainder of her shift.”

  Uzuri froze. “You want to talk to me?” Oh no.

  He lifted an eyebrow in reproof.

  What was wrong with her? She quickly reiterated, “You wish to talk to me, Sir?”

  “Much better. Yes, I do need to speak with you.”

  When Uzuri didn’t move, Master Z slid his hand behind her back and directed her straight toward his sanctum—although he called it his office. He didn’t speak as they walked, and her glances up at his grave face offered no insight.

  As the heavy wooden door swung shut behind them, the music and sounds of whips and flog
gers and groans faded to a low murmur. He pointed to the black leather couch and chairs in the center of the room. “Take a seat, please.”

  Nervously, she settled into a corner of the couch. Her strappy shoes sank so deep into the dark brown carpet that the strands brushed her toes.

  At his antique desk on the far side of the room, Master Z flipped through some papers. Was that her file?

  Pretending to study the prints of Titian’s Italian Renaissance nudes that decorated the cream-colored walls, she watched him. He never got less intimidating, although she wasn’t sure why. He was just a man, after all. Tall, leanly muscular, somewhere in his forties. Always in black. Like Alastair, he obviously shopped in Europe and favored impeccably tailored shirts and pants. Over the last couple of years, the silver in the black hair over his temples had widened. She’d blame Jessica, but in all reality, the bubbly blonde—and their new baby—probably kept him young.

  Silently, he crossed the room and rested a hip against the arm of the couch.

  When he crossed his arms over his chest, worry sent a cool breeze up her spine as if her back zipper had torn loose. Keeping a calm expression on her face, she gave him her attention. “Is there a problem, Sir?”

  His lips curved slightly. “Is there a reason you want to hide your reactions from me?”

  The breeze turned into a gale-force blast of anxiety. “Of course not, Sir. Am I in trouble, Sir?”

  “No, you’re not in trouble. But…your time is up, kitten. You’ve been here over two years. We agreed when you joined that if you didn’t work through your problems, the Masters would step in.”


  The slight tilt of his head invited her to protest further…at her peril. Because he was correct; she hadn’t worked through anything. She bowed her head. “Yes, Sir.”

  His voice gentled. “For the Masters to help you overcome your wariness of men, what will have to occur first?”

  Her breath caught in her throat. Oh, she knew the answer—and had avoided it. “I’ll have to tell them what happened.”

  “I’m afraid so, little one. I told you there would be a penalty for the delay, did I not?”

  Oh, no. Why did he have to have a good memory? At forty, shouldn’t he be getting a little senile or something?

  Gaze on her, he waited until she nodded her reluctant agreement.

  “You have a choice. Either discuss everything with me now. Or—and this is your penalty—you can find a male Shadowlands Master and tell him.”

  Male? She couldn’t use Mistress Anne or Olivia or Cat? “But…why?”

  “You tell me.”

  She dropped her gaze, knowing the answer. “Because I need to be able to tell any Dom I play with what happened, and I play with male Doms, so that’s who I need to talk with.”

  “Very good.” Sympathy warmed his gray eyes. “The first time is the hardest, then it will grow easier. In the future, I expect you to confide in your play partners.”

  This evening was getting worse and worse. “Yes, Sir. So…all the Masters will know?”

  “I’m sorry, little one, but yes. To help you, they have to know what caused the problem.”

  No way. She gritted her teeth. I’m out of here.

  Only this was her…her home in a way. She didn’t want to leave.

  The couch cushion compressed as he sat down beside her. He took her hand in his firm grip. “Uzuri, we are worried about you. You aren’t sleeping well. You’re tense.”

  The concern in his deep voice made her eyes burn with tears.

  “Whatever is wrong must be addressed before it becomes worse. If you prefer, you may see a counselor.”

  When she’d gone to one in Cincinnati, the therapy had helped everything except…this fear. She hadn’t wanted to admit it, but Master Z was right; it was getting worse. And if she wanted help, the Masters would need to know why. They were all about avoiding triggers and traumas while helping with problems. “Here. I want to deal with it here.”

  “All right. Who do you want to talk with?”

  Did he think she’d choose him? No, no, no, not a chance. There were rumors he could read minds, and even if he couldn’t, he was a psychologist. He’d want to talk everything to death like the counselor she’d seen. She blurted out, “Not you.”

  To her relief, he didn’t appear insulted. If anything, he looked amused. “Then?”

  Holt. She could go dump all this on Holt. Of course, as more of a friend than a lover, Holt might not be…exactly…what Master Z would consider a “play partner”. Perhaps it would be best not to mention her choice. “I’ll…I’ll find someone.”

  He considered her for a long moment. “All right. Tonight, Uzuri. No delays.”

  “Yes, Sir.”

  Chapter Four

  AFTER DOING ONE full circuit of the club without finding Holt, Uzuri started to worry. Where was he? Earlier, he’d been dungeon monitoring in the main room. Although his time would be over, he wouldn’t leave without doing a scene. Maybe he’d taken someone to the upstairs rooms? She scowled. Although the private rooms had tiny windows, she sure didn’t want to go and peer into each room to find him.

  Instead, she walked out to the foyer. “Hey, Ben.”

  The huge security guard looked up from a professional photography magazine and frowned. “Are you leaving already? Is there a problem?”

  Mistress Anne often teased him about being a worrier…and he was. “No. I’m looking for Holt. He’s still here, right?”

  “Nope. He had a flight to catch and left right after his dungeon monitoring time. Z would’ve let him skip his shift, but Holt said he might as well work.”

  Master Z had known Holt would be gone. She should’ve known being sneaky wouldn’t work with him. Anxiety shot through her. If Holt wasn’t here, who could she talk with?

  She swallowed hard. Most of the Masters were now in permanent relationships or had children, so they’d taken to rotating their nights at the club. “Which Masters are here tonight?”

  “Not many still here.” He ran his finger down the attendance record. “I got Dan, Nolan, and Sam here. Cullen and Andrea are gone. So are Sally and her crew. Jake and Rainie and Saxon left a while ago. Alastair and Max are here.”

  That’s right. Master Z had announced Max was now a Master. “That’s all?”

  “Looks like you got a problem.” He frowned at her. “Can I help?”

  The giant had a teddy-bear heart. “I’m afraid not. It’s a Master Z assignment.”

  “Ah. Good luck, then.”

  “Thanks, Ben.” Head down, she walked back into the clubroom, barely sidestepping a Domme leading her sub with a leash attached to clothespins on his balls.

  Talk to a Master. But who? Master Dan? Oh, no. Although he was a good Dom, he was also awfully strict—probably because he was also a cop.

  No cops.

  Nolan was manning the bar for the rest of the night, so he wasn’t available.

  Master Sam? No way. Although he was nice, still, he was a sadist.

  Lordy, this wasn’t good. Alastair was out. She couldn’t face him after she’d yelled at him in public. She doubted he’d have forgotten.

  What about his cousin Max? Her spirits brightened. Since Max was a brand new Master, and she didn’t know him hardly at all, he wouldn’t push her to tell him more than she wanted.

  She shivered. He was as harsh looking as Nolan and Dan—and they were very strict.

  Yet…the one time they’d met, he’d been kind of nice. Even better, he didn’t consider her a potential play partner. In fact, at Beth’s party, he’d said, “Best you leave my bag alone, pet. I don’t think we’re in the same weight class.” She might have considered his word a challenge, but his detached expression had made it clear he wasn’t attracted to her.

  But his lack of interest would make it easier to talk with him. There would be no male-female awkwardness. Since he didn’t particularly like her, he’d undoubtedly settle for a short—really short—
explanation of her past, and she could make her escape.

  As she walked through the room, she spotted him and Alastair easily enough. She grimaced. Why couldn’t Master Z select some short Masters?

  The cousins were watching a predicament bondage scene and exchanging quiet comments. As she moved to stand in front of them, her heart started pounding painfully.

  “Uzuri.” The resonance in Master Alastair’s subterranean voice was smoother than velvet stroking her skin. “Is there a problem?”

  Ben had asked her that, too. Her expression must look horrible. “Um, not exactly.” She turned her gaze to Max. Master Max.

  Silently, he regarded her with razor-sharp eyes.

  “Could I talk to you, Sir? It, um, shouldn’t take longer than five minutes.”

  His dark eyebrows lifted and then he nodded. “Whatever you need, darlin’.” To her dismay, he held his hand out to her—something he’d done the first time they’d met.

  When she put her hand in his, the stunning heat of his palm made her realize her fingers were cold. And trembling.

  His eyes narrowed, but he simply closed his fingers around hers. “Lead on, princess. Back in a few, cuz.”

  Alastair gave her a slight smile before telling Max, “I’m through for tonight, so don’t hurry on my account.”

  “See you at home then.” Max turned back to Uzuri.

  She led him to a secluded conversation area near the back where she could speak quietly.

  He’d barely seated himself on the black leather couch when she started talking, “When I joined the club, Master Z agreed that—”

  “Uzuri,” he interrupted in an even tone and motioned toward the floor.

  Oh. Right. She knelt quickly and assumed the standard position with butt on heels, backs of hands to thighs, and head bowed.

  “Better, but I want your eyes on me.”

  She lifted her gaze.

  His eyes were a breathtaking cobalt blue. When he met her gaze, the pit of her stomach did a slow slide downward. He might be new to the title of Master, but he sure wasn’t new to the lifestyle. His dominance showed in every move he made, in the power of his voice…and the controlled assessment in his gaze. Oh, she might have made a bad choice.

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