Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair


  “That’s better.” His voice, less deep than Alastair’s, held a dark roughness. “What did Master Z agree to?”

  She swallowed. Wrap this up in a few sentences. “He agreed I didn’t have to talk about my past if I worked things out on my own, but I didn’t, so I need to tell you what happened to me, and then you need to tell the other Masters.”

  He frowned. “Tell the others? Isn’t that an invasion of your privacy?”

  His displeasure on her behalf was…was heartening. “Master Z says the Masters can’t help me if they don’t know the cause.”

  “Well, hell. He has a point.” He studied her a second. “Okay. Tell me.”

  “Years ago, I broke off dating a guy, and he turned into a stalker for months and then beat me up. So I’m a little”—a lot—“scared of big men.” She pulled in a breath. There. Done. “That’s all.”

  He stared at her, muscles tense. His square jaw had turned to stone.

  She jumped to her feet. “Thank—”

  “Stop. Did I say you could rise?”

  She froze in place.

  “A stalker, huh?” After a second, he took a slow, audible breath. He pointed to the floor, then leaned back, arms outstretched along the back of the couch.

  As she sank back to her knees, she realized his posture was that of a Dom settling in to spend some time. Her mouth went dry.

  “What was the name of your stalker?”

  “Jarvis.”

  He made a keep-going motion with his fingers until she added, “Jarvis Kassab.”

  “Now give me a description.”

  A description of Jarvis? He was so huge and heavy that he had blocked out all the light in the room as he stood over her. His shouting had hurt her ears as his dark face had contorted with rage. Waving the knife, he’d splattered her blood on the walls.

  Her hands clenched. Iron bands of fear locked around her chest until she couldn’t draw a breath.

  “Whoa, baby, take it easy now.” Slowly, Max sat forward. With carefully controlled strength, he gripped her arms and pulled her between his legs, then set her forearms on his thighs.

  Shivering, she looked down, staring at the floor, still hearing the screams, the shouting.

  “Look at me, darlin’.”

  When she managed to look up, the sharpness of his eyes sliced through her memories, cutting the ties to the past. He rested warm hands on her shoulders. “When you kneel before me, you are under my protection. Nothing and no one will hurt you. Do you understand that?”

  The absolute certainty in his growling voice wrapped around her, swaddling her in safety. “Yes, Sir,” she whispered.

  “Good. Now describe this asshole, Jarvis Kassab.” The low anger in his voice said he was on her side.

  “You believe me?”

  His chuckle was a rasping sound as he stroked a callused finger along her jawline. “You’re a beauty, but you don’t have the skills to lie to me. I believe you.”

  That was almost insulting, yet she flushed. He thought her beautiful?

  “A description of Kassab, please.”

  “Your height, but wider. Heavier,” she whispered. Alastair was like a sleekly muscled racehorse. Max was a Percheron, a draft horse—more muscular and still beautiful. Jarvis was a…a rhino—heavy and ungainly from top to bottom. “Black hair, black eyes. Skin about my shade only his undertone is more taupe than umber.”

  “What the hell is ‘tope’?”

  She looked into the confused, so very male expression. “T-A-U-P-E. Taupe. It’s more grayish-brown than umber’s golden-brown color.”

  “Of course.” He gave her an easy-to-read look, as in why didn’t she just say that before?

  And somehow, she’d relaxed. Okay, tell him about Jarvis. “Jarvis and I are both biracial; that’s why we started talking. He understood how it is to be in the middle. Not truly white. Never black enough.”

  Oh lord, what was she saying? This Dom was white, wouldn’t have a clue.

  However, he nodded. “Alastair ran into that—hell, he’s not only West African and white but has some Japanese tossed in. Even so, he’s not the type to let it bother him. England’s more civilized, anyway.” When he curled his fingers around her forearm, warmth seeped into her bones. “How did you and Jarvis start dating? Were you intimate?”

  Intimate. Her instinctive retreat was cut short by his unyielding grip. Oh, talking with him was such a bad decision. Master Sam didn’t like to talk. Even being a sadist, he wouldn’t have been this…difficult.

  “Answer me, Uzuri.”

  “I went to an all-girls high school and had only started dating and wasn’t impressed by guys my age.” She’d been so naïve and ignorant. “I met Jarvis, and he was older and always seemed to know what he was doing. He took me to my first BDSM play parties and clubs. I was, uh…”

  “A new subbie.” Max nodded. “Overwhelmed by the power dynamics and unable to separate the desire for submission from what you felt for the man?”

  Her eyes opened wide. “Yes.” That was exactly what had happened. Before Jarvis, she’d believed herself skilled at differentiating good people from bad people. Afterward, she no longer trusted herself at all. Only maybe she did have those skills and had merely been blinded by her fascination with BDSM. The realization eased a worry inside her.

  “What happened?”

  “He got serious and was calling me all the time, even at work, and insisted I spend all my time with him. I realized he wasn’t quite right and refused to see him. And one night, he was waiting outside my apartment, and he yelled at me and backhanded me.”

  The hand resting on her forearm clenched, then relaxed. Max’s voice held no expression. “What did you do?”

  “I grabbed my phone and started to dial 911 while I yelled at him that he wasn’t anything to me. He left when my neighbors came out.”

  “Good for you.” The open approval in Max’s voice was heartening. “But he didn’t accept the breakup?”

  “He kept following me and calling me. I changed my number and got an unlisted one twice, and he still managed to find out what it was. He broke into my place and destroyed things, and I’d see him…everywhere I went. Across the street, on the other side of a bar, standing outside my apartment. If I visited anyone, they got harassed, too.” That had been horrible, realizing she’d caused them trouble.

  “How long did this go on? Did you get the police involved?”

  “Almost a year, and yes. However, there wasn’t much they could do. He was…careful.” Her friends had pulled away—and she had, too, to keep them safe. Feeling trapped, she’d begun to despair. “I was arranging to move—to escape him—and he found out and broke into my apartment in the middle of the night and…lost it.”

  “Lost it how?”

  She stared down, seeing how Max had trapped her between his long legs.

  He cupped her chin and forced her to look at him. “Uzuri. Tell me how badly he hurt you.” A Dom’s command.

  “He sliced me up a bit. Dislocated my shoulder. Gave me cuts and bruises.” In her nightmares, she’d hear herself begging and screaming. He’d kicked her—his boots had been… Not wanting to remember more, she breathed out, trying to relax her muscles.

  His gaze didn’t waver. He knew.

  She bit her lips and finished. “He kicked me and broke my ribs and…my jaw.” The horrible cracking sound, the rush of blood, hot and liquid, the sharp, burning pain. “And he had a knife.” He’d sliced across her stomach. Lightly. Pressed harder. She shook her head, pushing away the memory, the despair, the knowledge he was going to kill her. “The neighbors called the police, and they broke down the door.”

  “Caught him dead to rights with a deadly weapon. Good.” A muscle stood out in Max’s cheek. “I assume he landed in prison?”

  “He did.” Uzuri let the silence hang before asking, “Can I go now?”

  “Did this happen in Pinellas or Hillsborough County?”

  “In Cincinnati.” Star
ing at the ground, she trembled.

  “Ohio?” His gaze was a palpable warmth on her skin. “He was in prison, but you moved all the way here. Why?”

  “I couldn’t…settle. I kept thinking I saw him somewhere, or I’d hear him breaking in, or I’d think I saw him standing over my bed. Even knowing he was locked up didn’t help.”

  “Makes sense. Memories are hardwired to your senses, so even a scent or sound would bring everything back.” He sounded as if he knew that from personal experience. His easy understanding relaxed a knot in her belly. “So you moved here, settled down. And found the Shadowlands?”

  “I’d hoped to join the club, but when Master Z tried to discuss my past, I, um, refused.” She lifted her eyes. “You know him. He wanted to help. To talk about it. I wanted the door to the past kept closed.” And locked.

  “Yep, that’s Z.” A laugh line deepened beside Max’s mouth. “Sounds as if that closed door isn’t working for you.” The words were a statement with no judgment.

  “I was doing better.”

  He gave her a look.

  With a huff of resignation, she added, “For a while.”

  “Okay. Tell me about the problems you’re having now.”

  “What?” She stared at him. “Master Z said I had to tell you about my past. Not more.”

  His hand on her shoulder tightened as if he knew she wanted to scramble to her feet. “Uzuri, you take orders from Master Z. Unfortunately, since Z stuck that ‘Master’ title on my name, you also take orders from me.” The five-o’clock shadow couldn’t disguise the stern set of his jaw.

  Stubborn, stupid, damn Dom. She tried to glare at him and…couldn’t.

  “When we met at Nolan and Beth’s party, you were afraid of me. Are you scared of all men or just big men or just pushy men?”

  “Big men.” Well, Holt was tall, but she wasn’t afraid of him. Wasn’t that odd? But he never looked at her like…like… “Big men who see me as…um, as…”

  As someone to fuck.

  After a second, comprehension lit his face. “Men who have a sexual interest in you?”

  She nodded.

  He considered her for a moment. “I’ve seen you play here”—his lips twitched—“with short guys. Do you take them home?”

  She shook her head.

  “Date them?”

  She shook her head.

  “Date anyone?”

  She shook her head.

  “Baby, that’s not good.” He frowned. “Do you have other friends—girlfriends—who visit you at home and you hang out with?”

  “Yes, I spend lots of time with my friends.” Her voice came out stiff. She wasn’t a recluse. But…she didn’t date, and his reaction made her think. Guys asked her out often, but she shut them down. Every time. She’d thought she was doing fairly well and believed her problem was only with large males. Apparently, her past was affecting…everything.

  “Okay.” His uncomfortably acute gaze penetrated deep, past skin and muscle and down to her very core. “Are you getting more comfortable around men—or is it getting worse?”

  Her spine stiffened.

  “Worse, then.” He tilted his head. “Is the perp still in prison?”

  The chill in her center sent a shiver across her skin. “He got out last spring.”

  “Ah, I see.” His gaze was too perceptive. “Has he tried to contact you? Or shown up here?”

  “No. I know he’s still working there. I told Mistress Anne I had an ex who worried me, so she checks now and then to make sure he’s still in Cincinnati.” The Mistress had promised not to share with anyone.

  “Clever girl.”

  At his open approval, she relaxed—and realized he was rubbing her arm reassuringly. The desire to stay sheltered between his legs was so very potent she knew she needed to leave immediately. “Can I go now?”

  “Hmm.” His assessing gaze swept over her like a soft breeze. “All right, darlin’. You’ve satisfied Z’s order. I’ll talk with him, and he’ll take it from there.”

  When he opened his legs and lifted his hand, she clambered to her feet too quickly to be graceful. Taking a couple of steps back—as if that would escape a Master’s voice—she fought for control and evened her voice. “Thank you, Master Max.”

  “Just Max. I don’t hold much with titles.” He lifted his chin. “Scoot now. Go have some fun and forget about working the rest of the night. I’ll let Nolan know.”

  “Yes, Sir.” Before he could change his mind, she scurried away. Halfway across the room, she slowed and frowned. “He’ll take it from there.” From the tone and the words, Max didn’t plan to be involved. He’d hand over her problems to Master Z and step away.

  That was good, wasn’t it? She set a hand on her quivering stomach. She could still feel the warmth of his hand on her arm, the strength of his fingers when she’d tried to move away. He was…strong. Careful. In control and in command.

  At one time, he’d have been the answer to all her dreams, the hero who saved the maiden from villains.

  This hero had been awfully nice, but was going to let someone else do the rest of the saving. That was…all right. Really.

  Although it kind of hurt.

  * * * * *

  INSIDE THE SCREENED-IN area behind their house, Alastair settled into a chair and stretched out his legs with a sigh. Bless, Beth. When the landscape designer, a Shadowlands submissive, had renovated the grounds, she’d added a garden “room” with a small two-level pond on the right side of the patio.

  Although he’d thought the idea was a bit odd, he’d come to appreciate the tranquility it offered. With a melodic burble, water from the upper tier trickled over rocks into the lower pond. Small solar lights were hidden in the dwarf cattails, iris, and cannas around the edge. In the dark water, the bright goldfish were golden flickers around the night-blooming water lilies.

  As he sipped his Laphroaig, savoring the soft smoky taste of the whisky, he considered the evening. The scene they’d done with Alyssa had been pleasant, although shallow. A different submissive might have added depth and emotions to the session. With Alyssa, no bond had been created between the three of them.

  And here he was at home—alone. With a sigh, he shook his head. How could he feel pleased at the quiet and yet lonely?

  It was good to live with Max again. Although they’d managed brilliantly when rooming together at university, he’d been unsure if sharing a home again would work.

  Of course, after summers of volunteering in third world countries and a year with Doctors Without Borders, he was accustomed to crowded conditions. In fact, this house had seemed far too empty at first.

  Max’s company was as enjoyable as ever, which wasn’t surprising. His cousin had always been his best friend—and a blood brother, for that matter.

  Alastair snorted. As lads, they’d done the entire wrist-cutting, blood-brother ceremony. An ugly scar on his wrist demonstrated that his first “surgical” cut had almost been his last. Considering the amount of blood spilled, they were definitely “brothers”.

  He had to admit, Max’s absence had left a hole in his life. It was good to have him back.

  A shadow blocked the light, and then Max set down a glass filled with dark beer, lowered himself into a chair, and stretched out his legs. Shirt off, feet bare, obviously home for the night. “Hey, Doc. You been out here all night?”

  “No.” Alastair took a sip of his whisky. “I called Mum first to wish her a happy birthday.”

  “Jesus, cuz. Isn’t it the middle of the night in London?”

  “It’s around dawn—and the best time to catch her. I daresay someone will be showing her a good time tonight.” His mother had a multitude of relationships going at any one time.

  “No shit.” Max grinned. “She’s something. You know, if I weren’t related to her, I might have made a pass. I could have been her boy toy.”

  “That would have lasted until the first time she gave you an order in the bedroom.” Alastai
r grinned. His mother didn’t have a submissive bone in her body, and as a neurosurgeon, she expected everyone to dance to her tune. Max could take orders or he wouldn’t have lasted as a Marine, but he was completely a sexual Dominant.

  And thinking of “mother” and “sex” at the same time was enough to make a bloke vomit. Alastair took a bigger drink and asked, “What did Uzuri want to see you about? Or is it private?”

  “Not private, though I bet she’d prefer that. Her deal with Z was she’d tell a Master why she’s so wary around men, and the information gets shared with all the Masters. Why the fuck she picked me, I don’t know.”

  Alastair frowned. Max was as dominant and experienced as any Master there. But…ah. He saluted his cousin with his drink. “You’re the new chap on the block. Maybe she thought you’d let her get away with evasion.”

  That couldn’t have worked well for her. The homicide detective disliked secrets.

  “Well, damn. Here I figured she’d picked me for my good looks.” Dipping his toes in the pool, Max watched the goldfish surface to investigate. “She didn’t get to evade shit—and gotta say, she’s fun to listen to. When she gets nervous, all her sentences run together.”

  Alastair grinned. He’d noticed.

  “Anyway,” Max continued, “her story goes like this: She used to live in Cincinnati, but…”

  As Max explained, Alastair’s anger ignited. The little submissive had been stalked. Frightened. Hurt. Had been so traumatized she’d fled her own city. “If she’s afraid of big men, why would she ask Sam to set up a scene with me last year?”

  “She said she’d done better for a while.” Max frowned. “Bet Kassab’s release from prison set her back. I should have asked more about that.”

  Yes, someone needed to explore further. Alastair reined his protective instincts in. She hadn’t asked to confide in him; she’d wanted Max. “You can do that next time you talk.”

  “There is no next time.” Max yanked his foot out of the pond. “She’s not mine. I’m not open to taking on a subbie with baggage, especially this kind. Or a woman who’d cry if a fingernail breaks or take hours to get ready to go out for lunch.” The bitterness in his voice was a tale in itself.

 
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