Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair

  Baggage, yes, but the rest didn’t sound like Uzuri—more like someone else. What had happened to Max in Seattle? Alastair frowned. “I like a woman who takes care of herself. High heels and a tight skirt are a definite plus.” He smiled. Even with high heels, Uzuri wouldn’t come close to his height.

  “Yeah, well… true.” Max leaned back and eyed him carefully. “Speaking of that, I saw your expression when I told Z we weren’t looking for permanent relationships. You didn’t agree.”

  Here was one reason he enjoyed his cousin so much. Not much got past the cop.

  Alastair took a sip of his drink and laid out his thoughts. “I’ve enjoyed sampling the various delights the world has to offer, but my cousin and brother, I’m ready to settle down. To find a woman to walk beside me”—he gave Max a direct look—“or beside us?”

  “Been thinking on this a while, have you?” As Max’s gaze stayed on the glittering surface of the garden pond, he murmured, “I understand about wanting someone to care for, to live with.”

  Alastair waited.

  “Since college, I’ve had long-term relationships. Been married. Always seemed like something was missing.” His gaze turned to Alastair. “Figured that missing piece might be you.”

  A pause.

  “Nothing ever felt as right as when we lived together and shared our woman.”

  “For me as well,” Alastair said softly.

  In the moment of silence, the resident screech owl gave a quiet trill from the old gnarly live oak in the backyard.

  “All right. We’ll continue on from here.” Max nodded. “We’ll look for someone who might suit us both for longer than a scene or two.”

  “How about Uzuri? Would you be interested in doing a scene with her?”

  “Seriously, cuz?” Max shook his head. “She’s got troubles.”

  “I’m not sure you’ll find anyone who doesn’t have some baggage, a few problems—and you and I aren’t exempt.”

  “Maybe. But there are problems, and there are problems.” Max scowled. “Besides, she doesn’t like dogs.”

  Alastair took a drink of his whisky, deliberated, and finally nodded. He enjoyed watching a woman primping, didn’t mind working through problems, but he wouldn’t spend time with a woman who lacked a heart.

  Chapter Five

  FINISHED WITH THEIR pre-opening meeting in Z’s third-floor living quarters, the Shadowlands Masters headed down the stairs to the first floor.

  The main topic of discussion had been Uzuri.

  As Holt followed the others across the clubroom, his gut felt as if he’d swallowed a keg of ground glass. Why hadn’t Zuri told him about her past?

  He could have helped. For God’s sake, she’d been there for him often enough. Like when a building had collapsed during a fire, almost killing him. Another firefighter had died that day. His friend. And tenderhearted Zuri had moved in for two days while Holt recovered—and mourned.

  As Holt entered the Masters’ private locker room, Z walked over.

  “What’s up, Z?” Hand on his lock, Holt turned to face the older Dom. Around him, the room was filled with conversations, lockers banging, and laughter.

  “About Uzuri. She would have told you. She looked for you.” All in black, Z studied Holt for a moment. “I waited until you’d left before forcing her to talk with someone.”

  Holt stiffened at the sense of betrayal. “Why, Z? You know we’re friends.”

  “Whether she admits it to herself or not, she wants someone to love. A Dom of her own. Until she faces her fears—and can discuss them with possible Doms—she won’t move forward.”

  Anger fading, Holt leaned against the locker. He’d never known anyone more loving than Zuri, but the chemistry had never been there between them. After a while, they’d abandoned being casual lovers in preference to being close friends.

  As a Dom, he’d never seen her as his submissive. Hell. He’d let her down. “I should have pushed her. Dug more into her past.”

  “No,” Z said softly. “That wasn’t your task. Isn’t your task. We’re going to leave that to others.”

  Holt eyed him. A psychologist and Dominant, Z had as much need to “help” as Holt did. If the owner of the club could step back, so could Holt. “All right.”

  It helped to know Uzuri had wanted to tell him. “Thanks for the info.”

  Z nodded and headed to the main room.

  Unbuttoning his shirt with one hand, Holt unlocked the combination lock and opened his locker. To disaster.

  A deluge of Styrofoam poured out of the high locker and onto his head and shoulders. “What the fuck!”

  The laughter of the other Masters echoed off the walls.

  A blond Ken doll in a football uniform sat on the bottom of the locker. A fucking doll. Holt looked down at the sea of colored Styrofoam balls around his feet. The tennis-ball-sized ones were orange and white, some with an orange and black-striped “B.” For the Cincinnati Bengals.

  The rest were gold-and-red with a black, red, and gold “SF” for the San Francisco 49ers. His team. Insultingly, those balls were golf-ball size. Smaller.

  A growl escaped. “That little brat.”

  One hand on her pregnant belly, Anne shook her head. “I’d take balls over rubber cockroaches any day.” She was actually laughing as she left the locker room.

  Holt frowned. Couldn’t she see the fucking insult his team had been given? The Mistress must be lacking the sports gene.

  “What’s with the balls?” The newest Master, Max, walked in late followed by his cousin. As Alastair went to his locker, Max stopped to examine the mess. “You redecorating the place?”

  “Hell, no.”

  “Very colorful.” With his foot, Raoul nudged a stray ball back into the mess. “Who do you think? Rainie, Sally, or Uzuri? Or all three?”

  “Uzuri did this,” Holt told him. The doll was a dead give-away. “The Cincinnati Bengals are her team.”

  “Uzuri? Get real.” Max snorted. “She hasn’t got the balls.”

  The remaining Masters in the room laughed, more at Max’s lack of understanding than the pun.

  “My friend,” Raoul said to Max as he turned to leave, “You are very mistaken.”

  Walking by, Cullen slapped Max across the back. “Don’t piss her off, buddy. She keeps score.”

  “No shit.” Holt grinned at Max. He’d bet money the little brat would eventually target the two new Masters.

  “How’d you get on her bad side, Holt?” Vance’s blue eyes were lit with amusement.

  “Hell, we were meeting for dinner last week, but the game I was watching ran into overtime, and I was late.” Not that late. Damn.

  “Ah, and thus the hit to your balls.” Vance grinned.

  “My Gabi can be a brat”—Marcus shook his head in admiration at the mess—“but that li’l Uzuri has a pure talent for sneakiness.”

  “No shit,” Holt muttered. How the hell had she opened the combination lock? Ignoring the pile of balls on the floor until later, he followed the others out of the room.

  STILL BEMUSED BY the insult a submissive had delivered to Holt, Max walked into the main clubroom with Holt behind him.

  What caught his eye first was Uzuri on the other side of the dance floor. She saw Holt, and her face lit with mischief and laughter—a completely compelling mixture.

  Unsettled, Max looked away, then blinked at the changes in the room. The St. Andrew’s crosses, spanking benches, spider webs, cages, stockades—every piece of equipment had been pushed against the walls and thigh-high and calf-high ropes blockaded them off.

  A series of runner carpets laid end-to-end circled the perimeter of the room like a racetrack.

  The sitting areas with leather couches and chairs and coffee tables remained, but the empty floor spaces were now cushioned with mattresses, exercise mats, and blankets.

  “I should’ve checked the Shadowlands newsletter before coming,” he muttered to Alastair. Or managed to clear out his caseload
so he could arrive in time for the Masters’ meeting.

  From Alastair’s rueful nod, he hadn’t read his email, either.

  “Welcome to ‘Lights Out in Rome’.” Z strolled into the center of the room.

  As everyone moved closer to hear, Max noticed people were wearing casual clothing instead of fetwear.

  Z continued. “During the Masters’ dinner last month, we got caught up in a discussion of two things: how the modern environment overloads our senses, forcing us to shutter our perceptions in self-defense, and how preconceptions influence how we respond to others.

  That was pretty much a given, Max thought. Cities contained too much noise, odors, and visual stimuli.

  Preconceptions? Hell, as a cop, it was a constant battle to avoid stereotyping the people he dealt with. In turn, the minute he said he was a cop, he’d get tagged as either a rescuer or a brutal asshole.

  Z motioned to the room. “Tonight, we will eliminate sight and hearing. The room will be darkened with only mandatory exit and restroom signs lit—although they’ll be dimmed. To prevent accidents, everyone will crawl. No walking. No standing.”

  He waited for the murmuring to die. “Silence will rule. No one may speak. Negotiating won’t be possible, thus, sexual play is limited to fingers and mouths.” He half-smiled. “No fucking, people. No toys. Penetration is only with fingers and tongues. This is sensory play. Light pain is permitted, but since you can’t see, impact play is forbidden.”

  Max raised his eyebrows. Interesting.

  “For those in an exclusive relationship, your submissive must wear ankle and wrist cuffs to indicate he or she is off the market and will wear a tag that will glow when in close proximity with yours. If you’re a single Dom and find a subbie wearing ankle and wrist cuffs, let her go. You may only play with uncuffed submissives. A single Dom who catches a submissive can keep or release.”

  Two of the Masters, Vance and Galen, were handing out elastic bracelets with tags.

  “Questions?” When Z received only silence, he continued. “Movement is regulated by drums and bells. If you play, continue until the bell sounds. When the bell rings, clean up the subbie and yourself. At the double bell, all unattached subbies return to the perimeter carpet and continue along it. A drum is the signal for the submissives to crawl toward the center of the room.”

  Max glanced around. So each Dom should set up somewhere. Reminded him of lions waiting to capture prey at a watering hole.

  “Silence will be enforced,” Z said. “As always, you may use club safeword red to stop all play. Any other sound will be noted and punished afterward.”

  Someone in the crowd cleared his throat. “What about using yellow to indicate a need to slow down?”

  “No.” The Shadowlands’ owner crossed his arms over his chest. “That means the Top needs to go carefully, to use all senses—especially touch—to read how the bottom is reacting.”

  Max nodded. Interesting lesson in paying attention. Fun game. He glanced at Alastair and raised his eyebrows to ask silently if this would be a team or solo night.

  Alastair held up two fingers to say they’d top together.

  “To quit before the end of the game, simply stand up and wait. A dungeon monitor will escort you to the door.” Z nodded toward Marcus and Raoul who held armloads of white garments. “Doms, Tops, and Masters wear togas. Switches—wear a toga if you want to top.”

  Max almost laughed at the uneasy silence that fell. No submissive wanted to be the one to ask.

  To his surprise, Uzuri spoke up. “Master Z? Wh-what do the submissives, bottoms, and slaves wear, Sir?” Her soft voice was tentative—but sweet. So fucking sweet.

  Laughter glinted in Z’s eyes. “I thought I’d make it easy for you tonight, pet. You’re all going naked. If your hair is longer than three inches, braid it back. There are ties in the dressing rooms.”

  * * * * *

  THE BELL RANG through the clubroom.

  Uzuri smothered her sigh of relief as the Dom who’d “caught” her released her breast with an annoyed grunt.

  Thank goodness this session was over. All the previous periods in Master Z’s crazy “game” had been fairly long; this one had begun only a few minutes before.

  Then again, Master Z did like to mess with everyone’s minds—and he had her gratitude.

  Her first three Doms had been fun, but this guy was clueless about reading her body language—or he simply didn’t care. Her nipples burned from his pinches, and a couple of times, she’d actually shoved his hands away. He sure didn’t know the meaning of “light” pain.

  He slapped some clean wipes in her palm and set her hand on his dick. So she could wash him?

  Aren’t I grateful. With some Doms, she’d do anything to please them; with others, she’d rather squeeze their balls into jelly.

  Quickly, she cleaned him—although it wasn’t needed—and had barely enough time to wipe his touch off of her skin before the two bells sounded.

  After tossing the wipes in a service station, she crawled away as fast as she could. The faint glow from the wall baseboards was barely enough to guide her to the “road” around the room’s perimeter. Feeling the velvety texture of the carpet under her hands, she headed toward her right—the correct flow of traffic. The soundtrack from Gladiator covered the sounds of breathing and knees thudding, and she bumped into the other submissives around her. The Doms stayed in place, waiting for new subbies to venture into their lairs.

  Master Z sure came up with strange games.

  The drums didn’t sound, so she kept crawling and crawling.

  Did Master Z have a reason for when he’d start and stop the sessions? He could see the room, after all, since he and the devious dungeon monitors had donned night-vision goggles. That was actually reassuring. Apparently the “no speaking” ruled didn’t apply to the dungeon monitors since earlier, Master Raoul had reprimanded a Dom for being too rough, and Master Marcus told a slave to stop stalling and get off the road.

  A roll of drums sounded. Time for the submissives to head toward the center of the room.

  Uzuri hesitated. The last Dom had wiped out a lot of her enthusiasm. Her knees were getting sore, too. With a sigh, she crawled across the floor, ran into a mattress, and detoured around it. She brushed against someone and startled. They both stopped, but her shoulder was rubbing against a man’s bare side, so he was another bottom.

  Without speaking, she turned away at an angle and continued.

  Her hand bumped another mattress, and she started to back away.

  Fingers closed around her wrist, halting her. Like a predator lying in wait, a Dom had felt the thump and snagged her. His hand was big—huge—and her heart skipped a beat.

  But in the dark, she couldn’t see his height or size. Couldn’t tell if he really was big. Some short men had large hands, right? And, although he guided her firmly onto the mattress, his grip was controlled—not painful or mean like the last Dom.

  When she was in the center, he squeezed her wrist slightly, so she stopped crawling, remaining on hands and knees. Not releasing her wrist, he stroked down her back, slowly. Sensuously. His palm was hard and callused.

  Fingers under her chin lifted her head. A hand cupped her face, and a slow thumb ran over her lips. This hand was smooth.

  She froze, barely breathing. A hand on her back, a hand holding her wrist—and one on her face? There were two Doms here? She couldn’t see them. Her heart rate sped up. As fear wedged a cold blade through her insides, she whimpered.

  A warm breath brushed against her ear. “Shh-shh-shh.” When he caressed her cheek reassuringly, she realized he was trying to help her avoid Master Z’s punishment for making noise.

  The other Dom’s hand rested on her back as he waited for her to relax.

  She slowly pulled in a breath. The two weren’t trying to scare her. On the contrary. Her muscles relaxed, and she bowed her head. All right.

  As if she’d spoken aloud, they started moving. Slowly
, silently, they explored her body. One ran his hands over her face, her shoulders, and arms. The other rubbed her bare feet, stroking his rough palms up her calves. He was the one who gripped her hips and rolled her onto her back.

  She gasped at the vulnerable position. Blind. She could feel them, their size and strength, looming over her. She tensed.

  Again, they waited, hands on her, but unmoving. She fought her fear back down.

  At some silent signal between them, they started again.

  The Dom kneeling beside her upper arm moved warm, firm hands over her shoulders, across her collarbone. She lifted her hands to touch him—and he pressed her arms back to her sides in an obvious order—they would be the ones doing the touching.

  And he did. His hands claimed her breasts, kneading and stroking. But when he rolled one abused nipple between his fingers, she winced.

  He stilled.

  Feeling vulnerable, she tried to sit up. Hand on her shoulder, he kept her in place. Then, a tongue ever so lightly swirled around her scraped left nipple as if to make it feel better.

  With a lingering ache, her areola wakened and puckered, and he teased his tongue over the hard nub. As his hand cupped her other breast, she realized his hands were huge.

  The Dom who’d captured her had large hands, too. How big were these two men? A warning shiver ran over her, but she couldn’t see them, and the fear stayed at bay.

  The one with callused hands knelt beside her right hip, and his soft tunic brushed against her bare skin. With both hands, he massaged her thighs, moving upward, stroking past her pussy to her waist and back down.

  The other Dom remained beside her left shoulder. Releasing her breasts, he kissed her. His lips were soft, gentle, and ever so sensuous. He lightly teased her mouth and nibbled her lips until she opened. His tongue took possession as his long-fingered hand curved under her chin and along her jawline, letting him control the kiss.

  When his face brushed hers, she felt a short, trimmed beard. Each breath brought her the fragrance of a spicy citrus and vetiver aftershave. Was his kiss familiar?

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