Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair

In his mental tally, that gave a woman a slew of points.

  He almost grinned as he realized he was keeping points like the women he’d overheard in a bar last month. Jesus. They’d rated men on shit he’d never considered important. Could give a guy a complex.

  A burst of laughter drew his attention back to Uzuri—or Zuri as the children called her. Her appearance was different today. She’d put her kinky, black hair into a half-dozen twists fastened at her nape, probably so she could swim with the boys. She wore no makeup, and although she looked beautiful with makeup, he almost liked her more without. Her velvety, seal-brown eyes sure didn’t need any enhancement, and her skin was like poured chocolate begging a man to take a lick. That won her several points in his mental tally.

  Amused, he subtracted points for the crease in her shorts. Who the hell ironed denim shorts?

  Rather than a T-shirt, she wore a button-up shirt, but he couldn’t object to the tailoring that showed off her curvy shape. That one broke even.

  She was barefooted though, and she had incredibly sexy feet. Having been married to a fashionista, he knew manicures and pedicures were a black hole for dollars, but…the pink polish on her delicate toes was as sexy as hell.

  For all he knew, she might do them herself.

  When Connor snuggled closer to her, Max knew he’d been wrong with his worries about her babysitting. Apparently, even if she didn’t like animals, she enjoyed children. The boys obviously adored her, and although most kids could be fooled, survivors of abusive or drug-laden households learned to pick up if someone was faking their friendship.

  Still… Merely because she was one of the prettiest women he’d ever seen didn’t mean he was going to change his mind about getting to know her. Hating animals was a deal-breaker. Sure, the way she unconsciously cuddled the boys against her was eroding his brain cells, but he wasn’t about to let his hormones choose his actions.

  He’d grown out of that right around his second year of college.

  Okay, then. Mind cleared, he leaned back in his chair, relaxed, and enjoyed the story, right along with the kids.

  UZURI WAS READING the last paragraph when the sound of the garage door going up drifted into the house. Thank the heavens, Nolan and Beth were back.

  Long legs stretched out, Max was still lounging in the chair across from her and the boys. His arms were crossed over his muscular chest so that the sleeves of his T-shirt strained around his biceps. In the clear light coming through the patio doors, his eyes were the mesmerizing color of ultramarine, as deep and changeable as the sea the color was named for. His face was weathered to a dark tan that made his eyes even more striking. Barely brushing his shoulders, his wavy, brown hair looked…soft. Touchable.

  Had he been one of the Doms who played with her last night?

  To keep from being identified, the longer-haired Doms had tied their hair back. Dom Captor’s jaw had been rough. Although Max was clean-shaven, she’d bet he had serious stubble after a day’s time. She looked at his hands to see if they were callused.

  What would she do if they were?

  Nothing.

  She still couldn’t believe she’d been touched by two Doms at once. She’d never, ever thought she’d like being with two men, yet it had been as exciting as it was scary. Whoever they were, they had been wonderfully patient. And sweet. She remembered the one Dom’s low “Shhh” when she’d made a noise. A shiver ran through her.

  “Uzuri?” Grant asked.

  She jerked back to reality and met Max’s perceptive gaze. He’d caught her staring at him. She felt herself flush—again—and could only be grateful that she didn’t turn a revealing beet-red color like most of her friends. A girl of color enjoyed the few advantages the world gave her.

  Hastily, she said, “Go meet your parents, guys.”

  Two sets of wide brown eyes focused on her.

  “Parents. That’s like a mother and father, right?” Grant’s voice was timid.

  “A mommy and daddy?” Connor whispered.

  Oh, she’d stepped in it now. She knew Beth and Nolan hadn’t talked with the boys about calling them anything other than Beth and Nolan. After all, their mother had just died last summer. But… Beth had said she wanted to be called Mom or Mommy, but was afraid to bring it up. Uzuri bit her lip, seeing the hope in Connor’s eyes. Feeling the trembling of Grant’s hand. I think the time for slow is over.

  Uzuri smiled and said firmly, “Exactly like a mommy and daddy or mom and dad. When you’re ready, you can call them that.”

  That was all it took.

  The boys raced across the house toward the garage. Connor was yelling, “Mommy, Mommy!” Grant was right behind him with a, “Daaaad.”

  Imagining the look on Beth’s face, Uzuri felt her eyes fill with tears.

  The cushions beside her compressed as Max sat down and held out a tissue. “Good job, darlin’. I bet Beth is bawling her eyes out, too.”

  When she looked up…and up…at him, his sheer size stunned her, and she froze. After a second, she whispered, “Get back.”

  “Uzuri.” His chiding tone drew her attention to his face and the sympathy in his eyes. “I know you’re frightened, but am I sitting all that close to you?”

  She checked the space between them. A polite couple of feet. The problem was…he was so menacingly tall. “Please move,” she whispered.

  “I will if you seriously need me to, but I’d rather you found your courage instead.” His gaze stayed level. “Baby, I’m not going to haul off and wallop you.” He snorted. “Actually, to get me to hit you, we’d have to negotiate first, and you might have to beg. I’m not much into hurting subbies.”

  Her mouth dropped open at how bluntly he brought up a subject that wasn’t discussed in polite society.

  He didn’t move.

  Then again, he never had, had he? He was still holding the tissue out, forcing her with silent pressure to shake off her paralysis and take the Kleenex.

  She turned her head away.

  “Don’t be a rude little submissive,” he said gently.

  Rude? She stared at him in shock. She was never rude. Unable to endure the directness of his gaze, she looked down, trying not to hunch her shoulders. Yet he was correct. He’d politely brought her a tissue. He’d complimented her and said she’d done well. He hadn’t sat too close.

  She was acting as if he carried a disease.

  “I’m sorry,” she said to her hands. Courage, girl. Hauling in a breath, she straightened and plucked the tissue from his hand. Watching to make sure he didn’t move, she wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry for being discourteous.”

  “No problem. I hear worse from my partner all day.” His blue eyes narrowed to a painful intensity. “As you wanted, I told Z everything you said. Did you two talk?”

  “He said he’s going to let the Masters—and me—mull everything over. And see how things go. If he needs to, he’ll step in.”

  Really, Max had been much easier to confide in, and wasn’t that strange?

  “It’s good he won’t let you coast forever. He shouldn’t have waited so long to begin with.” At her scowl, the laugh lines at the corners of Max’s eyes deepened. “I know you didn’t want to discuss your past. But fear has to be faced, baby, or it’ll come back at awkward times.”

  “I don’t—”

  “Like when somebody offers you a Kleenex.” His smile changed his entire face. From cold, controlled, and dangerous to sexy, fun, and charismatic.

  She couldn’t pull her gaze away, and heat wafted over her skin.

  His eyebrows lifted, prompting her for a response.

  “Um. Right. I’ll get right on that, Sir.” With the way he exuded dominance, she couldn’t hold back the honorific, even though they weren’t at the club. But, even when merely sitting and talking, he was so completely in charge that her stomach got all hot and melty.

  “I’m serious, baby. You need to work on that fear of yours. You got any ideas on what might help get you past it???
?

  “I don’t want to talk about this.”

  “Yeah? Sucks to be you, because it’s what we’re discussing. Answer my question.”

  The heat this time was purely from anger. How dare he push her? And what in the world was keeping Beth and Nolan? “I don’t know what would help. I try not to think about it.” She glared at him. “I’ve tried hard not to think about the past. Having it—”

  Her explanation was interrupted when Connor and Grant darted into the room.

  “Zuri, Beff—Mommy—is back,” Connor shouted.

  Grant bounced up and down in excitement. “Zuri, Nolanman got us bikes.”

  “Did he?” Uzuri rose and held out her hands. “Let’s go see.”

  As they exited the room, she glanced over her shoulder. Max still sat on the couch, arms spread across the back, simply…watching…her.

  A shiver, both hot and cold, ran down her spine.

  Chapter Seven

  IN A DUNGEON monitor’s gold-trimmed vest, Alastair strolled through the Shadowlands, inspecting the various scenes. He had a small pack clipped to his belt containing the necessary tools. The contents reminded him of a doctor’s bag: bandage scissors, gauze pads, alcohol swabs, and latex gloves. A small flashlight was clipped to the outside. As usual, he tried to be prepared for anything. Saturday nights in the club tended to be quite busy.

  He stopped at a St. Andrew’s cross to help Olivia release her submissive. Still in subspace, the bottom couldn’t support her own weight, so he scooped her up and laid her on a couch outside the roped-off area.

  “Thank you, Alastair.” In a black biker jacket and black leather pants, her honey-colored hair cut short and wickedly spiked with gel, the Mistress looked as if she’d be able to handle any problems that came her way.

  “You’re quite welcome.”

  “I haven’t played with her before, and even with a light scene, she went deeper than I’d expected.” Olivia’s British accent was a pleasant hint of home.

  “You’ll be ready next time.” With a nod, he continued on his rounds.

  Over the next hour, he wandered the club.

  He provided some gauze to a Top who’d flogged open a strip of skin on his partner.

  Hearing a “red, red” from a scene area, Alastair headed there quickly, but the Dom had heeded the safeword. He was already releasing the terrified-looking young man from the stocks. From the looks of it, the submissive had panicked simply from being restrained.

  That happened.

  The Dom was caring for the submissive appropriately. Very good.

  Alastair detoured to check on a needle play scene with an appallingly noisy submissive. She’d scream. When the Dom would stop, she’d apologize, “I’m sorry, Sir. No, I’m fine, keep going.” With the next insertion, she’d scream again.

  Bloody hell, she would have driven him bonkers. Maybe he should advise her Dom that Masters could call off scenes as easily as submissives. However, the Dom was experienced. If he continued, he probably had a reason.

  A glance at the clock told Alastair his stint of monitoring was over. As he moved toward the bar, he listened to the ethereal voices of Switchblade Symphony coming from the hidden speakers in the room. He’d forgotten how much he liked the Serpentine album.

  “You had a nice busy shift, eh, buddy.” Serving as the bartender, Cullen handed over a Tanqueray and tonic. “Olivia said to tell you thanks again.”

  “Did the submissive come out of it all right?” Alastair savored the drink.

  “She did. Sounded like she went deeper than Olivia expected. But apparently, they’d already made plans for the subbie to spend the night with her. She’ll be safe enough.” Cullen frowned. “It’d be nice if Olivia kept someone more than a week rather than roving from girl to girl.”

  “Some Dominants prefer not to”—Alastair grinned—“be tied down.”

  “I felt that way right up until a sassy wench begged—pleaded, actually—for me to marry her and make her an honest woman.” Cullen winked at Alastair.

  Cullen had regaled the Masters with the herculean effort he’d made to get Andrea even to consider marriage. Alastair smothered a smile. “Begged you? Pitiful. Where was her sense of dignity?”

  An affronted gasp came from the stunning Hispanic submissive who was drawing a beer. “I never begged.” Her amber eyes sparked fire as she turned to her Dom. “You cabrón, you asked me. You tell him that you did.” Although her voice never rose, the beer in the glass swirled in a threat.

  Cullen’s hearty roar of laughter brought grins from everyone around the bar. “Got you, love. No need to tell him. Alastair knows which one of us did the begging.”

  Andrea eyed her fiancé suspiciously. When she noticed Alastair’s grin, her scowl increased. “You. Everyone thinks your cousin is the bad boy, but you, with your suit and solemn ways, you’re worse.”

  “Thank you. That is indeed a compliment.”

  Eyes flashing, she growled and hefted the glass of beer, obviously still wanting to throw it.

  “I wouldn’t do that, sweetie,” Cullen cautioned. “I haven’t pounded on that gorgeous ass in far too long and…” He stopped. “It has been a long time. I’m a Dom; I don’t need an excuse to treat myself.”

  Grabbing his wide-eyed woman by one wrist, he took his toy bag from the shelves behind the bar. Opening the lift-up bar top, he hauled Andrea after him. “Alastair, be a pal and babysit the bar. Jake’ll be here to take over in a few.”

  Alastair took Cullen’s place. When Andrea’s hissing Spanish curses were abruptly cut off, he started laughing. The Dom had probably put a hand over her mouth. Or gagged her. The hot-blooded submissive had quite the vocabulary, and despite Cullen’s easy-going personality, he was still a Dom. The two must have an interesting relationship.

  Alastair filled the current drink orders, pleased he only had to pull up a drink recipe on his phone once.

  “Hey, Alastair, I thought you were dungeon monitor, not bartender tonight.” Jake ducked under the bar top without bothering to raise the lift-up.

  “I was.” Alastair motioned with his chin toward the scene area to the right of the bar. “Cullen had an impertinent submissive to reprimand.”

  “Last week, he asked Raoul about something she’d called him. It translated to something like ‘drooling slug’.” Jake laughed. “You gotta love the mouthy ones.”

  “I appreciate her versatility, as well as the way she delivers her insults so quietly.” Spirit was good; noise wasn’t. Perhaps he’d absorbed too much of his mum’s British reserve. Even when he and Max had almost burned down the London house, she hadn’t raised her voice.

  And on the sprawling Drago ranch in Colorado, his uncle and father moderated their volume inside the house. Having had an abusive first husband, Aunt Gracie couldn’t tolerate yelling. Despite that handicap, his aunt was no pushover.

  Having had relationships with some strident women, Alastair had come to appreciate volume control.

  Jake grinned. “There are days I think it’s better not to know what my submissive calls me when she’s annoyed.”

  “Where is she today?” Alastair asked. Rainie was always a delight.

  “She took an orphaned litter of puppies home from the clinic.” The veterinarian grinned. “Once they’re weaned, she plans to give one to Nolan’s kids in hopes it’ll keep the boys from nagging them for a little sister. For a while.” After playing with Z’s little Sophia, the two boys had decided they needed a little sister.

  As a pediatrician, Alastair approved of waiting. Nolan and Beth were excellent parents, but a family needed time to settle. “Brilliant plan.”

  Jake expertly filled a beer mug and slid it down the bar to a waiting collared slave. Holding it carefully, she trotted back to her Master. “You on the schedule for next weekend?”

  “Not Friday. I’m on call for the clinic all day—and problems often last into the evening.” Alastair stepped out from behind the bar. “Give Rainie my best.”

/>   “Will do.”

  Before he reached the exit, he was intercepted by Z. “If you have a minute, perhaps we could talk.” Z gestured toward an empty seating area.

  “Of course.” Alastair sank into one of the comfortable leather chairs.

  “Maximillian did a fine job with Uzuri.” Z smiled slightly. “I’m impressed he was able to obtain as much information as he did.”

  “He’s a skilled interrogator,” Alastair said mildly. “And she did go to him, after all.”

  Z chuckled. “I daresay she’d hoped a newer Master wouldn’t push her as vigorously as one of the others.”

  “Max has never let being new slow him down.” Probably something he’d learned when serving as a US Marine.

  Z steepled his fingers. “Uzuri agrees she needs to work through her fear of large men. I’m looking for experienced Doms—big ones—I can trust to work with her. Would you and your cousin be interested?”

  That was a fine compliment, although the thought of the little submissive playing with other Doms was unpalatable—even more now than it had been in the past. Alastair studied Z. “What other…qualifications…are you looking for?”

  “Ah, that’s the tricky part. Uzuri admitted to Maximillian that she wasn’t afraid of Holt because he wasn’t interested in her sexually.” Z shook his head. “I’d seen them interact and thought she was doing better. I completely missed that distinction.”

  “I don’t think any of us realized.” After a second, Alastair caught on to the “qualification” Z wanted, and he huffed a laugh. “Yes, Z. Both Max and I are interested in her sexually.”

  “Then you would be willing to work with her from time to time? Nothing permanent, I remember.”

  “Max will have to speak with you himself.” After seeing her at Nolan’s house last Sunday, Max had said he was torn. He didn’t want to get involved with her, yet he was drawn to help her. “For my part, I’m interested.”

  “Excellent.” Z glanced around, spotted a submissive, and raised his hand.

  A second later, the slender brown-haired male hurried over and bowed his head. “Master Z, how may I serve you?”

 
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