Mischief and the Masters by Cherise Sinclair


  “Austin, I believe Uzuri was watching a scene in the dungeon. Would you bring her here, please?”

  “Yes, Sir.” The young man trotted off, bursting with the pleasure of being asked to serve.

  The sight warmed Alastair’s heart.

  Within a couple of minutes, Austin was back.

  Uzuri trailed behind him, and at the sight of Alastair, she bit her full lower lip.

  Alastair smothered a smile. Well, might as well start as he meant to go on. He held out his hand.

  She stopped dead, glanced at Z, and got no help. She took a step closer.

  Alastair waited. The Dom who had trained him and Max at university had been big on silent domination. Without a verbal command, a submissive had to make a decision. Taking a Dom’s offered hand meant she’d lowered her first defenses.

  She set her hand in his.

  “Good girl.” As he closed his grip on her slender hand, her fingers trembled…and although most submissives were wary of Z, Uzuri’s gaze was on Alastair. She was afraid of him.

  He knew her fear was illogical, wasn’t personal, yet it still burned like acid. Acknowledging her unintentional insult, he pushed it away. A Dom had no use for hurt feelings.

  Instead, still holding her hand, he nodded at the floor.

  She sank gracefully to her knees and managed to tear her gaze from his to look at Z.

  Z studied her. “Uzuri, have you decided if Alastair sees you as yourself—and isn’t interested in you because of your race?”

  Alastair pressed his lips together to keep from smiling.

  In the dark sitting area, a flush on her skin wouldn’t be visible, so he laid the backs of his fingers against her cheek. Quite toasty.

  Her head bowed, and her voice was close to a whisper. “I wasn’t…honest, Master Z. I know he’s not like that.”

  Z gave him an amused glance. “I’m pleased to hear that, because I asked Master Alastair to be one of those who will work with you on getting you past your fear of larger men.”

  She didn’t…quite…cringe. “Yes, Sir.”

  Alastair waited until she looked up at him. “Your task tonight is simple. I want you to bring two bottles of water from the bar and join me until we finish the water. That’s all, pet.”

  She swallowed. “Thank you, Sir.” She was gone before he could add anything else.

  When Z rose, Alastair lifted a hand. “Last week, when the lights were off, and you wore night-vision goggles, were you…controlling…the timing when the submissives left the carpet?”

  Z smiled slightly and tilted his head in acknowledgement of a hit. Then he grinned. “She’ll probably avoid you next week, but stay with it. I’ll know you’re making progress when she sabotages your lockers.”

  Uzuri returned a few minutes later with two bottled waters. Her footsteps were slow. Reluctant.

  “Thank you, pet.” Alastair took one bottle, then patted his lap. “Sit here, please.”

  She stiffened, and he could almost hear her telling herself to obey. He wanted to reassure her, to tell her he didn’t plan to do anything, but her overcoming her own fears was the point of the exercise.

  After a minute, she perched on his thighs, holding herself stiffly upright.

  “Good girl.” After drinking some water, he put an arm around her tense little body and shifted her to a more comfortable position against his chest. Then, leaving his arm around her waist, he leaned back and relaxed.

  Minute by minute, her body maintained the rigid—tiring—posture. His silence and obvious lack of interest slowly registered.

  After about ten minutes, her weight came to rest on him more and more.

  When a half hour was up, he opened his eyes and smiled at how she’d ended up snuggled against him. Good enough. That had been all he’d planned to accomplish today.

  “Off you go, love. Our time is over.”

  She looked up at him. Such big brown eyes, dark and beautiful. And confused.

  Chapter Eight

  IN HER OFFICE at Brendall’s Department Store, Uzuri glanced at the clock and winced. She needed to get out of here if she was going to get to the Shadowlands in time for her Friday barmaid shift. Thank goodness, her orders were almost finished.

  Once again, she considered her buying plan for the spring clothing line. The classic blazers she’d ordered would look fine on any figure, and the colors were rich and clear. They should sell well. Oh, and she needed more of the basic black. More Northeasterners were moving to Florida, and they adored wearing black. When she visited New York, sometimes it felt as if everyone on the streets was heading for a funeral.

  Sighing, she rotated her aching shoulders. Talk about a late day. She’d have been finished sooner if she could have kept her mind on the work this week.

  She blamed Master Z for a good half of her inability to focus. She still couldn’t believe how he’d handed her off to Master Alastair last weekend.

  And the memories of Alastair himself didn’t help. He hadn’t pushed her for a scene or tried to paw her or anything. Instead, he’d had her sit on his lap. Not talking. Not moving. Her fears had slowly trickled away. Wasn’t it amazing how she’d ended up leaning against him? Warmth pooled in her center as she remembered his masculine scent. She’d simply…snuggled…against him, enjoying the slow rise and fall of his chest and the strength in the arm around her waist.

  She’d had dreams of being held like that. Not needing to do or say anything, simply being…with…a man. He had no idea of the gift he’d given her.

  Would he be there tonight? Flutters rose in her stomach like a myriad of wings.

  What about Max? What if they were together? What if—she shook her head. Focus, girl. Numbers.

  She stared at the purchase list. What about these straight skirts? They probably wouldn’t sell as well. That design of skirt required a certain build to look good. So less of those. She lowered that number.

  Her head lifted when she heard a couple of the other buyers leaving. “Zuri, have a nice weekend.” “See you Monday.”

  “Good night, you two.” The people upstairs here in the marketing and buying departments were wonderful, and she was making some good friends.

  That sure wasn’t true any longer with the sales associates in the women’s clothing section. The incident with Carole had festered into a nightmare. Carole and her friends—all older white women—were telling the sales force that Uzuri, young and with a new college degree, had no knowledge of retail and was causing trouble.

  No knowledge of retail? Uzuri snorted. She’d started in sales at sixteen in Cincinnati. It was true that she was new to this location, but she’d worked as an assistant fashion buyer in the other Brendall’s in St. Petersburg. She had worked her ass off, both in selling and in taking evening college classes, to climb the ladder to the position of buyer.

  However, she could hardly explain that to each woman, could she?

  Her stomach knotted. Somehow, she needed to solve this. The sales associates were on the front lines, hearing everything the customers said about the current merchandise, what people wished the store carried, and what they didn’t like. A buyer needed to be able to talk with the salespeople. Uzuri had always enjoyed that part of the job.

  And it…hurt…to be disliked. All her life, she’d worked to be nice. To be polite, no matter the provocation.

  Shaking her head, she returned to studying the numbers.

  Sometime later, the buzzing of her phone interrupted her. A text message from her friend Kayla showed on the screen. “Help! Have interview for a human resource position. Which outfit?” Two selfies were attached.

  Smiling, Uzuri leaned back in her office chair and studied them. Hmm. For a human resource job, there was no need to look particularly creative. A dependable, honest, friendly image would be the best choice.

  The first photo showed her tall friend in a light blue dress that was lovely with her brown skin, but showed off her curves a little too well and the hemline was too short
. The second photo showed Kayla in a classically tailored charcoal gray suit. Much better. The pink, lacy blouse had to go, though, as did the three-inch heels. A blouse in blue would project sincerity. Black pumps were boring but more appropriate.

  Uzuri texted back with recommendations, received more selfies, and finally approved one. “Nailed it.”

  As she put her cell phone away with a feeling of satisfaction, she realized her small office window was dark. A glance at the clock showed it was after eight o’clock.

  What? Omigod, if she didn’t hurry, she’d be late getting to the Shadowlands. She gathered her purse and briefcase and hurried out of her tiny office, waving a hand at the janitor on the way to the elevator.

  A hard rain was falling as she stepped out the employee door and opened her umbrella. Glowing like small moons in the darkness, the antiqued parking lot lights were beautiful but cast very little light. Uzuri stumbled over the curb, almost falling.

  Fool girl. She needed to set an alarm on her phone and leave the building before sunset. Glancing around for her car, she smiled. It wasn’t a problem to find it at this hour.

  There were only three vehicles in the whole lot.

  At her car, she discovered her key ring flashlight was dead. Triple A batteries didn’t last long, did they? Juggling her umbrella and keys, she fumbled with the lock, got the door open, and tossed her stuff in.

  A gust of wind blew rain over her before she could get the umbrella closed and the door shut.

  With an exasperated grunt, she started the car and drove toward the exit.

  Why wasn’t the wheel turning evenly? The car felt wrong. Still in the parking lot, she stopped—this time under a streetlight. Not bothering with the umbrella, she jumped out. Her assessment didn’t take more than a second.

  The driver’s side tire was pancake flat.

  Oh, fine. As the cold rain pattered on her head and soaked through her clothes, she scowled. Forget being polite. She glared at the tire. “Pike twa!” Glared at the rain. “And fuck you, too.”

  So much for making it to the Shadowlands on time—or at all. Master Z wasn’t going to be pleased.

  She stared at the tire. She could change it herself. In the dark, empty lot? In the rain? No way.

  The good Lord had put service stations on the planet for a reason. Her cell was in her purse. She’d call a tow company to come and change the tire.

  After a glance around the dark lot, she shook her head. Not out here. Uh-uh.

  She grabbed her purse, opened her umbrella, and started for the building. Leaving the pool of light was like leaving the last trace of civilization. Parking lots were creepy after dark. Really, really creepy.

  Especially since Jarvis. In Cincinnati, when out with friends, she’d leave a nightclub, and in a dark parking lot, see him standing a few cars down. Just…watching.

  Goosebumps lifted on her arms at the memory, and she sped up.

  Should she call for a tow truck or simply take a taxi home for now? She winced at the thought of the cost. However, the unsettled feeling in her stomach increased, and suddenly all she wanted was to be home.

  Taxi.

  The rain hammered noisily down on her umbrella, and she squinted through the blackness.

  The area around her lit up—and was that the sound of a car? She glanced over her shoulder and was almost blinded by the bright headlights heading for her fast.

  Too fast.

  With a scream, she leaped to the right. The car’s bumper smashed into her left thigh, throwing her forward. She hit the pavement hard on her right hip and skidded over the wet concrete. With a horrible crack, her head hit the unyielding asphalt.

  And the parking lot—the world—turned dark.

  * * * * *

  IN THE EMERGENCY room, Alastair smiled at his pale ten-year-old patient before giving her parents a reassuring look. “She’s going to stay overnight while we run the tests I told you about. Meantime, we’ll get some fluids into her. One of you can spend the night with her, if you wish.”

  As he left the parents arguing over which would stay—delightfully, they both wanted to remain—he glanced at his watch and sighed at the late hour.

  “Hey, Doc. Your little Brianna is quite the cutie.” In pink scrubs, a nurse slowed on her way to the nurse’s station. “Your orders are in, and the peds unit knows she’s coming right away.”

  “Thank you, Madge.”

  “No problem.”

  As they walked toward the desk, he heard a voice from one of the curtained cubicles.

  “Mmmm, fine. Sleepy.” The woman’s resonant voice was like warm honey…and familiar.

  “Madge, who’s in there?”

  “Not one of your kids, Doc. A pedestrian who got hit by a car in a parking lot.” Madge stopped with him.

  Frowning, Alastair took the clipboard from the rack outside the cubicle and pulled it up far enough to check the name. Uzuri Cheval. Concern tightened his grip on the board. “How badly is she hurt?”

  “She got off lightly. Mild concussion, road rash, a hefty hematoma on one thigh where the bumper got her, hell of a bruise on her shoulder and other hip where she hit the concrete.”

  “Is someone here with her?”

  “That’s the problem. She said she didn’t have anyone to call, and she’s not thinking clearly enough to discharge her on her own.”

  A Shadowlands submissive—a trainee, no less—thinking she didn’t have anyone to call? The thought hurt. He dropped the clipboard in the rack and walked into the cubicle.

  * * * * *

  FOR A WHILE, Uzuri had been wavering in and out of the darkness, rousing for pain and questions, before sliding back into the warm pool of night. Night was better.

  “Uzuri.”

  Some men had such beautiful deep voices.

  “Uzuri.” This time, authority underscored the demand.

  She managed to open her eyes and winced at the brightness of the room.

  In a tailored button-down, sapphire shirt, Master Alastair stood over her. Why did his eyes have to be so stunning? Not perfectly horizontal, but angling up slightly. Not brown, but a smoky green in this light and framed with thick black eyelashes that didn’t need mascara. Even his intense frown couldn’t detract from his amazing good looks.

  “You’re so pretty.” Her voice was a raspy whisper.

  “Thank you.” His sensual lips curved up and matched the smiles of the happy-faced dolphins on his tie.

  She frowned. He was a children’s doctor, not an emergency doc. “What are you doing here?”

  “One of my patients is in the ER. I was getting her admitted when I heard your voice.”

  “Oh.” She tried to sit up—and stopped immediately. Someone was playing with jackhammers inside her head. Her hips and shoulder felt like she’d been kicked. No. Actually, everything hurt.

  “Let me see what damage you racked up.” Ever so gently, he turned her head. “Look at me.”

  Light stabbed into her left eye, then the right, and her head exploded with fresh pain. When she moaned, he patted her hand. “Sorry, pet. I had to check.”

  She concentrated on breathing through the pain. Masochists were insane. Who would want to be hurt for fun?

  Carefully, he pulled back at the thin blanket to check her shoulders, her hips, and her legs. “Lots of scrapes and bruises. You’re going to be sore tomorrow.”

  “I know.”

  He smoothed down the ugly hospital gown she wore. What idiot designed those things anyway? “Uzuri, how did you get run down in a parking lot?”

  “That was my question, as well.” Max stalked into the cubicle.

  She stiffened as the two men loomed over her, one on each side. However, when her gaze met Alastair’s, she saw his worry. For her.

  “Uzuri?” Max prompted. Although his eyes were sharp—hard, even—his concern for her was there, as well.

  “A car ran into me.” It sure had. Her whole body hurt. And so did her head. She half closed her eyes to
try to cut down on the brightness.

  Max moved closer.

  Although his sport coat was a boring brown over a white button-up shirt, it didn’t disguise how broad his shoulders were. Think of how many jackets he could sell. Maybe he’d agree to model coats in the men’s department. “And Alastair can model suits and then—”

  Max snorted. “The little subbie is in la la land.”

  She started to shake her head and, at the stab of pain, changed her mind quickly. She forced her eyes open. When had they shut? “Can I go home now? I want to go home.”

  “Easy, young miss.” Alastair put a warm hand on her arm and some of her worries faded. He glanced at his cousin. “What are you doing here?”

  “Dan and I came—”

  “Did someone die?” Alastair asked.

  “Nobody’s dead.” Dan Sawyer entered the cubicle.

  Uzuri frowned. Why was Master Dan here? He was a Tampa cop. In homicide. She hadn’t killed anyone, had she? No. And she was still alive.

  Right?

  Dan walked over to the cart. “One of the dispatchers is a club member, and she gave me a heads-up about Uzuri. Max and I came by to make sure our trainee was all right.”

  “Not a trainee.” She frowned at how drunk she sounded.

  “Sorry, Uzuri, but we all still think of you that way.” Dan grinned. “In fact, I’m not sure you’re allowed to ever resign that title.”

  Well, honestly.

  Frowning, Max curled his strong hand around hers. His very callused hand—she knew the feel of it. Her gaze went to Alastair who was holding her left hand. Her gaze focused on his long fingers and his perfectly groomed beard. Beard. Dom Captor and Dom Beard.

  “Uzuri.” Max broke into her thoughts. “What happened?”

  Happened? Oh, the parking lot. Her mind felt like tattered fabric, not doing the job at all. “I left work late and it was dark and my tire was flat and I was going back to the building to call a taxi but a car ran into me.”

  “Deliberately?” Max growled.

  “Yes. No. I don’t know. It was hard to see, all dark and raining hard and my dress is dark blue.” She gestured at her clothing only she was in a hospital gown. Turning her head, she spotted the remnants of her clothes. What? “The nurses ruined my dress.”

 
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