Show Me Baby A Masters of the Shadowlands Novella 1001 Dark Nights 15

  Not men to postpone an unpleasant task, Vance and Galen set their drinks down and left.

  As Raoul joined Sam by the window, Cullen settled into a leather chair across from Jake.

  “Hey, bro.” Saxon took the other seat. “We’ve been so busy I didn’t ask how your new pet worked out.”

  Jake raised an eyebrow, thinking Sax meant Rainie, then realized he referred to Violetta’s dog. “Guido is fine, although the little bastard dug up three of my pepper plants.” He grinned. “He’s decided he’s a cat now, so MacArthur and Patton drafted him into the feline army.”

  “That’s pitiful. Ruination of a fine dog.”

  “Nah, they keep him busy enough he hasn’t had a chance to mope.”

  “Was the delivery girl useful?” Saxon’s light brows quirked upward.

  Now, he meant Rainie. Jake scowled. “I appreciate it…but you shouldn’t have sent her. I was damned rude to her.”

  “I bet she understood.” Drink in hand, Saxon extended his legs, totally at ease. “When she’s not playing prankster, she’s a comforting woman. I figured she might help.”

  “I shouldn’t need help,” Jake growled. “I can deal with things myself.” Jesus, did he think Jake would dump his troubles on—

  “Andrea thought that, too,” Cullen said quietly.

  “And she is right,” Jake said. “A Dom stands on his own feet. Shouldn’t need—”

  Cullen shook his head. “No, buddy, that’s what she thought about herself. Her father played hell with her perception of independence. Took a while before she realized we’re just human, and it’s all right to lean on someone else.”

  Jake imagined Gunny’s growl of outrage, but he said mildly, “How can a Dom be strong for the submissive if he needs her help?”

  “No one gets through life without needing some support,” Cullen answered. “A Dom has to be honest with himself and his submissive. And—”

  “Time to go, gentlemen,” Nolan interrupted. “We’ve got guests arriving.”

  As he followed the others out the door, Jake set aside the argument. Dammit, he respected Cullen. Fine man; fine Dom.

  But he was wrong.

  For half an hour, Jake escorted guests down the curving path through crimson roses, under the jasmine arbor, and then across the manicured grass to the white chairs decorated with silver and blue ribbons. In the front, blue flowers cascaded from the arch of the white gazebo, and beyond that, the sandy beach rolled down to the blue-gray waters of the Gulf.

  The day was peaceful with the quiet conversations of the guests and waves sighing on the shore. The palms dotting the edge of the grass rustled in the light wind.

  As the sun dropped behind the bank of clouds, the grooms and groomsmen took their places, half on each side of the gazebo. Z stood at the apex, and his black on black attire lent his justice-of-the-peace appearance a dangerous edge.

  Jake turned as the bridal party appeared. The chairs had been arranged to provide twin diagonal corridors, and on the left one, Kim headed the line of Gabi’s bridesmaids. Kari led Sally’s posse. Upon reaching the front, Kari took a place beside her husband Dan, and Kim beside Raoul.

  When Uzuri and Beth were halfway down the aisles, Rainie and Andrea followed, glancing across the center seats at each other to keep in step.

  Jake smiled. Hell, most men seeing Rainie would have to smile. In contrast with Andrea, Rainie was shorter. Rounder. And so happy that the light seemed to increase when it struck her.

  He’d never met a woman like her. From the way she was transforming their clinic, to her pleasure in Rhage, to the way she’d defended her friend, to the way the animals—and owners—instinctively trusted her.

  She was…amazing. What they had was amazing.

  He intended to hang onto her.

  The music changed, and the audience rose.

  Much to their fiancés’ bemusement, the two brides had decided on a traditional entrance.

  So Gabi’s father escorted her.

  Sally’s father, who apparently was a total asshole, hadn’t been invited. However, in Jake’s opinion, Sally had found someone better. She’d asked Sam to act as her father and walk her down the aisle.

  And the sadist—who terrified every submissive in the Shadowlands—had choked up with tears in his eyes.

  As they came down the aisle, Gabi’s father moved like a robot, far more concerned with his dignity than with his daughter. Upon arriving at the front, he handed his daughter off to Marcus and strode away.

  In contrast, Sam kept his gaze on Sally, openly pleased with the girl’s sparkling joy. He brought her to a halt at the gazebo and offered Galen her left hand, Vance her right. After kissing her cheek, he shot her men an easily interpretable stare—treat her right or answer to me.

  When Sally made an undoubtedly impertinent comment, he barked a laugh.

  He paused to give Marcus the exact same warning look. Touching Gabi’s cheek gently, he said something too low to hear.

  And, Gabi, having easily dismissed her own father, smiled at Sam and blinked back tears.

  As Sam took his seat, Z cleared his throat and began, officiating the ceremony with the dignity and polish everyone expected from him. With an occasional revision to accommodate Sally’s ménage, he blended together a psychologist’s hard-won knowledge with a Master’s even harder-won wisdom.

  Vows were exchanged. Rings were exchanged. Most of the women in the audience were dabbing at their eyes.

  Amused, Jake shook his head, then caught the look Marcus offered his woman. Openly loving and proud and possessive.

  Next to him, Galen held Sally, resting his cheek on top of her hair, as if he’d acquired something so precious he feared to squeeze too hard. After exchanging a long pleased look with Vance, he passed her to his partner.

  And Jake found himself blinking back tears.

  Weddings, truly a treacherous battlefield. His gaze rested on Rainie. Hazardous or not, he planned to win the skirmish and take her home tonight.

  Chapter Ten

  Both exhausted and fizzing with happiness, Rainie stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Gulf shore. From the dark waters of the Gulf, white frothy waves rolled up onto the beach. In the rising wind, the tall palms shook and bowed.

  Behind her, dinner over, the reception was going gangbusters. Filling the center dance floor, an older crowd gyrated crazily to the old tune, The Twist.

  Most of the over-fifty crowd were business associates invited by Galen’s mother and Gabi’s parents. In the interests of harmony, Gabi and Sally had caved in…and for a while, Rainie’d wondered if any relatives were worth the bother.

  But in the past couple of days, Vance and Marcus’s loving, supportive families had demonstrated what a family could be—and made her wish she had one.

  A flicker caught Rainie’s eye as the light of the moon gleamed off the sails of a boat gliding toward the marina. What a gorgeous location. To her delight, despite a fair amount of parental pressure early on, the brides had held out for their beachside wedding location. Gabi and Marcus had romantic memories of playing together in the waves, and Midwest-born Sally had loved the idea of a true tropical wedding.

  Rainie smiled. If Sally wanted something, Galen and Vance would work their asses off to see she got it. Although “legally” people in a ménage couldn’t “marry,” the men had wanted their Sally to have a beautiful, traditional wedding ceremony, so despite any objections, that’s what she’d gotten. Even Gabi’s mother quailed when faced with Galen’s implacable stare.

  Rainie had practiced that expression in the mirror and added it to her personal arsenal. In her future corporate position, she’d need all the firepower she could wield.

  However, the reception wasn’t the ground on which to employ such weaponry.

  Here, people fought their battles with beautiful attire and graciousness. Turning away from the windows, she smoothed her gown and looked around for possible dance partners. She saw Shadowlands members
scattered throughout the room.

  Near the head table, Kim, Andrea, and Kari chatted with their husbands.

  In the center of the room, Beth was dancing with Nolan. Who knew the rough Master could actually dance? Dancing with the couple who’d chosen him as their submissive, Tanner looked blissfully happy.

  Like a good pregnant woman, Jessica sat beside Linda, both their Masters nearby. By the punch bowl, Uzuri’d nabbed a sizzling hot man.

  Anne was dancing with a young man who was obviously star struck and hardly a challenge to the Mistress. Rainie frowned. Anne better be careful or she’d be on the receiving end of one of Master Z’s infamous talks.

  In the center of the dance floor, Gabi and Sally were showing off steps from the bachelorette party, and somehow their virginal wedding dresses transformed the exotic dancing moves to breathtakingly sexy.

  Off to one side, the Shadowlands’ security guard Ben stood with Galen and Vance. As they talked, the two grooms watched their bride with wide smiles. Ben’s gaze kept drifting to Mistress Anne.

  As the song came to an end, Rainie moved out. She should check in with the brides in case they needed something. After that—

  Around the side of the room, Jake was heading toward her.

  Her heart skipped a beat. Not knowing how late her bridesmaid’s duties would keep her, she’d told him he was on his own, and she’d go home to her apartment after the reception was over. Now she regretted her decision; she wanted to sleep in his arms.

  But, either way, at least she’d get to dance with him.

  Unfortunately, even as she watched, Gabi’s parents intercepted him. Rainie considered a rescue, but from the way Mr. Renard clapped a hand on Jake’s shoulder and shook his hand, they were well acquainted.

  Despite his annoyance at the delay in reaching Rainie, Jake shook hands with William Renard and answered the man’s question. “My parents are enjoying their trip. Thank you for asking.” He smiled. “They made a stop in Paris before heading home.”

  “I can’t believe you didn’t join them,” Mrs. Renard said. “Certainly you’d have more fun in Europe than running that clinic of yours.”

  Jake shrugged. “I get bored on vacations.” Although a holiday with Rainie might defeat boredom nicely. He glanced over his shoulder, but she’d been pulled out to the floor by Uzuri, Saxon, and Holt.

  She really could dance…

  He’d noticed her talent at the Shadowlands and the bachelorette party. Here she was simply having fun and looked incredibly sexy in that floaty-skirted gown. “Damn,” he said under his breath.

  A body blocked his view. Irritated, he sidestepped.

  Two soft hands clasped his. “Jake, don’t you recognize me?”

  Startled, he glanced down to see a slender woman. Dark copper hair in an up-swirl style, gold designer dress, sultry blue eyes. “Nadia.” His distant cousin looked beautiful, as always. “It’s good to see you. Mom mentioned you might come. Is your husband here as well?”

  “Oh, we’ve been divorced for ages. That’s why I took a job with William’s law firm.” A pout crossed her expression as if she were miffed Jake hadn’t kept track of her.

  He had, at one time. As an undergrad, he’d chased her until his tongue dragged on the ground, but she’d scraped him off in favor of richer prey.

  “I’m sorry about the divorce,” he said politely. “However, I’m sure William is pleased to have your expertise. I imagine he keeps you busy.”

  She drew closer. “He does. But I can always find time for you.”

  “We’ll have to have a drink one of these days.” Over her shoulder, he noticed Rainie heading for the drink table. “Excuse me, please.”

  “Of course.” Nadia rose up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “Later, honey.”

  * * * *

  Rainie managed only a gulp of punch before Jake steered her away. Typical Dom—he hadn’t even asked if she wanted to dance.

  Then again, slow dancing with Jake was almost as good as having sex with him. She snuggled closer. “Truly Madly Deeply. I love this song.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  “You got them to play it? Is that why they played two slow tunes in a row?”

  He rubbed his cheek against hers. Although his hands were positioned properly, he kept her plastered against him…and the half-erection he boasted. “Did I mention that in high school, my friends and I had a garage band? I know from experience that a good bribe works wonders on a playlist.”

  She breathed in his cologne, spice and pine, and melted even closer.

  “This one was worth every penny since I’ve been wanting to dance with you,” he murmured. “I’d like to find a closet and do more, but the staff’s monitoring the private areas. Maybe the beach though…”

  Thinking he was joking, she laughed. “You are…” The heat in his gaze made her swallow hard. Maybe he wasn’t joking. “Um. I’m not dressed for sex in the sand.”

  “Mmm.” He nuzzled her temple and set her heart to pounding. “I wouldn’t put you in the sand, buttercup. I’d bend you over a table, hike up your gorgeous gown, and take you from behind.”

  He rubbed his chest sideways to tease her breasts. “Because that way I can reach around and play with your nipples…using my right hand.”

  What about his left hand? “Behave, Sir.”

  “Now the left”—his voice lowered—”my left hand would tease your pussy.”

  The flames sizzling over her skin might well ignite her clothes. As she dampened, she tried to step back. His arms flexed into iron bars holding her captive.

  “I like your little whimpers when I’m balls deep,” he whispered. “I like how your cunt squeezes my cock as you come.”

  He was liable to make her climax right there in the middle of a crowd. As her legs wobbled, he laughed.

  “Jake.” Linda walked through the dancing couples. “Sam says you’re in charge of summoning the two limos for the newlyweds. It’s time.”

  “I’m on it.” With his usual impeccable manners, Jake escorted Rainie to the edge of the dance floor and kissed her fingers. “Enjoy yourself, sweetling. I’ll be back in a bit.”

  “Right,” she said under her breath, watching him stride away. Jacob Sheffield in a tuxedo had to be one of the wonders of the world.

  He made her feel so special when he danced with her. Talked with her. Laughed at her jokes and teased her. His gaze said he thought she was beautiful.

  But… She winced. Mr. Politeness-Itself Sheffield had witnessed her tirade at the evil mothers, Mrs. Kouros and Mrs. Renard. Why hadn’t he mentioned her behavior?

  A knot formed in her stomach as she remembered his ease with Gabi’s parents—and they with him. The totally snobbish Renards wouldn’t converse with someone they considered beneath them. But he was at their level.

  Her shoulders tightened. She hadn’t missed how Jake attracted female attention—like the redhead who’d made a play for him, kissing his cheek and rubbing her breasts against his arm.

  But he left her to dance with me.

  “You must be Rainie.” Like a witch materializing out of black smoke—obviously summoned by Rainie’s unhappy thoughts—the redhead approached. Wine glass in hand, she gave Rainie an insolent scrutiny, making her aware of each hair out of place, of every bulge of her hips and stomach, of how her chin was round, not pointed.

  “I’ve heard quite a bit about you tonight.” The woman’s snide tone established she wasn’t applying to be one of Rainie’s BFFs.

  “How odd,” Rainie said evenly. “I haven’t heard a thing about you.” A feeble comeback, but better than none.

  “I can see how Jake would enjoy a woman like you for a quick fling,” the redhead said. “There’s a certain appeal to fat and coarse, at least for a brief change in diet.” Her flawlessly curved eyebrows lifted to complement a delicate sneer.

  Rainie stiffened. What in the world?

  “However, since I know the Sheffields, I suggest you don’t get comfortable.
Men rarely marry beneath their class, and you, my dear, are so far below you’re barely out of the gutter.”

  Before Rainie could find a response to the unexpected vitriol, the bitch spun on her high heel and stalked away…back to the Renards, who were staring at Rainie as if she’d crawled out of some lagoon for monsters.

  After a second, Rainie got it. Gabi’s mother had unleashed the woman as her own personal attack dog.

  Turning her back, she fought the sickness trying to crawl out of her stomach. Yes, she’d been rude to Mrs. Renard and Galen’s mother, but only in defense of her friend—and with good cause.

  Being attacked for a background she hadn’t chosen, that wasn’t…wasn’t fair.

  Then again, was it fair in college when boyfriends like Geoffrey took her home, then dumped her after their parents disapproved? Was it fair when teens like Mandy had ridiculed her in the classrooms?

  Or, worse, at the Sheffield’s house? Tears pricked the backs of her eyes and burned in her throat. The redhead was right about the Sheffields. They were elegant. Refined. Cultured.

  Rainie closed her eyes, remembering. As a foster child, she hadn’t visited anyone’s home, not until popular, charming Jennifer Sheffield invited Rainie to her birthday party. Rainie’d worn her coolest, prettiest clothes and spent hours getting her hair and makeup just right. She’d walked into the Sheffield’s home, with her ugly backpack slung over her shoulder. In wonder, she’d stared at the parquet floors, the antique furniture worn to a smooth patina, and the paintings with vivid colors and textures. Everything merged to create breathtaking beauty in a way she’d never seen before.

  And there had been another kind of beauty as well. Jake had been there.

  Staring blindly at the dance floor, Rainie heard the song change to Nobody Knows it But Me. Could a tune get any sadder? Crying inside was right. She realized she was backing away from the music, from the guests.

  At the Sheffield’s, she’d learned an ugly lesson—that clothes and manners only took a person so far. When mean people discovered a vulnerability, like a distasteful background, they’d tear away at it until the victim bled to death.