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Show Me Baby A Masters of the Shadowlands Novella 1001 Dark Nights 16


  She’d been wrong to think she could stay. To love Jake. All her work to improve herself would be useless if everyone knew her past. And she’d be Jake’s vulnerability. Being with her could hurt him. She must—must—move away. But escape meant leaving Jake.

  Don’t cry, don’t cry. Breathing through her nose, she forced the tears back.

  “Hey, are you okay?” Beth appeared and took her hand.

  Nolan was a step behind. The clean lines of his black tux emphasized his facial scars and the deadliness of his dark gaze. This Master was scarier than Master Sam. “What happened?”

  “N-nothing.” Her voice broke. Nolan’s eyes narrowed, and she added hastily, “I’m fine.”

  He put a finger under her chin, tipped it up. His eyes turned blacker. “Who upset you?”

  Damn him for noticing. For caring. Tears blurred her vision. “No one. I-I’m just…hey, it’s a wedding. Females are supposed to cry.” She took the tissue Beth handed her and wiped her cheeks.

  “Females are supposed to be honest,” he growled, and, to her horror, looked past her.

  The redhead had disappeared—thank you, God. But Mrs. Renard stood with two of her stuffy women friends. Watching. Gloating.

  “I’m thinking Gabi’s nasty mother was rude or did something, probably because Rainie gave her a few home truths.” Beth leaned on Nolan and stroked his huge biceps through his jacket. “Oh, my most wonderful, majestic King of Kings, could you drag that woman out onto the dance floor and make her uncomfortable.”

  His expression didn’t change in the slightest, yet amusement lit his cruel eyes. He studied Rainie, the tissue in her hand, and returned his gaze to his submissive. “I can, little rabbit.” Without another word, he strolled toward the women.

  “Beth,” Rainie whispered. “No.”

  Beth squeezed her hand. “Shhh, I want to enjoy this.”

  He escorted Gabi’s mother to the dance floor, and his big hand completely wrapped around her upper arm.

  The woman gabbled protests and was ignored. When her voice rose, he gave her a Master’s stare. One the Shadowlands really should patent.

  Mrs. Renard shriveled on the spot, mouth shut completely.

  “Go, Sir.” Beth was giggling worse than Sally on her silliest day.

  “Beth, he shouldn’t—”

  “He should. Gabi gave the guys orders. If her mother caused trouble, a Master was to drag her out to the dance floor and go all Dom on her ass.”

  Rainie tried to laugh. “That’s mean.”

  “Gabi’s mom is mean.” Beth squeezed her hand. “What did she say to you?”

  “Nothing, really. A friend of hers simply rubbed my nose in an indisputable fact.” One she’d tried to forget. “Jake is rich.”

  “His family is.” Beth considered. “I guess that makes him wealthy as well. But he doesn’t care about money.”

  Sure, he didn’t.

  Beth’s mouth twisted. “You don’t believe me.”

  “I’ve had some experience with these matters,” Rainie said. “Jake might not be concerned now. After all, he’s a guy. Guys think with their dicks. And a dick has a fairly short-sighted range of ambitions.”

  Beth choked on a laugh.

  “But parents don’t have the dick handicap. So if their beloved heir brings home a woman like me? One ugly scene ensues.” As Geoffrey’s family had demonstrated.

  “Jake’s not the kind of man to give in to pressure.”

  “I know.” That was part of what made him special. “But, seriously, causing a family blowup isn’t a good thing to do to someone who”—you love—”is so nice. Jake needs his family.”

  He doesn’t need me.

  “Rainie…” Beth protested.

  Rainie hugged Beth and whispered, “Thank Master Nolan for me, okay?”

  As Rainie stepped back, her escape path was blocked. The woman was a grandmotherly age, but this grandmother would turn heads no matter how old she got. It wasn’t just the flawlessly made-up face and hair, and the exquisite ice-blue gown which set off her dark hair and gray eyes, but her sheer composure. Nothing would upset this woman.

  When I grow up, I want to be her.

  The lady had undoubtedly heard Rainie being a total crybaby. Wonderful. Rainie straightened her shoulders. “Ma’am, may I help you?”

  “Why, yes, you may.” The smile was charming with a hint of reserve. “I’m Madeline Grayson. I believe you know my son, Zachary?”

  Master Z’s legendary mother? God, help me.

  Rainie drew her shoulders back and pulled on her shawl of perfect manners. Etiquette, I got this. “It’s delightful to meet you, Mrs. Grayson. I’m Rainie Kuras, and this is my friend, Beth King.”

  “Lovely to see you again, Beth. I thought the landscaping you did for the Leighton’s beach house to be very fine.”

  “Thank you.” Beth turned as the music changed. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to reward—uh, rejoin—Nolan.”

  “Of course.” Mrs. Grayson tilted her head in a mannerism reminiscent of her son’s. Only when Master Z did it, submissives tended to kneel.

  Mrs. Grayson’s attention turned to Rainie. “Zachary informed me you achieved your master’s in business administration with a specialty in organizational management?”

  Master Z had talked about her? To his mother? There were no words. “He’s correct.”

  “He speaks extremely highly of you, as do your professors.”

  My professors? Why would she have—

  “And you’re working in a veterinary clinic now?

  “Yes. For Dr. Sheffield.”

  “Helping out, yes.” Her smile was gracious. “I did hear about Jake and Saxon’s…problem…with office staff.”

  Rainie smothered her smile…and yet, she couldn’t help defending the guys. “Jake and Saxon are superb veterinarians. Their failing was to not thoroughly check out a family recommendation.”

  “Yes, I spoke to Saxon about the lapse,” Mrs. Grayson said mildly. “Now…” Her chin lifted slightly. “Although Zachary recommended you, he doubted you’d be willing to relocate. However, I overheard some of your conversation.”

  Rainie felt her face heat. “I see.”

  Mrs. Grayson handed her a card. “I recently bought an advertising company in New York and am taking it in a different direction. Thus, several management positions will soon be open. Would you be interested?”

  New York? So far away from… Yet, she’d always planned on moving, at least until she’d started daydreaming. But daydreams were nothing on which to build a life. She had no future here. Not with Jake Sheffield.

  And she refused to cry in front of this indomitable woman.

  Rainie swallowed. “I’m very interested. However, I’ve committed to the clinic until mid-February. I can’t—it wouldn’t be fair to leave them in the lurch.”

  “Good for you.” Mrs. Grayson gave an approving nod. “I’ll be interviewing for another couple of weeks, so you have time to decide. Since my son has infallible instincts, I think I can assure you of a position. Please do give me a call.”

  With a brisk nod, she glided away.

  “Oh my God.” Rainie glanced down to see if the floor had disintegrated beneath her feet. She wanted to scream, do a victory dance, shoot off fireworks…and burst into tears.

  How could she leave?

  “Sweetling, are you all right?” Jake’s firm hand closed around her arm. He turned her to face him and ran his hands up and down her arms. “I saw Mrs. Grayson with you. She can be a bit intimidating.”

  Rainie forced her numb lips to form the words. “She was…nice.”

  “Good.” He pushed her hair back, his fingertips leaving a wake of sensation, ripples that spread through her body. “Linda is herding the guests to the entrance to wave Gabi, Sally, and the men off. Afterward, the place closes, and we’re free to go.”

  “Oh.” She had duties. What was she thinking? Too obsessed with her own problems to do her job. “I need to chec
k in with Sally.”

  “She’s over there.” He guided her toward the head table. “Spend the night with me. We can pick up Rhage on the way.”

  Her whole life had changed in the last hour, from the redhead to Mrs. Grayson…and Jake didn’t know. He still thought… Her heart felt squeezed between two abrasive surfaces, sending flares of pain outward with every beat. “Jake.”

  He spotted Sally. “There she is.”

  How could she do this to him?

  “Men rarely marry beneath their class, and you, my dear, are so far below that you’re barely out of the gutter.”

  How could she stay? If she remained here, it would be because of her own selfish need to be loved. And she’d wind up harming Jake. She couldn’t hurt him. She would never hurt him.

  Her life was drained out onto the floor, leaving a stiffening corpse behind. And she wanted the chill, needed the ice, or she’d never get the words out. “Jake. She offered me a job. In New York.”

  He halted so suddenly she tripped. “Mrs. Grayson? New York?”

  She nodded. “Management. Like I’ve always wanted.” And you’ll be free of the low-class woman who’d ruin your life. Even if—someday—she grew enough to be equal to him, he’d never move out of this state. Veterinarians didn’t relocate. “I’m going to accept.”

  “You’re leaving? Just like that?” His hand dropped from behind her waist, and he stepped back. “Decision made. No discussion?”

  The disbelief in his eyes stabbed through her ribs and right into her heart.

  Jake took another step back. He’d been thinking marriage; she’d been thinking career. Last year, he’d been butted by a ram. The massive animal hit, sent him flying, and knocked the air out of him so completely he hadn’t managed to inhale for a good minute.

  This was worse.

  He stared down into Rainie’s wide eyes, a compelling mix of green and brown that normally sparkled like a sunlit cypress forest. Fucking beautiful. Tonight her eyes were dimmed. Worried.

  She should be. Jesus. She was leaving. Going to New York. Hell, Z’s mama had probably offered a bonus for moving—a few extra bucks to treat their relationship like an annoyance to be discarded.

  Just like that.

  Fuck, maybe he was the only one using the word relationship.

  “Jake?” She put her hand on his arm.

  “Congratulations.” The word tasted bitter. “Guess I need to start interviewing new staff right away.”

  “I—yes. I told her I’d stay until the middle of February, like I promised you.”

  “Aren’t you an honorable…person?” he said, and despite his care, sarcasm invaded his tone.

  She flinched. “It’s best for both of us.”

  “Uh-huh. Glad you had the brains to realize I needed someone to make my decisions for me.” He removed her cold fingers from his arm. “I believe that answers the question of whether you’re coming over tonight.”

  His jaw clamped over further foolish words, and he strode away, leaving his plans, his life, and his heart behind him in a pile of ash.

  Chapter Eleven

  She might not survive two more weeks in the vet clinic, Rainie decided. At the reception room counter, she hit the backspace and retyped in the correct amount. Perhaps she wasn’t screwing up the files as badly as the old receptionist, but only because she rechecked every entry three times.

  With a sigh, she stroked the ancient, stick-thin cat snoozing in her lap, grateful for its jagged purr. Grateful for any comfort.

  When Jake had walked away from the wedding reception two nights ago, she knew it was for the best. Because really, what did they have between them? He’d been happy with her, sure, but he didn’t truly need her. Any woman could give him food, sex, and someone with whom to talk.

  She’d been right to sever their relationship. She’d found that out quickly enough.

  At the reception, after waving off the brides and grooms, she’d joined the exodus. In the parking lot, the nasty redhead had been talking to Jake. Laughing and flirting, she’d gotten into his car.

  Jake had driven away, redhead beside him, not looking back once.

  She’d hated him then, as pain had driven deep, deep into her heart. And yet…she couldn’t blame him.

  Rainie hit SAVE on the document and pulled up another bill. Considering the cruel way she’d broken off their relationship, he wouldn’t pine over her. Only…couldn’t he have? At least for an hour or two? The hurt of seeing him with the redhead had been horrible. Even worse was the hurt of not being with him now…

  The melody of her days continued, but the low notes of pain were only getting louder.

  Poor Rhage didn’t know what was wrong with her. He’d lick the tears from her face, sit in her lap, and try to coax her into playing with him. But holding the little dog was bittersweet, because Rhage had been the one to bring her to Jake.

  Why, oh why, had she said she would work in the clinic these last two weeks? Every time she saw Jake or heard his voice, her heart shredded even further.

  But she couldn’t leave until they hired someone else. Even if she hated Jake—and God, she never could—she had to be fair to Saxon.

  Okay. Okay. Get over yourself. Like the survivor she was, she straightened her spine and printed the last bill and put it into a folder, ready for Mrs. Atkinson to pay when she picked up her pretty, newly spayed cocker spaniel.

  Rainie wrinkled her nose at the other folder, which contained her ideas for the clinic: Expanding into an emergency hospital. Stocking and selling specialized foods and medicines. Offering boarding. Streamlining the scheduling with new software. Improving the invoicing system and…enough.

  She opened a drawer and tossed the folder inside. As with the suggestions for Bart’s tow truck company, her notions for the clinic would simply die away, not wanted, not used.

  Around her, the place hummed with quiet noises—a complaining cat in the feline room, low voices from the treatment area, cupboards slamming in the pharmacy. The waiting room had emptied as the staff took lunch. Despite emergencies, Rainie usually managed to give everyone a chance to sit down and eat. Since she’d come, the stressed expressions and general unhappiness had disappeared.

  The clinic needed her. And she was happy here. Involved in everything. The animals added an incredible dimension of reward she’d never known before. I don’t want to leave.

  The emaciated cat in her lap rubbed her fingers, marking her with his scent as if to emphasize she belonged…here.

  Way to realize that too late, Rainie.

  But, even if she’d known, she’d still need to leave. To get away from her past.

  No, she had no choice, especially since Mrs. Grayson had offered this big chance. In New York, she’d make herself into someone better. Respectable. Classy. And she’d never have to run into old classmates or be called a whore again.

  At the thought, she smoothed down her jacket. She’d worn her most conservative suit for its ability to deflect Jake’s cold stares. If her clothing could only deflect the way her heart leaped at the sound of his voice—and even his damned footsteps. When had she learned what his boots sounded like?

  Swallowing the ache in her throat, she looked up as Jake strode out of the pharmacy room.

  “Rainie.”

  “May I help you, Doctor?”

  A muscle in his jaw tensed. “Can you schedule an exploratory abdominal surgery, please?”

  “For?”

  “Old Buckingham, Jed Parker’s basset hound. Probably has cancer.”

  “Oh no.” Oh God. The elderly man was crippled with arthritis and lived in the country. “He will be all alone without Buck. His son lives in Miami and doesn’t get over here often. And—”

  Jake cupped her cheek; his thumb brushed away the tear she shed. And then he simply stood there, staring at her.

  She put her hand on his wrist. Pushed. “Don’t, Jake.”

  He didn’t move. His piercing green eyes shot steely anger through her
ribs, straight to her aching heart. “How can you leave, Rainie? You love it here. People share their personal lives with you.” His gaze took in the Siamese curled in her lap. “You cry over puppies and carry cats around. What the hell will you find to like in some frigid advertising company?”

  Her mouth opened, but the words didn’t come out. She, who never had trouble expressing herself, was mute. “I…”

  He waited and then let her go with a disgusted noise. “Not the first time I was mistaken about a woman,” he muttered, picked up a chart, and headed to Exam Room Two.

  Yes, you’re wrong about me. He had no idea who she’d been. How having her in his life would impact his own future, his relations with his family. She closed her eyes, feeling her emotions boil up out of control.

  Why did he have to act as if he cared about her? He didn’t. When he’d learned she planned to move? Snap—he’d found himself another woman before even leaving the wedding grounds. He was rich and important. His world didn’t admit her.

  But…God, she hated making him unhappy.

  “Mrow-ow-ow.” The cat’s complaint sounded like a feline buzz saw.

  With her back still to the waiting room, Rainie checked her lap, but the Siamese lay sleeping. She stiffened. Had someone come in while she was talking to Jake? How had she not noticed?

  Because Jake took up her entire world.

  She plastered on a smile, spun her chair around, and saw Master Z.

  He wore a white shirt and a dark gray tie that matched his eyes. She’d helped Jessica pick the tie out a couple of months before. “You’re in white,” she said like a total dumbass.

  “Indeed.” His eyes crinkled. “I work with children, pet. A psychologist in all black is frightening.”

  “Um. Right.” She straightened, realizing he held a cat carrier. “Can I help you?”

  “Jessica and I realized Galahad is due for his shots. Can you fit him in?”

  As he spoke, she brought up the records on the computer. “He’s not due for another couple of weeks.”

  “However, I’m here now.” He set the carrier on the counter.