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Show Me, Baby: A Masters of the Shadowlands Novella (1001 Dark Nights)
Show Me Baby A Masters of the Shadowlands Novella 1001 Dark Nights 2
“Seriously? A little dog?” That was just wrong. A warm wave of kinship to the animal ran through her. She knew how it felt to be abandoned. Alone and not wanted. Surviving on the streets. “Poor baby.” She gently ruffled the dog’s ears and heard his soft whine of…gratitude? Longing?
Oh heavens, what was she thinking? Brows pulling together, she scowled at Jake. “You are not going to coerce me into keeping this dog. I don’t do animals.”
“All things change, subbie,” he said softly, for her ears alone. The light amusement of an utterly confident Dom made her insides shiver. His voice returned to a normal level. “You pick up the dog tonight, and I won’t charge you for his care.”
Her mouth dropped open. Charge me? But…but… This day kept getting worse. She hadn’t even thought about a vet bill, and from the professional appearance of the office, the clinic probably charged a whack of a lot.
But, to be fair, it was Jake’s living.
Unfortunately, she didn’t have the cost of a vet visit in her savings. If he’d take care of the little dog for free…
In return, she’d be stuck finding the little guy a good home. She drew herself up and gave him the iciest look she could muster. “Fine. I’ll be in around five-thirty.”
“Mmmhmm.” His firm lips quirked. “That works.”
* * * *
Half an hour later, Rainie’s new boss sneered at her. “You think to work in my place looking like you got screwed by every long-hauler at the truck stop? Haven’t changed much, have you?”
Her jaw tightened at his ugly allusion to when she’d been a teenager, but she didn’t dignify his rudeness by checking her ruined suit. “A dog was hit by a car. I took it to the vet.”
“Nice to know you have priorities,” he said. “It’s a shame your job doesn’t head up the list.”
“No, you listen.” He walked over, close enough that her breasts almost touched his chest. “You want to keep working here, you got to give me your all.”
She knew what he was implying—that he wanted more than office work from her. Disgust held its own taste—a foul one. “I work harder than anyone else you’d find for this job. That’s why your father made me manager.”
And Cory’d never worked hard a day in his life.
“Excuse me. I need to get the payroll started.” She sidestepped him and moved toward her desk.
The phone rang. Rainie glanced that direction, but, as always, Mrs. Fitzhugh had things under control. After dispatching a truck, the gray-haired woman gave Rainie her usual good morning smile and returned to record keeping. Not a chatterbox, Mrs. Fitzhugh.
But thank goodness she was here.
Since Cory took over, Rainie had made sure she was never in the office alone with him. He probably wouldn’t be stupid enough to get physical, but she’d discovered early in her life how a boner could shut down every cell in a man’s brain.
And, although the company’s owner, Bart, liked her, he wasn’t here, and he might not believe her against Cory. He thought his boy was all pure and wonderful.
A burst of thunder shook the squatty building as sheets of rain slammed into the concrete outside. A wrecking truck drove by. The twisted mess of a brand-new pickup on the trailer was a pointed reminder that life could be fleeting.
She’d worked for Thompson Towing and Recovery since starting grad school. Apparently, in the last few years, she’d forgotten that nothing lasts forever.
Not that she planned to stay, now that she had her MBA. No, she planned to leave the Tampa/St. Pete area—and her white-trash background—far behind. She’d settle in a different state, find an established, distinguished corporation, and take a position doing something that would garner admiration and respect.
But Miss Lily’s illness had wiped out Rainie’s savings, and moving required funds. By the time her apartment lease expired in mid-February, she should have enough money to relocate.
At the sight of the mess on her desk, Rainie came to a halt. She turned to Cory. “What were you doing in my desk?”
He smirked. “Looking for a file.”
Rainie growled under her breath. Her “personal” drawer was open, and he’d rummaged through her stuff—makeup, breath mints, even tampons. The sense of being violated was keen. Unfortunately, after her years in foster care, this was not an unfamiliar feeling.
Cory was such a bastard. Her jaw clamped to keep from spitting out her fury.
Bart was an honest, good ol’ boy, like the truckers he employed. His son, however, was all show and no substance and never kept a job longer than a few months. Yet, Bart was convinced Cory could manage the company. Parents can be so blind.
A handsome thirty-year-old with carefully styled flaxen hair, a golden tan, and blue eyes, Cory figured if he wanted something, he should have it.
And to think he’d implied she hadn’t changed much. She huffed a laugh. He hadn’t changed at all. At sixteen, she’d run away from her foster home and a drug dealer took her in. Cory’d shown up to buy coke for a frat party…then tried to buy her too. For a quickie. When Shiz refused, Cory’d thrown his weight around…and gotten the crap beat out of him. They’d dumped him in a garbage bin.
One nasty night. One nasty memory. Shaking her head, Rainie straightened up her personal drawer. Soon after Bart’d hired her, she’d run into Cory—but he’d wisely pretended not to know her. She’d returned the favor. Just went to show St. Petersburg, Florida, really was too small of a city.
Now Cory was her boss, and his father was in Europe. Talk about an occupational nightmare.
Yesterday, when Mrs. Fitzhugh had taken lunch, Cory’d sneaked up behind Rainie and groped her. Her outraged shove had caught him by surprise—and he’d fallen over a chair.
Rainie smiled slightly. She might surrender to a Dom she liked, but when it came to physically protecting herself from slimeballs? She didn’t have a single submissive cell in her body. As she finished her tidying, she caught Cory staring at her.
“Were you looking for a particular file?” she asked. Her desk contained all her current projects. And she had a lot. She’d put her MBA coursework to work by taking on the business’s payroll, scheduling, and advertising. Last month, she’d started on the arcane arena of insurance. God, she loved juggling the multitude of tasks, and Bart’d been delighted to designate her the “office manager” and hand over the reins.
Unfortunately, now Cory ran the company.
Face flushed, Cory stopped beside her desk, crowding her. When a file drawer slammed louder than the thunder outside, he realized Mrs. Fitzhugh was watching. He took a step back. “I’ll do the trucker’s schedules this month.”
Hopefully he wouldn’t screw it up too badly. Rainie gave him a polite smile. “How nice.” With his history, he’d be bored with the company even before she quit. Be patient.
“Here are the requests for days off.” She handed him the correct folder and couldn’t resist adding, “The schedule is due up on Monday.”
Cory made a noise like a mouse flattened by a golf cart—lovely sound. But then he leaned forward and lowered his voice. “You might consider being friendlier…assuming you want to keep this job.”
“I don’t need to be friendlier to manage the taxes, the advertising, the software, or the payroll,” she assured him in a kind voice. “And since the truckers get irritable if not paid on time, I’d better start.”
His gaze swept over her and lingered on her breasts.
With the soaking she’d gotten, her shirt was almost translucent. The perverted prick. Turning away, she buttoned up her suit coat, then pulled up the payroll on her monitor. Finally…he moved away.
She breathed out. God, how long could she put up with him? But he wouldn’t do anything. After all, he couldn’t run the place without her.
And she couldn’t leave. Rent was due. Her savings were gone. She needed the job.
Aching with misery, Jake entered the main
room of the still quiet Shadowlands BDSM club. As the mansion’s air-conditioning struggled against the evening heat, the humidity added to his weariness.
Pretty sad to be decades older than a two-year-old and to be craving a nap. But because of the clinic’s messed-up schedule, he’d put in twelve-hour days the entire week. And his last furry patient today had been…bad.
At the long, oval bar in the room’s center, Cullen and his submissive, Andrea, were concocting pitchers of drinks.
Jake eyed the water condensing on the outside of the crystal glass. The way he felt, a drink would be more satisfying than a scene. He slid onto a barstool. “You’re adding vodka to an energy drink?”
“A special for tonight’s glow party theme.” Cullen grinned. “The liquid shines under the black lights.” He patted the white T-shirt covering his massive chest. “And so will this. People need to be able to find the bartender.”
“Hate to say this, but no one’ll notice you with your gorgeous submissive around,” Jake noted.
Andrea wore a cut-off, white shirt that barely covered her full breasts. Her boy briefs curved delightfully over her round ass.
“This is true,” Cullen said in open agreement. “She is gorgeous, isn’t she?”
At her Master’s ready compliment, Andrea’s face brightened as if a ray of sunlight had caught it.
“So, buddy, Z wondered where you were.” Cullen put a few drops of blue food coloring into one pitcher. “You missed the Masters’ briefing.”
“I had an emergency surgery.” Jake’s gut tightened. “A puppy chased a cat onto the highway. The driver of the car tried to stop. Cat got across okay. Dog didn’t.”
Andrea turned, a stricken look on her face. “Is the puppy all right?”
“His hind leg is fractured, and he has internal injuries.” Jake sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “He might recover.” Or not. The wife had been in tears, and her husband pretty damn close.
“At least the dog had you to take care of him.” Andrea patted his hand.
Jake straightened, uncomfortable with her sympathy. A Dom should comfort submissives, not the other way around.
Obviously, his exhaustion had turned him into a wimp, or so his BDSM mentor would have said. Even in his sixties, the Marine Gunnery Sergeant had never admitted to tiredness…let alone depression over an injured pet.
Andrea put a bottle of water in front of him. “If you were in surgery, you probably didn’t get supper, did you?” An experienced submissive, she read the answer from his expression. “I thought not.”
She glanced at her Master and got a nod before heading for the munchie corner.
With an effort, Jake suppressed a surge of loneliness. Last year, he and Heather had been close enough to communicate without speaking. But when she’d dumped him for her career, he’d wondered if they’d truly communicated at all. She’d left so quickly that sometimes he felt as if he could still hear the door swing shut behind her.
Well, lesson learned. He’d be more careful next time.
“What was in the briefing?” he asked Cullen.
“The black lights stay on all night, and Z suggests light scenes. The theme rooms have normal lighting for those playing harder. He has some special floggers and paddles, too.”
“What’s special about them?”
Cullen snorted as he mixed tonic water with juice. “Sprayed with neon paint. Should make for interesting scenes.” He pointed to the white-linen-covered tables. “Also, there are glow paints. Submissives are to be decorated by Doms—can’t do it themselves. The trainees are wearing black underwear or the equivalent.”
Submissive painting. Glowing floggers. “Sounds like fun.”
“Could be. Trouble is, we’re short on Masters tonight. Dan’s vacationing with Kari and the baby. Marcus is stuck at the courthouse, waiting on a jury verdict. Raoul is flying back tonight from a construction job in Panama.” Cullen swiped up the few drops he’d spilled.
“Need an extra dungeon monitor?” He wasn’t scheduled, but he could handle it. He’d just shift gears from his expectation of a lazy evening to an active one.
“Yep.” Cullen thumped a gold-trimmed black leather monitor vest on top of the bar. “If you can cover the main room for an hour now and then again at midnight, I’d appreciate it. There’s no Trainee Master tonight, so we’re all watching out for them.”
“Got it.” With only three trainees left, keeping an eye on them wasn’t a problem.
When Z had set up the program for submissives needing increased immersion in the lifestyle, most of the Shadowlands Masters and Mistresses were single. Now, since only Mistress Anne, Jake, and Holt were unattached, the program was ending once the last trainee found a Dom. “Was there anything Z required them to work on?”
“Nope. Tonight is for fun and light play. They’re even to do their own scene negotiations. Good practice for them, actually.”
Jake pulled on the vest, amusement lightening his mood. “But since Z’s a mother hen, he asked us to check on them anyway.”
“Here, Master Jake.” Andrea placed a small plate piled with finger foods in front of him. “This should keep your furnace stoked for a while.”
Cullen is one lucky Dom. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
The sincerity of his gratitude made her smile.
He popped a mini-quiche into his mouth and considered his next bite.
“Master Cullen, I’m here.” The liltingly melodic voice came from beside him.
Jake glanced down to see Rainie at his shoulder, one beautifully curvy woman, about five-seven. Not too short, not too tall.
Unlike earlier in the week when she’d brought in the injured dog, she wasn’t dressed conservatively. In leather wrist cuffs, a black halter bra, and barely-there, black skirt, she was an explosion of light and color and softness, from her shoulder-length, brown hair streaked with bright gold and red, to the fountain-and-blossom tattoos that flowed upward beside her spine, over one shoulder, and down between her magnificent breasts.
Cullen poured a glass of juice and handed it to her. “Good to see you, sweetheart. Did you bring in cookies for the munchie corner?”
“Already there, Sir. I used Kari’s recipe, in fact.”
“Perfect. The caterers are good, but their sweets never taste like homemade.”
“Hello, Rainie,” Jake said, watching her closely. Considering she’d brought him her dog, would she still avoid him?
“Master Jake.” She took a step away from him, then her gaze fell on the plate in front of him. She frowned. “I didn’t think you liked crab cakes.”
“I don’t, but—”
She picked the mini crab cake from his plate and replaced it with the chocolate chip cookie in her hand. As she looked up at him, her hazel eyes were more brown than green in the dim light of the room. “I bet you’d prefer this.”
A cookie. His day brightened. “I’ve never met a cookie I didn’t like. How’d you know?”
“Master Z says we’re supposed to keep track of everyone’s preferences.” Rainie popped the crab cake in her mouth.
Her lips were as lush as the rest of her, and he tried not to imagine other things he’d like to feed her…like his cock. He’d managed to ignore the craving before this week, but after seeing her with the pup—well, women with soft hearts were irresistible.
However, a Master wasn’t worth much if he didn’t master himself. “Good job of paying attention, then.”
He studied her and decided not to ask about the dog he’d treated. He didn’t mind blending his two personas, but others tended to be more cautious, especially submissives. And from the classic-cut suit she’d worn in his clinic, he’d guess Rainie held down a good, conventional job.
In contrast, when relaxed in the Shadowlands, she had a warm earthiness to her, much like a vivid hearth goddess.
“Hey, everybody.” Jessica, the club owner’s pregnant wife, appeared on Rainie’s other side and beamed
at Andrea. “Andrea, I love your outfit.”
The little blonde turned her attention to Rainie and wrinkled her nose. “Boy, Z didn’t do you trainees any favors.”
“Boring, all right.” Rainie tugged on the black halter top, then her brow creased. “You look tired, girlfriend.”
“Nothing new.” Jessica cupped her big belly. “I carry a lead basketball around all day.”
“Then stop walking for a while.” With a snort, Rainie walked away.
She returned with a folding chair, set it behind the bar, and patted the seat. “Plant your butt.”
Jessica scowled. Stalled.
Jake had to agree with the trainee. “Jessica, sit,” he said quietly, knowing the effect the command would have on a trained submissive.
The blonde sat and pouted at him. “You’re as dictatorial as Z.” Then she glared at Rainie. “And you’re supposed to be submissive.”
“True, I submit to Doms. Aside from them, I’m the alpha-female in this place and don’t you forget it.” Rainie exchanged a high-five with Andrea before returning to sit on a barstool beside Jake. Turned away from him, she picked up her drink and asked Andrea how work was going.
Stubborn and caring. How had he missed seeing that facet of her personality?
As Jake ate and traded greetings with incoming members, he kept an ear turned to Andrea’s chat with Rainie and Jessica about the underprivileged youngsters she’d hired for her cleaning service. Sounded as if the kids were a handful and needed instruction in not only housekeeping, but also manners and attire.
“Watch out for pilfering,” Rainie commented. “I know you’re keeping them away from your residential clients, but even in offices, people leave easily pocketed valuables on their desks.”
Odd. He hadn’t thought Rainie would be prejudiced against the poor. Then again, her matter-of-fact tone lacked scorn.