Masters of the Shadowlands - 8
To my readers,
The books I write are fiction, not reality, and as in most romantic fiction, the romance is compressed into a very, very short time period.
You, my darlings, live in the real world, and I want you to take a little more time in your relationships. Good Doms don’t grow on trees, and there are some strange people out there. So while you’re looking for that special Dom, please, be careful.
When you find him, realize he can’t read your mind. Yes, frightening as it might be, you’re going to have to open up and talk to him. And you listen to him, in return. Share your hopes and fears, what you want from him, what scares you spitless. Okay, he may try to push your boundaries a little—he’s a Dom, after all—but you will have your safe word. You will have a safe word, am I clear? Use protection. Have a back-up person. Communicate.
Remember: safe, sane, and consensual.
Know that I’m hoping you find that special, loving person who will understand your needs and hold you close.
And while you’re looking or even if you’re already found your dearheart, come and hang out with the Masters in Club Shadowlands.
With eternal gratitude to my brilliant critique partners, Monette Michaels, Fiona Archer, and Bianca Sommerland, who walloped me over the head until I got the story right.
Much love to my Shadowkittens for their amazing pouncing and playing. Life would be so dull without you. And a special bow to Leagh and Lisa who (quite sadistically) laced my corset for RomCon.
A thousand thanks to my new editor, Maryam Salim, who cheerfully hammered this manuscript into submission.
Hugs to the incredible Liz who blessed a group of stressed-out authors with a laughter-filled weekend. (I’ll never look at a dinosaur in the same way again).
Kisses to my dearheart who manned the kitchen during my last deadline.
And to you, my readers: if this book gives you a few happy moments of escape, then I am well rewarded. You are the reason I write.
If only trying to be a hero wasn’t so disgusting.
The center of the Tampa police station stank of sweat and fear and blood. And death. Holding her breath, Sally Hart trotted across the noisy hub to the investigations department.
In the quiet hallway, she slowed, giving her stomach time to crawl back out of her throat. When she’d started school to be a computer forensics specialist in the law-enforcement arena—as close to a hero as a nerd could get—no one had mentioned these minor details.
Really, blood and bodily wastes should remain in a body, not out. She gave herself a shake. Onward.
Dan Sawyer’s office door stood open. Seated at his desk, the detective waved her in.
“Hey, Dan.” Sally walked in. “The lieutenant said you needed my help.”
Before Dan could speak, Sally spotted the owner of Tampa’s exclusive BDSM club standing inside the door. “Mas—”Duh, don’t call him Master Z. “Uh, it’s a surprise to see you here, Sir.”
Black-haired, gray-eyed, in his midforties, Master Z was one of the most gorgeous men she’d ever met. In the Shadowlands, he wore only black, and she was a bit scandalized to find him in a pure white shirt and dark tie. But not even standard business attire could diminish the sense of power he exuded.
She had a feeling her jeans and tucked-in polo shirt didn’t convey anything except, maybe, clean.
“Sally.” Master Z held out his hand. When she put her fingers in his, he tugged her a step closer to study her with a frown. “How are you doing?”
I’m lonely, and I want to come home to the Shadowlands. “I’m fine.” God, she was such a liar.
And he knew. One brow inched up.
“Actually,” she said in a rush, “I wanted to talk to you. I broke up with Frank and…” And she just couldn’t tell him her request. She hadn’t been able to call the Shadowlands and ask, and now, here she was in front of him and still choked on the words.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out, little one,” he said.
“Oh, well.” She looked down, absurdly relieved that enough time had passed for her bruised face to heal. Why did choosing a creep for a boyfriend make the girl feel like a loser? How could she possibly ask Master Z to—
“Would you like to return to the trainees?” he asked gently.
She clamped her jaw shut, fighting tears, and nodded.
“It will be nice to have you back, Sally. I’ll put you on the schedule starting Saturday.”
Joy welled inside her. She could return to her friends. Could try again to find someone…special. A Dom of her own. “Thank you, Sir.” And just like that, she found a smile.
“You’re very welcome.”
God, she loved Master Z. Not as a potential master—no way—and she’d been thrilled when he married Jessica. But he always made her feel…special. As if he found her delightful.
After kicking Frank out, she’d felt as enchanting as a hair ball hacked up by a cat.
“It’ll be good to see you in the club again.” Dan tossed his pen on his paperwork and leaned back in his chair with a smile.
“Thanks, Dan.” On his desk was a photo of his wife and son. “Awww.” Could the beaming black-haired baby really be over seven months now? “Zane looks adorable—and Kari looks tired. How’s she doing?”
Although he answered, “Fine,” his mouth had flattened. He was obviously not a happy camper, which was strange, since he adored Kari and his baby.
Sally frowned. As soon as school was out, she’d try to catch up with her friends. Kari and Dan lived only a few blocks away. Easy enough to make a little impromptu visit.
Meantime… “Lieutenant Hoffman said you had a laptop you needed me to get into?”
Dan nodded. “I do. One of the men forgot his password, and we need the files he has on the hard drive. You got some time right now?”
“You bet.” Breaking into computers was one of her favorite things.
Her phone rang, and she gave the display a quick check. Ugh. Frank. He’d taken to calling her every couple of days since they’d split up, which was ridiculous. She swiped the REJECT CALL icon.
“So, where’s the laptop?” Dan’s desk held only a regular computer flat screen. Beside the monitor lay an open folder labeled Harvest Association. Oh, she knew that name. They were the organization who’d been kidnapping women for slaves. Leaning forward slightly, she casually did an upside-down read, and… Wait just one little minute here. “Why’s my name in there?”
Dan frowned and moved the paper out of reading distance.
Behind her, Master Z chuckled. “You might as well save yourself some nagging, Daniel, and indulge her curiosity.”
“Guess it’s not confidential information any longer.” Dan glanced up at her. “Last fall, they had you targeted to be kidnapped.” A corner of his mouth pulled up. “Seems they thought you’d be perfect for the rebellious slave auction.”
“Me?” A chill ran through her as she realized she’d have been a slave if Master Z hadn’t sent her away. Linda and Kim had suffered horrors at the hands of the slavers. “Haven’t those stupid Federal agents closed the Harvest Association down yet?”
“All but the northeast section.” Turning his chair around, Dan motioned toward a table against the wall. “There’s the laptop. After I escort Z out, I’ll be back to give you some ideas of what Brendan thought his password might be.”
Oh please, as if I need help? “Sure.” As the two men left, Sally started toward the laptop…and paused to stare at the report containing her name. She could swear it was calling to her. Saaaaally. What had the asshole kidnappers said about her?
Curiosity itched at her worse than any mosquito bite. And, look, her cell—complete with camera—was conveniently right there in her hand. Ignoring her second—and third—thoughts, she snapped shots of the papers scattered over Dan’s desk.
God, I am a bad, bad person.
After shoving her phone into her pocket, she virtuously sat down in front of the laptop.
Such was the power of a guilty conscience, she’d finished the job before Dan returned. Not that hacking in was difficult. Seriously, what kind of fool uses a pet name for his password?
In the Shadowlands that weekend, Sally set dirty glasses from a table onto her tray. The pounding bass of Nine Inch Nails from the dance floor drowned out her heavy sigh. I’m tired. My bare feet hurt. I want to go home.
As she stretched the ache out of her back, she looked around. On the left, a new Dom had completed setting up a suspension scene.
On the right, Mistress Anne was flogging a lanky male submissive.
At one time, Sally would have stopped to admire the slender brunette’s technique.
Then again, at one time, Sally had loved being in the Shadowlands.
But somehow, the magic had faded—damn you, Frank—and she wanted it back. Maybe she could carry a Tinker Bell wand. Instant magic, right? Or maybe a stick like Harry Potter used. No, Tinker Bell’s wand was prettier and required less effort.