Mastered, p.20
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         Part #1 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks

  her know he was teasing her with the last of his words. “But the very last thing I would ever attribute to you is sulkiness or childishness. You are exceedingly honest and sincere, two qualities that have fallen by the wayside in society, unfortunately. Furthermore, you are completely unaware of the many good qualities you possess and seem baffled when someone pays you a compliment, as you are doing right now as I speak, judging by the look in your eyes.”

  She flushed because she was precisely that.

  “No one has ever given me compliments until recently,” she murmured.

  “Then you clearly don’t associate with the right people, and I’m willing to bet either the people you are exposed to are envious or, if they are men, they want very much to get a hell of a lot closer to you and you likely have no clue of that either, which angers them and is a blow to their fragile male ego.”

  “Okay, you have to stop,” she said, becoming more uncomfortable by the minute.

  But he didn’t. He reached out with one finger and lifted her chin so she was forced to look at him and no longer avoid his gaze.

  “What you are, Evangeline, is special. And if you ever disparage yourself in my hearing again, I’ll turn you over my knee myself and spank that perfect ass until you promise me to forget all the negative words you have in your vocabulary when they come to describing yourself. Are we understood?”

  Holy fuck! Oh shit. Now she was once more using words that would mortify her mother and cause her to wonder where she’d gone wrong in Evangeline’s upbringing since she’d been taught that no true lady ever used such vulgar language.

  Her eyes were wide as she stared at Silas, no longer needing his hand to force her compliance. She saw the dominance glittering in his eyes as clearly as she saw it in Drake’s. How had she missed it before now? Gentle and kind, my ass. Silas, Drake and, well, all of Drake’s men, were dominant, almost surly, alpha males, but in the space of those few words Silas had so smoothly dropped on her, she saw a man who was likely far more dominant than the others. Perhaps even Drake, and that was incomprehensible to her.

  She could now see the scary side that the others evidently saw and experienced on a daily basis, and here she was naïvely forming her assumptions based on two brief meetings when he’d acted the consummate gentleman.

  She swallowed hard because she didn’t think Silas was bluffing. There was no hint of amusement in his eyes. Only somber truth. And utter seriousness. And then, since her brain was fried, and she was to the point of babbling, she issued a ridiculous response.

  “D-Drake would never let you!” she said in a shocked whisper. And to her further mortification, she realized the doctor was still there, stitching up her now-forgotten knee, and he’d been privy to the entire exchange between them.

  His lips were quirked in amusement even as he never took his eyes from his job, and his hands were as steady as she’d ever seen.

  Silas sent her a slight grin, only one corner of his mouth twitching to indicate what he thought of her naïve statement.

  “Don’t be so sure of what Drake will and won’t allow, Evangeline. To do so will only lead to inevitable misunderstanding. I’m sure Drake has been very exacting in his requirements of you, the foremost being obedience. I’d say that covers a lot of uncharted territory, wouldn’t you?”

  Evangeline wanted to shriek. How the hell did Drake’s men, this man, know so much about what Drake had or hadn’t told her? Or were his women—and his standards and expectations—so often rotated in and out that his needs and demands were common knowledge among his men?

  Hell, did they run, own or belong to some kind of BDSM club? Did they all have memberships in some place where there were handbooks and rules for this kind of stuff and did they all adhere to the same “code”?

  She wanted to pull her hair out and then cover her face and wish herself a million miles away, because this was becoming more disconcerting by the minute.

  “You wouldn’t hurt me,” she said in near desperation.

  Silas’s eyes softened. “No, Evangeline. I would never hurt you. Discipline doesn’t have to equal pain. Unless that’s your thing.” He shrugged. “People are into what pleases them. It’s not for me to judge. But if you’re asking if I will follow through with my threat? The answer is yes. I don’t make idle threats. Ever. So yes, I will turn you over my knee and spank that ass if you ever talk shit about yourself in my hearing. If you don’t want that to happen, the simple thing to do is not to say stupid shit, yeah? You got me?”

  “I got you,” she choked out, because if he was anything like Drake, and it appeared he was, then he too would want the words and not shaking or nodding her head as an answer.

  “You done?” Silas asked the doctor sharply.

  The doctor looked to have already finished but was clearly immersed in Silas’s exchange with Evangeline, because he was simply holding a bandage over Evangeline’s knee while watching the two in fascination.

  “Uh, yeah, sure. Just let me tape this over her knee.”

  Then he looked only at Evangeline.

  “Keep it covered for tonight. You can take the dressing off in the morning, but keep the area clean and apply the ointment as I instructed, and again, if you experience any of the problems or symptoms I listed, you are to come back to me immediately.”

  Evangeline nodded, still discomfited by the much-too-public airing of far-too-personal information. Did everyone who worked for Drake know every sordid detail of their relationship? Or were they merely guessing based on his past relationships?

  It hit a raw nerve to think that her relationship, or whatever this was between her and Drake, was following some guideline or schedule he performed by rote, regardless of who his current woman was.

  Would any woman do for him? Did Evangeline’s face blur among the many who’d come before her? Did she stand out? She supposed she was lucky that he at least remembered her name and hadn’t called her by another woman’s name. She’d likely stab him with a kitchen knife if that ever happened.

  Silas helped her from the exam table and then herded her from the clinic and into the elevator that would take them to the top floor. He inserted his own key card, further proof that Drake’s men were obviously trusted—and had full access to even his personal domains.

  When they walked into the apartment, she saw that the groceries had been placed on the counter and when she would have hurried over to sort through them, Silas blocked her and instead pushed her into the living room and then promptly sat her on the couch, reaching for a pillow to prop beneath her leg.

  “You stay put,” Silas ordered. “I know for a fact Drake said he would be late arriving, and I also know he’ll call to let you know when he’s on his way home. Therefore, until the time you receive that call, you are to relax and not further aggravate your injury. Drake will understand if dinner is a little late, given the circumstances.”

  Evangeline bit her lip, refusing to remind Silas that Drake had no clue about her injury. Unless she’d already been ratted out by one of his men. A distinct possibility.

  But when Drake did finally call, she realized that no, he didn’t know, and furthermore, he was still not happy about this morning’s transgression.

  The phone rang, rousing Evangeline from the couch. Damn it! How could she have fallen asleep? She’d planned that as soon as Silas made his departure, she was going to get a start on dinner, regardless of his assertion that she was to rest until Drake called.

  She scrambled for the phone, at least glad Silas had put it within reach. She nearly groaned when she swung her legs over the end of the couch so she could get up and head for the kitchen as she talked to Drake.

  “Hello?” she asked breathlessly.

  “I’ll be home in twenty minutes,” he said shortly.

  “O-okay,” she said, gripping the phone tighter.

  Even as she talked, she was digging into the bags and searching for the right skillets and warming the grill on the professional-grade stove.

  “Dinner will hold for a few minutes, I take it,” he said.

  “Yes, of course,” she said hastily. “I can have it ready whenever you’re ready to eat.”

  “Good. Then what I want you to do is go into the living room and undress. When I arrive I want you standing at the end of the couch, your belly leaned against the arm, legs slightly apart. And then when I tell you, you are to lean forward and put your hands down on the couch so that you are bent over the arm.”

  She hesitated, a puzzled look creasing her forehead. “Okay,” she said quietly.

  “Your punishment, Angel,” he said, evidently picking up on her confusion. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about this morning.”

  She nearly dropped the phone but managed to get a grip before it smashed onto the floor.

  “Be sure you’re ready and that you’ve heeded my every instruction or I won’t be pleased,” he said in a silky voice.

  “I won’t disappoint you, Drake,” she said in a low tone.

  He hesitated this time and then he said, “I know, Angel. That I know.”

  And then he hung up, leaving her to stare at the phone.

  She closed her eyes, refusing to focus on the fact that he was going to punish her. She had to get a start on dinner so he wouldn’t think she hadn’t already done so. This whole day had been nothing but an epic clusterfuck.

  She thought briefly about heeding Silas’s advice and telling Drake of all that had occurred the minute Drake came through the door, but then she frowned. What a coward she was being. At the very first opportunity she was trying to get out of trouble, when it was her own damn fault.

  No, she’d get dinner well on its way to being prepared, and then she’d go into the living room and do as Drake had told her. She wouldn’t wimp out the very first time their relationship was tested, or at least the first time she disobeyed him. Somehow she thought that would disappoint him far more than the fact that she’d disobeyed him.

  With five minutes to spare, she had everything prepared and on the stove, the sizzling sounds of food cooking and the inviting aroma filling the air. All that was left were the steaks, and she wouldn’t put those on until they were ready to eat.

  Knowing she now had less than five minutes until Drake arrived, she fled to the living room, ignoring the twinges of pain in her knee. If she hadn’t spent all afternoon napping on the couch and had been moving around, her knee wouldn’t even hurt. But after so many hours of inactivity, of course it was going to protest the sudden movements.

  She hastily undressed and then carefully folded her clothing and put it on the coffee table. She didn’t want it to appear as though she’d rushed through the process, even if that was precisely what she’d done.

  She slid her shoes underneath the coffee table and then laid her bra and panties on top of her torn jeans and shirt.

  When she was naked, she walked to the end of the couch and leaned into it, running her hands over the leather arm, and then leaned forward, testing how comfortable she would be when he asked her to bend over.

  Okay, that wasn’t so bad.

  She straightened and dutifully took her position exactly as he’d described and then closed her eyes, knowing the next few minutes until he arrived would seem like an eternity.

  • • •

  Drake waited impatiently for the elevator doors to open and immediately stepped off, not even taking the time to hang his coat over the coatrack. He slipped it off on his way to the living room and tossed it aside.

  His breath caught in his throat when he saw Evangeline standing just as he’d instructed her at the end of the couch, her bare skin glowing in the low light. Only a lamp was on in the far corner, lending an intimate air to the room.

  He walked up behind her, unable to resist such beautiful temptation. He brushed her hair over one shoulder and pressed his lips to the curve of her neck. She shivered beneath his touch and tiny chill bumps danced across her skin.

  “So responsive,” he murmured. “So fucking beautiful.”

  He heard her soft sigh, as beautiful as she was.

  “Stay right where you are,” he commanded.

  Then he left the room to get the crop from the bedroom. This would be her first experience with anything other than his hand and the few smacks he’d administered to her ass, and therefore he wouldn’t graduate to something harsher. Not until he was certain she was ready and with him all the way.

  When he returned, she was still standing there, as still as a statue, her pale skin glowing in unearthly light. She was a goddess and she was all his.

  He trailed the end of the crop down her spine, eliciting another shiver from her. He continued his gentle exploration, letting her become accustomed to the feel of the leather before he marked her gorgeous ass.

  He moved to the side of her so he could see her face, her expression.

  “I’m going to administer six lashes,” he said in an even voice. “Just to remind you in the future that you are not to disobey me. But fair warning, Angel, if it happens again, I won’t be as merciful.”

  She shifted her weight, an almost imperceptible movement, but he was tuned in to her completely and missed nothing. He was about to administer the first blow, still to the side of her, because he wanted to watch her reaction. The moment when the initial pain faded into pleasure. He wanted to watch her eyes go hazy at the pleasure he gave her.

  But a sudden flash of pain and obvious distress briefly chased through her eyes before it was gone, leaving him to wonder if he’d imagined it. But no. He’d clearly seen it. He frowned because he hadn’t done more than stroke her skin with the flogger.

  He let his hand fall to his side as he continued to stare piercingly at her.

  “What’s wrong?” he demanded. “Evangeline, look at me.”

  Slowly she turned her head so that she faced him fully and he was no longer just seeing her profile. Her eyes glittered with unshed tears and it gutted him.

  “Nothing is wrong, Drake. I won’t disobey you again,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I was being a petulant little child and I was a bitch. You didn’t deserve that from me.”

  And then her weight shifted again, and he saw that she moved most of her weight to one leg instead of having both feet planted solidly on the floor. She winced, pain once more flashing in her eyes before she visibly got herself under control and turned to face ahead. She leaned forward to plant her hands on the couch as he’d instructed her earlier, but all Drake could see, remember, was the pain in her eyes. Pain that he had in no way caused.

  His gaze dropped down her body, searching for any discernible source of discomfort. Then his eyes narrowed when he saw what the couch had effectively hidden from his view. A bandage on her knee.

  He went immediately to his knees, turning her to the side so she faced him, and he could now plainly see the dressing over her knee.

  “What the fuck?” he murmured, purposely pitching his voice low so that his emphatic words held no bite or anger directed at her.

  He stood rapidly and then picked her up, cradling her against his chest, and then walked around to the front of the couch and carefully laid her down. Then he gently lifted her legs, wanting to cause her no further pain, and draped them across his lap so he could get a closer look at her knee.

  “What happened?” he demanded.

  She sighed. “It’s nothing, Drake. I promise. It was stupid of me and I was clumsy. Zander and I went out to buy groceries and then he insisted I needed a pair of sunglasses and so he stopped in a boutique and bought two pairs of hideously expensive sunglasses.”

  She shuddered and closed her eyes, and he realized she was more upset over the cost of the sunglasses than she was over the injury to her knee.

  “When we walked out, I tripped. I’m not even sure what exactly happened except one minute I was standing and the next I was facedown on the sidewalk and Zander was freaking out. He wanted to call you immediately, but I begged him not to. So he called Jus
tice to come get us. Only Justice and Silas arrived, and then Silas insisted he bring me to your doctor.”

  Drake’s eyes narrowed as he absorbed her account. “And why didn’t you think it important to call me?”

  “You were busy,” she whispered, distress radiating from her voice. “Your note said you would be busy and that you would be wrapped up in important meetings all day and that you’d be late for dinner. It was nothing worth disturbing you over. Your doctor stitched it up in just a few minutes and gave me medicine to numb the wound.”

  “He had to stitch you?” he asked behind tightly clenched teeth.

  Her eyes grew larger with fear and nervousness, but he was too determined to get to the bottom of this whole mess before allaying her fears that he was angry with her. Jesus. He should have been the one with her. The whole goddamn time.

  “Only a few,” she said defensively. “I don’t know why he even bothered. I’ve suffered far worse before, and slapping a bandage over it worked just fine.”

  “That may have been okay before,” he said, trying to get a grip on his emotions. “Before you belonged to me, that is. But it is not okay now. You belong to me now, and I will always ensure you are cared for above all others. Your comfort and safety are second to none other. You should not have had to go to the clinic with only a strange man to comfort you. I should have been there to hold you and to carry you up to our apartment after and ensure your absolute comfort. That’s my job, Angel.”

  He pinned her with an intense stare. “Now tell me. What’s your job?”

  She looked confused and her brow creased in obvious puzzlement. “I don’t understand what you’re asking,” she said helplessly. “I’m not being deliberately obtuse, Drake. I’m just confused by your question.”

  “My job is to always take care of you. To provide for you. To ensure your safety when I cannot be near and most especially to ensure that you are comfortable above all else. You only have one job, my angel. Obey.”

  Evangeline stared in wonder at Drake as a myriad of conflicting emotions assailed her over his matter-of-fact stating of the facts—the truth—as he saw them. She felt slight irritation. But mostly she felt profound relief. As though a great burden had shifted and had been lifted from her shoulders.

  Could it really be as easy as he made it appear? That this man, this beautiful, dominant man would cherish her, pamper her, spoil her, protect her, take care of her and in return, all she had to do was to obey? It was almost more than she could fathom. Like she was in a never-ending fantasy and if she opened her eyes it would all be gone in the blink of an eye, and so she held tightly to the dream, squeezing her eyes tighter shut to keep reality at bay.

  Then he leaned down and very carefully peeled away the bandage, and after a moment’s inspection, he reverently pressed his lips to the wound. She was astonished that in one moment he was all raw power, bristling alpha male about to discipline his submissive, and in the next second he was so exquisitely loving and tender that it brought an altogether different kind of sting to her eyes.

  “From now on if anything, and I mean anything, should happen to you, I want to know about it immediately. I don’t care how insignificant you think it is. I expect to know about it the minute it happens. Understand?”

  She swallowed and then somehow managed to verbalize her consent around the knot in her throat.

  Then to her further shock, he gently slid her body further over his lap until he cradled her against his chest. He pressed his lips firmly to her brow and then stood, lifting her higher into his arms. He carried her into the kitchen and then eased her down on the island with the rest of the kitchen surrounding her.

  “Tonight, I cook for my injured princess,” he said, a gleam in his eyes.

  Appalled, she immediately launched her protest. “In no way do a few stitches keep me from cooking dinner. Besides, everything is nearly done except for the steaks, and they’ll only need a few minutes to grill on each side.”

  He tweaked her nose affectionately and then followed it by kissing her long and leisurely on the lips.

  “Then I won’t have much left to do, will I? You will sit right where you are and direct me from on high. You tell me what to do and how, and I’ll have supper served in no time.”

  Evangeline watched in fascination as he tended to the meal, pausing from time to time to ask her if he was doing it right. And as she was watching him and as she replayed the events prior when he’d forgotten all about her punishment and had instead instantly made certain she was all right and taken care of, she had an epiphany of sorts.

  Drake enjoyed taking care of her. In fact, he seemed to delight in it. It—she—mattered to him, and he took what he called his “job” very seriously. She wondered if he had never had anyone who truly cared about him and if that was why he seemed so determined to give her something that maybe he himself had lacked.

  It only made her all the more determined not only to accept him unconditionally but also to do everything in her power to take care of and protect him. Maybe no one in his past had ever ensured that he was happy and cared for, but she’d be damned if she was going to be like those people. Drake would know without a doubt that there was at least one person who cared deeply enough about him to always ensure his happiness and comfort. And if she could do all those things by simply pleasing him and following his rules, then she would do so with no hesitation, no more questioning herself.

  “Drake,” she said hesitantly.

  He turned as if sensing the seriousness in her tone.

  “I am sorry,” she said softly. “For today. Earlier. I was a bitch and as I said, you didn’t deserve that from me. I’m ashamed of the way I acted, and I did so without thought and that hurt you. I feel terrible about it. Can you forgive me? I will try very hard never to give you any cause to be unhappy with me again. I want to please you. It’s important to me. More important than you even know.”

  His expression relaxed and he walked over after flipping the steaks and wrapped his arms around her.

  “You are not a bitch, Angel. Far from it. And I think we should both just agree to forget all about today and move on. But baby, I want a promise from you. You are to never let me punish you or even put you in a situation where you are hurting or feel any discomfort. You should have told me the minute your accident happened, and if not then, you most assuredly should have told me before I put a crop to your ass. Thank God I figured it out before I doled out your punishment, because I would have never forgiven myself for causing you unnecessary pain.”

  There was genuine self-derision in his tone and remorse. Her heart softened
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