It'll Be An Adventure
MASTERS OF THE SHADOWLANDS, BOOK 16
From NYT & USA Today Bestselling author Cherise Sinclair comes an outstanding addition to the beloved Masters of the Shadowlands series.
The secret of author Murphy’s success is hands-on research.
Murphy loves writing popular Regency thrillers and jumping into new adventures under the guise of research. For one novel, she’d joined a K9 search-and-rescue group—and liked it so much she stayed. But this book… Why had she thought a Regency birching club was a good setting?
The challenge is, she’ll have to return to the Shadowlands.
Years ago, she’d sneaked into the area’s most exclusive, private club. And what had happened to her there…well, she still has nightmares. But she’s healed now, right?
When she gets up her courage to visit the club, the owner hands her over to Master Saxon.
Master Saxon is handsome, powerful, and dominant. The veterinarian has a gorgeous smile, a trust-me voice, and does Search and Rescue with his canine helper, Sherlock. In the Shadowlands, he’s known as the Viking god. For years, he’s avoided serious relationships. A quiet, little author can’t possibly slip past his defenses. Even if he does adore her books.
Master Saxon guided her into the dungeon. “If I birch you extra hard, will that get you to write faster?”
Her mouth dropped open at his wicked grin, then his words registered. “No!”
Note: Full-length, sizzling-hot novel with no cliff hanger and no cheating. A protective, dominant hero. A vulnerable, intelligent heroine. Page-turning adventure, sigh-worthy romance, hilarious girl-gang moments…and an adorable fluffy dog.
PRAISE FOR THIS SERIES
If you haven’t read this series, you’re missing out. Sinclair writes the best Doms. Period. ~ Under the Covers Book Reviews
The depth of emotion that Sinclair puts in her books and in her characters blow me away. It overwhelms, it consumes, it dominates my mind. I’m completely in love with each and every character that comes into the mix and I can’t wait to dive into their lives and completely forget about my troubles. ~ ShaynaRenee’s Spicy Reads
One thing that I really love is how Cherise took a series and turned into a family of characters that every time I read the next novel it feels like coming home to friends. ~ Boundless Book Reviews
The incident commander stepped away from the tables. “People, let’s get started. At dawn, a fourteen-year-old girl had a fight with her new stepmother and ran off. They were camping over there.” He waved toward the nearby campgrounds. “Family and friends, then park and wildlife people searched for her but finally called in the authorities. Unfortunately, between all the searchers and the downpour this morning, tracking is pretty much screwed.”
That was…not good. Murphy exchanged concerned glances with Megan, a dog handler around her age. It wasn’t that long until nightfall. Nights weren’t cold, but the wilderness area was full of dangers. Snakes, bugs, gators, bears, coyotes, and bobcats as well as two-legged assholes. There were wetlands of all kinds—swamps, ponds, rivers.
And no drinkable water. With this heat…
“We need to get out there and find her.” The incident commander indicated the line of black clouds on the horizon. “The forecast is calling for even nastier weather—lightning, downpours, winds. Areas might well flood or turn even more swampy. Let’s get this done before the storm arrives.”
Oh, joy. Nothing like time pressure. She rubbed her damp palms over her pants. Still fairly new to search and rescue, she’d worked with only two dog handlers previously. But Dustin had asked her to come today, saying he was short on K9 assistants…or what some groups called flankers. While the dog handler concentrated on the dog, the flanker watched out for everything else, navigated, and handled communications with the base.
It was a lot.
And didn’t it just figure she’d have to learn to deal with a new handler during a real search, not a practice one?
The noise dropped as people were given maps with their assigned sections to clear.
“Murphy.” At Dustin’s come-here gesture, she started forward. Then stopped.
Oh, no. She knew the man beside him, who looked like he stepped out of one of those Viking barbarian shows. Well over six feet tall, shoulder-length blond hair, and so muscular he probably lifted weights with the Terminator in his off-hours.
Damnfinito. It was Master Saxon—the big bully.
This wasn’t right. The universe couldn’t be so cruel, could it? This was totally Murphy’s Law in action. How would she put it?
Whatever person you least want to see will show up at the worst possible moment.
“Murphy, Saxon doesn’t have a flanker today, so let’s pair you up with him and his dog.
Yes, the universe is a sadist.
“Murphy. Good to meet you.” Master Saxon’s…no, Saxon’s deep voice was calm without a hint of his feelings. Then again, did bullies have feelings?
Thank goodness he didn’t recognize her.
Oh, don’t be stupid. Of course he knew her. He was just being discreet. During orientation, Ghost said that what happened in the Shadowlands stayed in the Shadowlands. Members didn’t acknowledge each other outside the club.
Oh…boy. Did she truly want to be out in the field with this bully? But Dustin needed her for the search. A child was out there. Maybe injured, undoubtedly lost.
Being lost was the worst feeling in the world. The first time she went hiking with Pa and her brothers, she’d gone off to pee and couldn’t find the way back. She’d stared at the trees—all alike. Feeling so little and so alone.
No child should ever feel that way.
She’d been staring at the bully too long. His dark blond eyebrows rose in inquiry.
She lifted her chin and kept her voice cool. Lying wasn’t something she could do so there’d be no nice to meet you. Instead, she gave an acknowledging nod. “Saxon.”
His lips quirked, then he motioned to the dog sitting at his feet. “This is Sherlock.”
She yanked her gaze from the man and looked down—and her heart melted.
The dog looked like a border collie mix with adorable flopped-over ears and a happy smile. She crouched and held out her hand. “Hey, Sherlock. You have a great name for a dog who finds people.”
Wagging his tail, he bounced forward for pets, giving her a quick lick across her chin.
“You’re a wonderful dog. I can tell,” she whispered.
He grinned—as only a dog could—in obvious agreement.
“Heh, I think she likes your dog better than you,” Dustin muttered to Saxon. “There’s a change.”
Saxon’s low chuckle sent goosebumps over her skin.
“Murphy, what are you doing over there? Get your ass over here. We’re short a flanker.” Ross strode over, full lips thinning as he pressed them together.
Unhappiness stirred inside her. It hurt to know her old SAR group needed her, and she couldn’t help. But this group needed her too. “Sorry, Ross. I moved to the Pasco K9 group.”
“What the fuck did you do a stupid thing like that for? After I put all that work into training you, you’re just leaving?”
Training me? Hardly. It wasn’t as if he was a dog handler or flanker. He sat at a table and handled the base support communication. “Yes, I left. I prefer a group closer to home.”
And away from you.
As if he’d heard her thought, his expression hardened. “Fine. You weren’t all that great anyway. At anything. They’re welcome to you.”
When he stomped away toward her old group, she looked down, blinking hard. Knowing her face must be red. I want to go home. Just go home.
A small growl sounded. The fluffy dog at her feet showed his teeth as he watched Ross.
And somehow, the sound made her feel better. She stroked her fingers over Sherlock’s soft head and whispered, “Thanks.”
Pulling in a slow breath, she looked at the two men. “Sorry about that. Recent break-up.”
Frowning, Saxon was studying her. His gaze paused on her waist, and she realized she was hugging herself.
Oops. She let her arms drop.
After a dismissive glance at Ross, Saxon returned his attention to her. “There’s a kid who’s lost. Let’s get going.”
“Yeah. I hate drama queens. And Murphy, I talked to your previous group. You’re a good flanker.” All business, Dustin held out a paper. “Here’s your map with the marked section you two will need to clear and a pic of the girl. Start when you’re ready.”
As he headed for the next team, she took a quick look at the map. As usual, the K9 teams would be sent into the emptiest areas. Fixing the map in her memory, she surveyed the area around them for landmarks.
“Got everything you need?” Saxon asked.
He might be a jerk, but he was her job today. And he had a wonderful dog. She knew how to keep things polite and professional.
“Yes, I’m ready to go.” She pointed. “Our section is that way. We can follow that horse path for a while then turn east.”
“Good plan.” He nodded, clicked his tongue for Sherlock, and headed out, motioning for her to walk beside him. He was so big, she felt almost tiny. She kept her eyes on the narrow dirt trail through a forest of slash and long-leaf pine.
“How much experience do you have with flanking?” he asked.
“Only a few months. Three actual searches. I’ve got the standard certifications, and the usual weekly and monthly training.” She smiled at the sight of a gopher tortoise, nose out of its hole.
“We can cut across here.” If nothing else, she had a lot of experience in Florida forests, thanks to her father running a wilderness lodge until recently. She headed off the tiny path toward the east.
He followed. Sherlock danced along beside him, tail waving in happiness.
She looked at him. “I’ve only been with a couple of K9 teams. Is there anything about the two of you that I should know?”
“Sherlock’s an air-scent dog, so stay behind and downwind. He moves fast, and his signals aren’t subtle.”
Air scent dogs could pick up the faintest whiff of a person in the air as opposed to trailing dogs—like bloodhounds—that followed a scent left on the ground. The breeze in front of the incoming storm would be useful in carrying the scent toward them.
She checked the GPS and stopped. “We can start here.” She marked the starting place on the map and started the log, then tucked things away in her vest. Time to be record-keeper, communicator, and navigator.
Bending, Saxon rubbed behind Sherlock’s ears—and Murphy couldn’t help thinking of how warm and strong his hand had been when he stroked her hair at the Shadowlands.
Do not think of such things. Gah!
“You ready to go, buddy?” When Saxon grinned at his dog, a white smile in his tanned face, it was difficult to remember how hard his features had looked when he’d hit Gabi.
No, not hit—spanked. But still.
Sherlock gave a yip of happiness.
“Ready to scour the area and find the little girl?”
Sherlock whuffed and danced with eagerness.
“All right then.” Saxon unclipped the lead. “Find.”
The black dog was off like a shot, and Saxon jogged after him. Murphy stayed behind and off to one side, mentally keeping track of the wind. Nose high in the air, the dog would alert to any people he scented in the area, and she needed to be sure it wasn’t her he smelled, at least until he recognized her enough to discount her scent the way he did his handler’s.
Tension tightened her shoulders. Flanking was tough, keeping track of the wind, the dog, checking the dog was covering only their area—and not tripping over roots or crashing into low branches. It was multitasking on steroids.
Sherlock did move fast.
All too soon, sweat was trickling down her back, and she was sucking air. Keeping an eye on the map landmarks and the GPS, she called directions now and then when Sherlock started to go out of bounds.
The dog stopped at one point, sniffing hard, working his nose for the scent in the swirling breeze. Then his tail went down, and he moved off with no elation,
As she followed Saxon, disappointment slowed her feet and eroded her focus. She tripped—and recovered—though she probably looked like an incompetent beginner now. Dammit.
Saxon had been checking on her now and then, This time, he whistled for Sherlock. “Let’s take a hydration break.”
Great, now she felt like a total failure. “I can keep going.”
“Your color says we’re taking a break.” He gave her a level look. “I don’t know you or your limits. It’d be good if you let me know before you reached the point of exhaustion.”
Yes, she really was a loser. “Right. Okay.” She sure wasn’t going to say, “Yes, Sir.” Not to him.
Sherlock bounced back, as energetic as when they started, although his tongue was hanging out as he panted.
Murphy rested her butt on a stump as she caught up on the notes she’d made and drank her Gatorade. Each breath felt like she was inhaling hot soup. Why did she live in this stupid climate anyway?
After checking Sherlock for any injuries or stickers, Saxon gave his dog water, then leaned against a tree trunk. Sweat drenched his shirt, plastering it to a very muscular chest. As he chugged water from his canteen, his Adam’s apple moved up and down in his strong throat.
Why in the world was that incredibly sexy?
Oh, man, she was losing it—probably a sign of dehydration.
She drank more Gatorade.
The rest and fluids helped. However, her energy was taking forever to return. “I’m good to go when you are.”
His eyes were piercingly blue in his tan face as his gaze swept her from head to toes in a slow appraisal. “All right then.”
His accentless baritone was laden with compelling power. Her jaw tightened. When he’d made Gabi cry, his voice had stayed perfectly level and emotionless.
She needed to remember that.
At least he didn’t have that cruel sickness in his eyes. The kind she’d seen in Aaron’s. Master Saxon had shown no expression during the spanking, although he hadn’t seemed to enjoy himself, now that she thought about it. What kind of a man was he? She didn’t understand him at all.
Well, Murphy, you don’t need to, now do you.
She rose, tucked her Gatorade away, and took a quick GPS reading. “We’re on course.”
Giving the find command, Saxon let the dog run, then followed.