The Second New Masters of the Castle Book in the Witness Protection Boxed Set
Only 6 days left to go before the release of the Masters of the Castle boxed set: Witness Protection Program. Eight new stories by ten awesome authors, for only $.87 each. This price will only last until the boxed set is released, so hurry and get your copy today!
Want a sneak peak at the stories inside? Take a look at this one, Embracing Eden by Maren Smith
There were twenty of them—newly-hired employees all dressed in civilian clothes, lined up in equal rows of ten to either side of the hallway. Well, not a hallway, per se. More of a dead end with a closed door labeled ‘Security’ on one side and another labeled ‘Janitor Only.’ The third and last closed door was both the entrance and the exit. It also had a self-imposed guard standing sentry in front of it, one dourly-dressed Mrs. Hardwick, who was easily the tallest woman Eden had ever seen in her life and which—now that guards were involved—actually made this less of a dead end and more of a prison. That in turn put a whole new title of authority on the grim and stoic butler standing at the head of the narrow room. Grimsley was his name, Master Butler was his title and yes, it matched his 1800s Victorian uniform. He was warden over them all.
“I can be your best friend,” he started off by saying. “Just know, if you don’t do as I tell you, when I tell you, I can and will make you all wish you’d never met me.”
He was more than a little scary to Eden, and she tried hard not to look directly at him. The last thing she wanted was to find herself pinned in the cool darkness of his unfriendly stare. And yet, as he strolled between the rows, she couldn’t stop herself. She stole a peek—looking up and up and up. God, he was so tall. By more than a foot, he towered over her, a man not yet past his physical prime, with just a hint of salt sprinkled through the pepper of his dark hair. Forced to guess, she’d have said he was in his late forties. And he was lean, trim. So incredibly slender and wiry that it was a wonder he did not live in perpetual terror of a good, stiff breeze.
“I have zero patience for nonsense,” Grimsley said, capturing her wandering attention even as he passed in front of her. “Nor do I have a sense of humor.”
The coolness of his stare found her and damn if her knees didn’t try to buckle. In her nervousness, she tried to smile. And because she did stupid things when she got nervous, she almost waved at him too, except his frown chose that moment to deepen, quelling the urge.
As if he were speaking directly to her, he said, “Give me twenty-four hours and I promise, you will come to hate having me as your boss.”
Eden believed him. Her knees believed him too; they tried to buckle again, but she stiffened herself. Scary as he was, she was a Little Maid now and she was excited. How could anyone not be? She’d been hired by the Castle! A BDSM resort the likes of which her imagination could scarcely comprehend! She’d been pinching herself ever since she got the callback letting her know the job was hers and she could start on Thursday. This Thursday. Today’s Thursday. She squirmed, every nerve dancing with the thrill of just standing here, even if her new boss did look like a slightly older version of the evil butler in Downton Abbey. From the starch of his collar, to the shine of his black shoes, and all the way back up again to the way his big hands clasped the lithesome rattan switch behind his back—the Castle could not have picked a better man to play the part of ‘stern, unyielding butler.’
Oh, yes. Eden believed him.
The lady to the right of her, however, snorted. She immediately rolled her lips, but wasn’t quite successful in muffling her rude laughter.
Startled, Eden looked at her.
So did Grimsley. Having almost returned to the head of the room, he came straight back to them. He stopped directly in front of both the woman and Eden. His gaze did not warm, and he absolutely did not smile.
Gradually, the woman beside Eden lost all trace of rude amusement. She rolled her lips again, but her unease became palpable the longer he stood there. Was he waiting for something? To Eden it looked like he was waiting.
“What?” the woman finally said, when it became clear he might intend to stand there forever if something didn’t happen.
Frowning, as if his silence had been a test and the woman had just failed it, the Master Butler turned away. “Mrs. Hardwick,” he said, summoning the tall woman from her sentry post at the main entrance.
The crisp echo of that tall woman’s shoes as she came down the aisle to join them made all the fine hairs on Eden’s arms stand upright. “Yes, Mr. Grimsley.”
“Terminate this woman’s employment and see her removed from the premises.”
Jaw dropping, the woman gasped. “What? Are you serious?”
“Come along, dear.” Taking her by the arm, Mrs. Hardwick pulled her out of line, despite the instant show of resistance the other woman made when she dug in her heels.
“Now wait just one minute!” The woman’s brow furrowed, her shock giving way to anger. “You can’t do that! I didn’t do anything!”
“Come along, dear,” Mrs. Hardwick said. “You signed the paperwork. You know we have the right to revoke your employment at any time, for any reason, during your probationary period.”
“But this isn’t fair! I didn’t do anything!”
“Next time, don’t laugh.” Mrs. Hardwick escorted her from the dead end hallway, and the door softly closed on the other’s continuing protests, growing softer the farther they receded.
Grimsley cleared his throat.
Snapping her eyes from the now closed door, Eden found herself once more pinned in the stone of the Master Butler’s stare. He was standing so close to her, right in her bubble of private space. Him and that switch, the one still clasped behind his back. Her bottom clenched, an involuntary squeeze that had never in the history of domestic discipline ever succeeded in making the target area of anyone’s behind smaller or safer from harm.
Eden held his unyielding stare, determined not to look away. Or fidget. Fidgeting would be worse. She wanted this job. She’d wanted it from the moment she’d learned a place like the Castle existed. To be able to live openly as a submissive, in just about any fantasy scenario that she could dream up, constantly surrounded by other submissives and experienced, knowledgeable, take-no-sass Masters (just like this one; be still her beat-skipping heart), Eden just could not imagine life getting any better than that.
She couldn’t bear to lose it now; not to a momentary slip of inattention.
“I’m so very sorry, Sir,” she blurted, fingers twisting in the folds of her jeans. Locking her attention on him, she was determined to keep it there from now until he dismissed them… if he didn’t fire her first.
Grimsley tipped his head. “For what are you sorry?”
Eden’s chest felt too small, too tightly constricted. Her heart was struggling to find its rhythm. “Because I got distracted. It won’t happen again.”
Eden couldn’t tell if she was supposed to answer or not, so she kept her mouth shut. She didn’t relax until Grimsley turned away.
Addressing the rest of the group now, he continued with their orientation. “You are not guests. You aren’t here on vacation. When you misbehave, break the rules, defy my commands, or brat me, I won’t put you over my knee and spank your naughty bottoms.”
Just the thought of it sent a peculiar fizzling sensation, like soda pop, spreading under her skin, out all across Eden’s backside. It was all she could do not to rub, if only to stop that distracting feeling from spreading any further.
“I am your supervisor. For the next ninety days, it is my job to make sure you learn what you need to know in order to work here in a safe, sane and responsible manner. If you fail to follow protocols and procedures, I will fire you. Act like a troublemaker and I will treat you like one—meaning, you’ll be gone. Annoy me and don’t bother re-applying. I will have you banned for life. Raise your hand if you are at all confused about what I’ve just said.” Grimsley put one hand in the air, but no one else moved.
“Splendid,” he said, and Eden could all but hear this chapter in their orientation process closing. In the silence that followed, it was as loud as the slam of a metal gate. Strolling up the hallway, he opened the door Mrs. Hardwick had exited through some moments before. Though she had not yet returned, when Grimsley stepped aside, four men and two women filed in around him. “Show of hands, who are my Masters-in-training?”
Four of the nine men raised their hands.
Without being asked, one of the men who had just entered stepped forward and Grimsley introduced him. “This is Master Brody, he oversees the Stables here on the Castle grounds. This is where you will start your training. You will answer to him, he will answer to me, and whether you advance your training by proceeding to a different program later on will depend entirely upon how well you apply yourself to this one. I should think it goes without saying that mistreatment of any Pony in our Stable, or any submissive anywhere on the property, is grounds for immediate dismissal.”
“Dismissal nothing,” Brody growled. “I’ll fucking skin you alive.”
Brody beckoned, the Masters-in-training followed, and Grimsley summoned the next group. “Who are my Mistresses?”
Several women raised their hands, coming forward when he beckoned and gestured to a very submissive looking woman in a drab grey, head-to-toe maid’s uniform. Her head was bowed, her hands clasped loosely before her.
“Mrs. Hardwick will be responsible for your training, but as she is busy with another matter at the moment, Miss Evelyn will show you to your rooms and then to Wardrobe. Again, you will answer to Mrs. Hardwick, who will answer to me, and whether you continue to work here or not will depend on how studiously you apply yourself to learning how we operate and how well you treat those around you. We haven’t much patience for those with queenly attitudes.” Turning to the silently waiting submissive, he said, “Evelyn.”
“Please follow me,” the maid said. She led them away, leaving twelve people including Eden behind with Grimsley, three other men and a woman.
“Submissives?” Grimsley asked, raising his hand.
Eden’s hand was in the air before the thought fully occurred to her that, being as the dominants were already out of the room, who but the submissives could be left? She startled when she looked left to find the two people standing there were the only new-hires who had not raised their hands.
Eden was still trying to puzzle through what came after Dominant and submissive—switch, maybe; did that deserve its own course of training?—when she heard Grimsley clearing his throat. The harshness of the sound was heavy with disapproval. When exactly the Master Butler had come back down the hallway, she didn’t know, but once more he was planted directly in front of her, frowning that dark and dangerous scowl. The tip of his rattan switch could be seen, bobbing out a silent warning behind his back as he adjusted his grip on it.
She swallowed hard. “Sorry.”
He tipped his head, studying her with the kind of intensity no submissive wanted from any Dominant.
“One more time,” he said slowly, “for the hearing impaired.” He pointed and, following the direction of his finger, she realized she was the only submissive still in the hallway. Everyone else was gathered just outside the now open door with the last newly-arrived woman assigned to be their escort.
Dressed in an overtly sexy French maid outfit, the woman stared at Eden as if she’d lost her mind. Just inside the door were the three remaining men. The burliest stood with arms folded across his bulging chest and the black t-shirt that declared him to be ‘Chief of Security.’ His eyebrows arched as he waited for her to get her act together. The shortest of the men had his hand clapped over his eyes. He was laughing at her. And the third… oh, hell, the third was Master Marshall himself. She recognized him from the Castle’s online brochure.
Oh crap, and she’d just missed her cue. Again.
“I swear, girl…” Grimsley growled, snapping Eden’s attention back to him. She clung to her own fingers, her knees shaking, her stomach dropping all the way to her toes.
The Master Butler directed her gaze to his, pointing at his own eyes and the growing impatience snapping in the dark brown depths. “Focus,” he warned, then pointed toward the other submissives. “Go.”
Blushing furiously, positive the moment she turned her back he was going to swat her with that switch, Eden nevertheless reached the others unscathed.
“This way,” the woman said, beckoning her to join them in the outer hallway.
“She’s going to be fun,” the chuckling Master said.
As the door was closing behind her, she heard Grimsley answer, “She’s not going to last the probationary period, I guarantee you that.”
As the door bumped shut, Eden’s heart sank. She wanted to cover her burning face with both hands. What was wrong with her sometimes? Why did she let herself get distracted like that? Instead of impressing her new employers, she’d left them with the impression that she was a bubblehead, at best, and at worst, an idiot. Either way, the only impression she’d left on the Master Butler was to get rid of her!
She had to make amends. She had to apologize and somehow make him believe she was serious about being here. Otherwise, all she could see was herself spending whatever time she had left here making mistakes under Grimsley’s microscope. The very next one could send her home, too. Oh, the pressure!
Jumping, Eden found herself once more standing alone. The Little Maid who’d been charged with the submissive group had relocated everyone farther up the main hallway. The rest of the group was gone, presumably they’d filed through the door she was now holding open while she was waiting for Eden.
“Are you coming?”
“I have to use the bathroom,” Eden said quite truthfully. That always happened when she got into trouble. It was like her bladder lost all track of itself the second she got scolded.
“Oh.” Half turning, the Little Maid pointed further up the hall. “Go all the way to the corner and take a right. The nearest guest bathrooms are across from the Medical Play offices. But then you have to come right back here, okay? Otherwise I’ll be in trouble, too, and you know how everyone says the bark is worse than the bite? Yeah, well, anyone who says that hasn’t felt Master Grimsley’s switch. I guarantee his ‘bite’ is ten times worse than his bark ever could be. Trust me.”
Tucking a hand behind her, the woman indulged in a remembered rub before disappearing into the conference room along with the rest of the submissives. Eden was left alone in the hallway, caught between a reluctance to put herself in any position where she might have to find out exactly how that felt and the most perplexing submissive curiosity to do just that.
No. She recoiled, actually shaking her head at herself. No, the last thing she wanted was rouse that man’s ire any further than she already had. She wasn’t a bad girl. She wasn’t a brat, and she got no pleasure out of getting in trouble for real. Fake trouble, that was something else. Fun ‘punishments’ that mimicked the real thing but with erotic undertones, those were far more her speed, and that was not this.
That was not anything associated with Master Grimsley.
Following the other woman’s directions, Eden made her way to the bathroom. She found the medical rooms first. Soft whimpering sounds let her know at least one of those offices was in use, but she managed to sneak into the bathroom without encountering anyone. They hadn’t got as far through the orientation process as picking up their uniforms in Wardrobe. Although that was probably coming up next, considering how Mrs. Hardwick had made a point of saying it was against Castle rules to be caught anywhere on the grounds in civilian clothes, and also considering how she was already in trouble, the last thing Eden wanted was to break any more rules.
Fortunately, she didn’t spot anyone hanging out in or around the bathroom. Most importantly, nobody spotted her either, and soon she was hurrying right back to her point of indecision, caught between two doors—one of which took her back to her group, and the other sealing her out of that dead-end area where Grimsley and the other Masters were still talking to the two people who didn’t qualify either as dominants or submissives. Although she couldn’t hear what was being said, the low exchange of masculine voices could easily be heard. Her hand on the door latch, Eden was about to rejoin the other submissives when the errant thought popped into her head: If Grimsley was still with them, maybe she ought to wait for him to come out so she could apologize. It couldn’t hurt to try, right? She really, really wanted this job. If she could make him understand that, then at the very least a promise to do better might help her wriggle back into his good graces.
Which might not happen if he caught her away from the rest of her group, but which absolutely would not happen if he wasn’t even still a part of Master Marshall’s private meeting.
Tiptoeing to the door, not wanting to disturb whatever the Masters were doing on the other side, Eden very quietly cracked open the door and stole a quick peek.
“You’ll need a master keycard,” Marshall was saying as he handed one to each of the new-hires. “With this, you’ll have access to every part of the Castle, including the guest rooms. Although, frankly, while I understand the importance, I still have a problem with that. We’ve got you in the Little Maids program, which gives you the best chance of slipping in and out with the rest of the cleaning staff without attracting too much attention, but badges must be kept hidden. I cannot emphasize enough how disruptive it would be if anyone found out I have police snooping through the Castle in search of a killer.”
Eden’s whole body sparked, icy shock zipping up her spine and down the backs of her tensing legs. Killer? What killer?
“What about the dog?” the man asked.
“I have made allowances for service animals in the past,” Marshall said slowly. “We occasionally get guests suffering from PTSD, seizures, or a few other impairments.”
The man and woman—police officers both—looked at one another, then back at Marshall.
“Well,” the woman said wryly. “I can’t be blind, but I am wearing a hearing aid.”
“For security and insurance purposes, I’ll need to provide you with an escort.”
“Uh,” the male officer spoke up. “No offense to your Master Jackson—”
“None taken,” the burly chief of security said from mere feet in front of Eden’s door. The fine hairs up her arms and across the back of her neck raised all over again.
“—but we’re not going to be undercover for very long if we’re seen going in and out of rooms with someone with ‘security’ emblazoned across their chest.”
“No, I realize that,” Master Marshall said. “It’ll have to be someone who won’t readily be identified by our regulars. And then, of course, there’s the problem of my being seen with you. Everyone who comes here, first time or not, knows my face. Plus, no offense, but I have a business to run. I have appointed Master Eric as the liaison between you and myself, not to mention the other officers who have been arriving all morning long.”
“Other officers?” The woman snapped a look to her partner.
“Yes,” Marshall drawled, his tone clearly stating he wasn’t happy about it, either. “Master Grimsley heads the Little Maids program, so he will be your direct connection to the Castle. If there is anything you need, please do not hesitate to ask either him or Eric. If it is within our power to do so, I have made it clear they are to accommodate all requests.”
Struggling to digest the shocking information she’d just overheard, Eden cracked the door a little further, but accidentally bumped into something solid. Shit, Jackson. But no, a Master she assumed to be Eric popped his head out from behind the door and looked at her through the crack. It was a toss-up which of them was more startled, but then the latch ripped out of her hand and regardless of what her intentions had been at the start of this, all hell broke loose.
“Well, look what I just caught,” Master Eric announced.
Eden tried to run but his heavy hand clamped onto the back of her neck, yanking her into the room and the uncomfortable spotlight of everyone now frowning at her—the police, Marshall, and of course, the Master Butler, who looked furious.
She was done. There was no apologizing for this, especially after Grimsley caught her by the ear, hauling her onto her tiptoes as he took her away from Eric.
“I’ll take care of this,” he said. Eden believed him now too; his expression thunderous, he looked even scarier than before.
“Wait,” Marshall said, before even she could.
Grimsley stopped, one hand on the door and the other tightening its grip on her ear. She could feel the tension in him. It was almost as sharp and painful as his twisting hold.
“Ow, ow, ow,” she whispered, coming up as high as her tiptoes would allow. She caught his wrist, but his grip did not relax. Neither the one on her ear, nor the one holding fast to both the door latch and his lethal-looking switch. She saw it from the corner of her eye when his thumb stroked about an inch above the rim of the leather-wrapped handle, a caress of anticipation, but she wasn’t anywhere near as afraid of that as she was of being fired. Especially since she wasn’t a snoop. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop; she’d meant to apologize!
Fat chance anyone would believe her now, though. She wanted to cry.
“We can’t fire her.” Marshall rubbed his eyes and sighed.
“Watch me,” Grimsley returned, but the burly chief of security stopped him.
“No, he’s right,” Jackson said.
“The minute she steps foot off Castle grounds, we’ll have no way of keeping this quiet. Word of this will spread through Granger like a draught fire. Then the first incoming tour bus will bring it right back here. If Carmen is here, not only will he know we’ve got undercover cops in the Castle, but all our guests and future guests would too.”
“There goes our billing as a safe place to explore BDSM,” Jackson agreed.
“There goes our billing as a safe anything,” Marshall replied. “What do you want to bet the first review that gets posted will be a demand to know why we were open and operating with a potential assassin in our midst?”
“We only just got here and already our investigation is shot to shit,” the frowning male officer muttered, folding his arms across his chest and glaring at her.
“We could arrest her,” the female suggested. “We can’t hold her indefinitely, but it could give us a few days. Unless you want to press charges, but I don’t think there’s anything you can get her for that she won’t immediately bond out of. So, then you’re back to not keeping this quiet.”
Eden was hurt. “I won’t say anything. I-I didn’t mean to—”
Grimsley twisted her ear, bringing her dancing that much higher onto her toes. “I,” he growled, “have had enough of you.”
“Wait,” Marshall said again. Frowning at her, he shot the two officers the same dark, considering glare, then looked at the floor, and finally, he looked back at her. “She’s been through Orientation.”
With slow reluctance, Grimsley answered, “Yes.” His hold on her did not gentle.
“So she’s signed the confidentiality clause. She can’t legally talk about anything she’s seen or heard anywhere on Castle grounds.” Marshall glanced at Eric.
“That’s no guarantee,” Jackson scoffed.
“No kidding,” Eric agreed. “She’s listening at keyholes. Her morals are already questionable. You really think the threat of legal action will be enough to hold her to what she signed?”
“But I won’t—” she protested.
“Silence,” Grimsley hushed, glaring at her.
He turned on her with such warning in his dark stare that Eden promptly shut her mouth. “I am not going to tell you again,” he said, dangerously soft.
As if she wasn’t there at all, Marshall turned to Eric. “Did you or did you not just get done telling me you wanted no part of babysitting the bomb-sniffers?”
Eden startled all over again. “Bomb?” It had to be the only word in the whole of the English language capable of making her forget Grimsley’s warning. At least until he shifted his grip from her ear to the back of her neck. Spinning her bodily around, he put her nose to the wall.
The back of her neck crawled when he stepped right up into her bubble of personal space. Her back, shoulders, hips… bottom, all the pertinent parts of her were suddenly bumped right up against him as he growled, “Did I tell you to hush?”
Eden swallowed hard. She’d been caught doing something she hadn’t really meant to do. It wasn’t fun or funny, and yet from the moment he stepped right up to her body and the hard press of him bumped into her back, a hum of awareness began to tickle through her insides. Her nipples tightened. A single, languid thump pulsed all the way down through her womb and into the crease between her thighs. The heat of his exhaling breath steamed the side of her neck and Eden shivered all over.
“The Daddies are talking, pumpkin,” Master Eric added, and then to Marshall, said, “Yes, I definitely told you that.”
“We don’t need babysitters,” the female officer snapped. “It’s not the first time we’ve been undercover, either.”
“It’s your first time here,” Marshall dryly replied, before turning his attention back to Eric. “Rather than recruit yet another person we’ll have to tell, why not take advantage of the volunteer who already knows? If she violates the confidentiality clause—”
“I won’t viol—” Eden jolted back onto her toes when Grimsley swatted her. Her face burned, her bottom stung in a perfect duplication everywhere his open hand had touched her, and Marshall continued as if he’d never been interrupted.
“If she violates the clause while she’s working here, we’ll have a far easier chance of tracing it back to her. Whereas, we haven’t a prayer if she’s out wandering around Granger. A guest is far more likely to help us prosecute her than anyone in that town.”
It was painful how little they thought of her. Even knowing she’d given them no reason to think any better, it still stung. She couldn’t even contradict them because the second her mouth opened, Grimsley pushed her so close to the wall that the tip of her nose touched the stone. How mortifying. How humbling. How weirdly arousing, too, especially where her bottom still stung. He didn’t let go once she was in place, either. Instead, Grimsley held her like a recalcitrant, unrepentant toddler, who had to be forced to accept the consequences of her misbehavior.
And that was after he’d swatted her, which instantly threw this whole situation into the realm of the surreal. Not only was this the worst first day of any job she’d ever had, but she could also now check getting spanked by the boss off her fantasy bucket list.
“All right, then,” Marshall decided. “You’ll need to get to Wardrobe so you can blend in. You’ve got your room assignments, yes?”
“Yes,” the male officer said.
“Splendid. Then from now on, consider Eden your own personal escort. Do what you feel you need to, search anywhere and everywhere, but I ask that she be with you if you enter any employee’s or guest’s private rooms. If you fail to honor my request then I will have you both removed from the premises.”
The female officer opened her mouth, but the male silenced her with a motion of his hand. “You’re the boss,” he acknowledged. Taking his partner’s arm, he escorted her from the room, with Eric following not far behind.
Grimsley kept his hand on the back of Eden’s neck until she heard the door bump softly closed again. She was now alone in a room with three Masters and no other witnesses. Eventually, the Master Butler released her and stepped back. The fine hairs prickling across the nape of her neck, she made herself turn and face them.
“I don’t like not being able to trust the people around me,” Marshall told her.
Frustration exploding, Eden almost threw her hands up. “But I wasn’t trying to spy,” leapt right to the tip of her tongue, only to die there without being spoken. Because it didn’t matter what she’d meant to do; meant or not, spying was what had happened, and now they all thought she was horrible. In their place, she’d have thought so too. Her shoulders slumped.
“I’m giving you a second chance.” Marshall caught her shoulder, giving it a squeeze that was at once both reassuring and re-enforcing for the warning he added when he said, “Don’t make me regret this decision.” He looked to Grimsley. “She’s all yours.”
Security Chief Jackson followed Marshall as far as the door. Pausing at the threshold, he glanced back long enough to ask, “I suppose I could take care of this if you’d really rather not. I know you’re busy.”
“Yes, I am.”
Fizzling cold sank through Eden’s chest, squeezing in around her lungs and making it very hard to breathe as she looked up into the Master Butler’s face. His dark eyes were unforgiving; his expression closed.
“I’m very busy,” he said, the edges tight with anger. And yet, very little of that anger made it into his voice when he said, “Thank you for the offer, but I have every intention of handling this matter myself. And trust me when I say, little Eden and I are about to have a thorough conversation.”
Oh—her fluttering heart actually skipped a beat—crap.
Embracing Eden is only available in the Masters of the Castle Witness Protection Program boxed set. Get your copy today while the pre-order sale price is still in effect!
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