The edge of dominance, p.2
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       The Edge of Dominance, p.2
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         Part #4 of The Doms of Her Life series by Shayla Black

  Fuck, he couldn’t go home to Raine and Liam half-hinged. He’d be a liability, a loose cannon. He had to get his shit wired tight.

  Because if he didn’t, Hammer already knew his ghosts would follow him home.

  * * *

  Saturday, February 9

  * * *

  Liam rolled over and spooned Raine in the big bed they shared to calm her restless dozing. He stared at the clock. Two thirty-four a.m. The other familiar body who should be surrounding Raine—and taking more than his third of the mattress—was disturbingly absent. Again.

  What the hell had kept Hammer out late this time?

  The door between the garage and the kitchen banged shut, rending the silence.

  So Macen had finally come home.

  Liam eased away from Raine, leaving her with a soft kiss on the forehead. Then he pulled on his boxers, squared his shoulders, and left.

  Would Hammer care if the bedroom smelled like the sex he hadn’t come home to share?

  A few months ago, nothing and no one had been more important to the man than their girl. After denying how he’d felt about her for six years, Macen seemed ready to make up for over half a decade of denial and misery.

  Everything had changed the terrible morning Bill had taken her.

  As Liam marched down the stairs, the kitchen light flipped on. A cabinet door slammed shut. Hammer hissed a curse.

  Ready to remind Macen of everything they stood to lose if he didn’t stop wallowing in the past and start focusing on their future, Liam trekked into the room. The sight that greeted him stopped him short. His friend wasn’t dragging in, tugging off his tie in exhaustion, full of excuses about how crowded Shadows was on a Friday night. No. Hammer was slumped against the cabinet wearing only gym shorts, athletic shoes, and head-to-toe sweat. He chugged from a fresh bottle of tequila in his fist.

  “Your disapproving-parent face says you’re itching to give me a lecture. Don’t.” Hammer lifted the bottle.

  “You’ve left me no choice. I haven’t said a word until now, and we’ve got problems.”

  He jerked the tequila to his side. “Raine? The baby?”

  “Both fine, but—”

  “Good.” Relief filled Hammer’s face. “Then let’s talk later. I need a shower. I’ll see you next to Raine.”

  Liam blocked his path, snatching the bottle away. “This won’t wait any longer.”

  “I’m not done drinking.”

  “You are now.” Liam shoved the booze onto the counter behind him. Reasoning with a sober Hammer was much easier. “You’re absent every night, Macen. I don’t like it.”

  “I’m working. You could cut me some slack, you know.”

  “When you cut us some, I will.” Liam rummaged Hammer’s phone from his gym bag and shoved Raine’s sexy video in the man’s face. “I know you saw this. Raine was waiting for your reply. Your silence crushed her.”

  “I meant to come home when I got it and surprise her. But…shit got in the way.”

  “You let it, more like.” Liam slapped the mobile on the counter. “What’s going on with you?”

  “Nothing. I’m just swamped.”

  “Stop with the excuses.”

  “Seriously. When we moved to the house, it was Christmas. I didn’t realize how many things I did for the club after hours that I couldn’t walk into the next room to finish or ask Raine to handle. The renovation to the private rooms still isn’t done. I’m short a couple of DMs.” Hammer sighed. “I’m being pulled in twenty directions, but I’m hoping to find some fucking normalcy soon.”

  “You mean if the stars align, pixies fly out of your ass, and karma plays nice?” Liam snapped. “Why don’t you let me help?”

  Hammer shook his head. “I want you here with Raine, just in case.”

  “In case of what? Her pregnancy is going well. She’s young and strong, and she doesn’t need a babysitter. She’s busy remodeling the house, setting up the nursery, and shopping for furniture. Hell, I’d be happy for a break from comparing paint swatches.”

  “I don’t want her alone in the house with a bunch of strange men.”

  “Raine spent six years in a club full of men dedicated to kink. I think she can handle herself with a plumber. Why don’t you spend a few days with her? I’ll take care of Shadows.”

  “No.”

  Liam raised a brow. “Because…?”

  “Because there’s a lot going on and I should handle it myself.”

  More bloody excuses. “Are you even in this relationship anymore?”

  “What kind of question is that?” Hammer gaped. “I’m in. I’ve been in since we claimed her together. Jesus, a few late nights doesn’t change that.”

  He wasn’t only lying to Liam but to himself.

  “A few?” Liam scoffed. “That’s a bloody understatement. Is it the baby?”

  “No, I’m happy she’s pregnant. Thrilled!”

  “You should be. When you thought she’d gotten her period on Thanksgiving Day, you cried like a bleating nancy. But you’ve missed the first three months.”

  “Bullshit. I’m with Raine every day. We eat lunch. We talk.”

  “Is that what you call it? You prop her feet up, shove prenatal vitamins in her mouth, then tell her to nap as you’re walking out the door.” Liam grasped for his patience—and failed. “She needs a man, not a nanny. What the hell is wrong?”

  “Fuck you. I’m not dealing with this now. I’m exhausted.”

  “I want answers.” Liam gritted his teeth. “Raine deserves them, and we’re both tired of living with a ghost.”

  Hammer blanched. “I’m not—”

  “Yes, you are. Are you bothered that we’ve no idea which of us fathered the child? It’s probably yours…”

  “I took her bareback once. You had her in your bed for weeks. Condoms fail.” Hammer shrugged. “Yours. Mine. I don’t give a shit either way. The baby is ours, like Raine is.”

  “Exactly. So let’s work this out. Did you know she’s worried you don’t love her anymore?”

  “What?” He scowled. “If I had any way of falling out of love with Raine, I would have done it years ago.”

  “Then reassure her. How else do you expect her to feel like the precious you call her?”

  Hammer snatched up the bottle and guzzled another third of the booze. “Why hasn’t she said a word about this to me?”

  “You’re never here, so how is she supposed to pour her heart out to you?” Liam rolled his eyes. “Instead, she blames herself for driving you away. And she cries herself to sleep at night. Why don’t you man the fuck up?”

  Hammer looked stricken, as if Liam had punched him in the gut.

  “Did I finally say enough to pull your head out of your ass?”

  He hung his head. “Yeah.”

  “Then listen to me. Raine is reeling now. Counseling has helped her cope, and her nightmares have eased, but she’s still struggling to accept that Bill killed her mother and sister. For years, she thought they’d abandoned her, and it almost destroyed her. Now you’ve all but left her, too.”

  He grimaced in guilt. “Hasn’t finding their bodies brought her any closure?”

  “Some. She still has no idea if her brother is dead or he simply walked out on her, so that’s eating at her.”

  Hammer raked a hand through damp hair. “I was hoping Seth would have found River by now. It’s been months.”

  “He was a Green Beret, trained for unconventional warfare. He can vanish with the wind.”

  “I know,” Hammer growled. “But his disappearance makes me want to hit something.”

  “How do you think Raine feels? She’s processing all this while she’s hormonal. I’ve done my best to keep her happy but…”

  “Oh, giving her all those orgasms must be a real hardship for you.”

  “Not in the least. You’re clearly bitter you’ve been missing out, but you’ve done nothing to change that.”

  Hammer slammed the bottle on the c
ounter, jaw clenched. He said nothing…but remorse tightened his face.

  Liam lowered his voice. “When was the last time you made love to Raine?”

  “I don’t know. I didn’t file it in my day planner.”

  “It was more than two weeks ago.”

  “You’re keeping track?” Hammer raised a brow.

  “We sleep in the same bed, so I know when you climb on top of her and fuck her like you haven’t had her in decades.”

  “I want her and I’m a Dominant. Have you looked in the mirror lately? You’re as perverted as I am.”

  “But I don’t roll away from her two seconds after my orgasm and flee as if my ass is on fire.” Liam sneered at Macen. “You’re bloody using her as impersonally as your hand.”

  “I’m done with this little chat. Really. Fuck you.” Hammer turned away.

  Liam grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “You haven’t made love properly to Raine since that morning, which was also the last time you slowed down enough so we could take her together.”

  Hammer shook off his grip. “What the hell do you want from me?”

  “For you to park your ass and tell me what’s troubling you.” He sat at the kitchen table. “I’m your best friend. You can tell me anything.” Hammer hesitated, and Liam lost his temper. “We haven’t been through months of hell for you to fuck this up. Sit and talk. Or I can’t guarantee she’ll stay.”

  Sucking in an incredulous breath, Hammer sank into the nearest chair. “Are you serious? You think she’d leave?” He blinked. “Holy shit. Why would she run away without talking to me? She has to know I love her more than anything. More than my own life.”

  “How do you expect her to know that?” Liam challenged. “By reading your mind? We sent you that picture over three hours ago. She tried to tell you she was thinking of you. She wanted to please you. But you couldn’t fucking be bothered.” He shook his head. “I fear it was the last straw.”

  Hammer hung his head in his hands. “I’m just…out of sorts. I needed some time at the gym to work off stress.”

  “So you took your frustration out on a Stairmaster? She would have been more than happy to let you ease some of that between her thighs. And you could have given her some orgasms, too.”

  Hunger flared in Hammer’s eyes before he doused it. “I would have been too rough on her.”

  Is that what he thought? “You’re bloody clueless about pregnant women and their hormones. She’s so insatiable now she might even scare you a bit.”

  Macen looked somewhere between stunned and confused. “Really?”

  “Absolutely.” Liam paused. “She’s fourteen weeks pregnant, so her body is changing. She’s worried you’ve noticed and you don’t find her attractive anymore.”

  He scoffed. “I’ve never not found her attractive. Ever.”

  “Then tell me what’s on your bloody mind.”

  “Nothing.” Hammer didn’t meet his gaze.

  “Stop lying to me.”

  Macen stood. “I’m done here.”

  “Not unless you’re done with the three of us.”

  “Don’t threaten me. Me stepping back is best for Raine. You’re better at helping her through emotional upheaval. I suck at touchy-feely shit.”

  “No, you suck at dealing with your problems. Snap out of it and stop beating yourself up for not saving her.”

  Hammer halted, glared.

  Ah, so now they were getting to the problem.

  “I can’t, all right?” Hammer shook his head, anguish all over his face. “Raine and our baby nearly died. That fact eats at me every fucking day, spools through my brain every fucking night. I can’t wipe all that blood out of my head.”

  “But she’s all right. Be strong for her.” Liam urged him back into his chair. “She needs us both.”

  “I’m worried she pictures Bill when I touch her. And trust me, her hormones are nothing next to every dirty, Dominant thing I ache to do to her. But some nights, I come home and look at her, and I can’t stay the fuck away for another minute, so I use her hard. I don’t mean to. I want her so bad and she doesn’t say no and…I lose my head for a minute. Then I feel so shitty afterward. Guilty. Jesus…” He sighed. “So yeah, I’m all over her about rest and vitamins and crap so that I can tell myself I’m doing the right thing by her. That sounds fucked up. Obviously, you’re dealing with this much better, as always. Happy?”

  “I’m happy you’re finally talking to me.”

  Hammer’s mental anguish didn’t surprise Liam but it concerned him. Worse, now that he had Macen talking, he needed to forge ahead, make him purge all the pain. Liam knew he’d start another war with his next words, but the man would never heal if he didn’t resolve the issues that haunted him most.

  “I know your avoidance isn’t merely about Raine. So let’s cut to the heart of it. When will you forgive yourself for Juliet’s death? Or does your shit go back even further than that?”

  Macen leapt to his feet and leveled Liam with a murderous glare. “Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”

  Chapter 2

  The minister stood before the group of mourners, speaking words Macen never wanted to hear again. His throat constricted. Déjà vu tightened around his neck like a barbed-wire tie.

  Before him, the lid of a bronze casket lay open, lined in ivory velvet. He’d given Juliet the best in death because he had failed her in life. His wife had been pregnant and distraught and…he hadn’t known until it was too late. He couldn’t look at her now. Hell, he didn’t deserve to.

  Beside him, Liam stood, hands clasped in front of him, looking stoic and red-eyed and damn close to falling apart.

  Hammer frowned. Liam hadn’t loved Juliet. He hadn’t even been present for her funeral.

  What was going on?

  Dread churned Hammer’s guts as he leaned in and peeked over the edge of the casket. He didn’t see his blond bride in everlasting repose. Instead, Raine lay there, porcelain, lifeless, her blue eyes forever shuttered.

  Stunned, Hammer couldn’t look away. He couldn’t stop staring at her beloved face or the round swell of her pregnant belly. She was gone? When? How? Why?

  God, he hadn’t been able to save her.

  He turned to Liam, gaping and empty. His friend didn’t seem shocked, just utterly heartbroken. Grief had felled him into silence.

  Hammer dove for her, braced his hands beneath her prone body, and lifted, desperate to hold the woman he loved again, hear her laugh, and promise that none of his nightmare was real. Instead, Raine dissolved into fine grains of sand and slipped through his fingers. Agony besieged him. He crumbled to his knees and scrambled to gather her against him. But the wind surged, blowing away every trace of her.

 
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