The edge of dominance, p.26
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       The Edge of Dominance, p.26
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         Part #4 of The Doms of Her Life series by Shayla Black

  “The best, lass.” He looked adorably proud. “I grow more beefsteak tomatoes and string beans than Mum and I can eat, so she shares the extras with the family. The rest are passed on to neighbors and friends.”

  “I’m sure everyone appreciates it.” Raine smiled. “I’d love to see your garden one day.”

  “And so you shall. Just have that scamp bring you home…” He nodded Liam’s way.

  “I’m getting to it, Da. His garden is famous, you know. That and his family are his favorite subjects. Come and sit. He’ll tell you all about it.” Liam rose and gave Raine his seat while he emptied the dishwasher.

  As Raine eased onto the stool, he slid clandestine glances their way. She’d been a bit shy with his father. Understandable since her experience with her own had been so horrendous. Besides, with everything going on, there had been little time to talk except at meals. But Liam needn’t have worried. His father was adept at encouraging her.

  Before long, they chatted like old chums. She looked relaxed and engaged. His lass even laughed when Da pulled out his wallet and pictures of his grandchildren spilled out. When his father sent her a sheepish glance and said just how much he missed them all, Raine laid a gentle hand over his. Da appreciated the gesture, smiling as he gave her delicate fingers a squeeze.

  Then something flashed across her face. Liam saw the happy light in her eyes dim. She eased her hand free and rose, fidgeting.

  His heart caught, and Liam shot his father an apologetic stare as he started toward her. Da stopped him with a look.

  Breath held, Liam hung back and watched.

  “Raine?” his father prompted.

  “I’m sorry. I know you’re nothing like my father but…” She sighed. “I should be getting back to bed anyway. It’s late, and I—”

  “Sit for a bit more, lass. You’ve nothing to fear from me, I promise. I’d like to talk to you a minute more is all. Liam is right there, see?”

  Her stare darted to where he stood just by the pantry. He gave her an encouraging nod.

  She hesitated, then slowly sat once more. Everything inside him screamed that he should go to her, protect her. But his father had always been the most loving, kindest person in Liam’s life. She was safe.

  Deliberately, Duncan turned his stool to face Raine, took her hand, and held it gently in both of his. “My Bryn has an interesting gift. I can’t pretend I understand it, but after all these years, I know better than to doubt it. She’s been proven right too many times to count. So when Mum told me about five months ago—out of the blue, mind you—that our youngest had just met the woman he’d love for the rest of his life, I was thrilled. I knew you must be special.”

  Raine didn’t say a word, just blinked back at him with her heart in her eyes.

  “’Tis no secret we hated Gwyneth,” Da drawled dryly.

  Liam scratched at his nape. “You two weren’t quiet about it.”

  “She made you miserable, son. That was enough for me. You deserved better than that vampire.”

  “Water under the bridge, Da. And you were both right.”

  Duncan gave him a sad smile. “Years ago, when he met Macen, Bryn told me that Liam’s quest for happiness would be the most difficult of all our children. Years passed, Gwyneth came and went, and I worried my boy would remain lonely. Then not long after she mentioned you, Bryn said Liam had decided to move to Los Angeles to stay with the people he loved. She said everything was falling into place.”

  Curiosity got the better of her. “But Liam didn’t say anything to Bryn?”

  “Not a word.”

  “It happened so gradually,” Liam remembered. “When I came to visit, I’d had no intention of moving here. Then that morning you and Hammer argued, I asked you to stay with me. Remember?”

  “I’ll never forget.”

  “I think I suspected then. A few weeks later, I told Seth I wasn’t going back to New York for Thanksgiving. The following week, he came here instead, and I asked him to watch my brownstone when he returned. I’d already bought you this house. By then, I’d decided my life was with you.”

  “So…without you telling your mother, she saw all that?” Raine looked puzzled.

  Liam nodded. “She can sense when people make decisions, especially important ones.”

  Da nodded. “My Bryn is an empath and a seer. She feels the emotions of others deeply and can ‘see’ in all directions—past, present, and future. Your man there is touched with it, too. Out of all the kids, he’s most like her.”

  “Geez, Da. Raine doesn’t need to hear this—”

  “Yes, I do.” She nodded earnestly.

  Duncan chuckled and patted the hand he still held, shaking his head. “You hear that, lad?”

  Liam rolled his eyes. “But how could Mum know the three of us would be together when none of us were even sure?”

  “She didn’t say. But if I had to guess, some things are simply meant to be.” Da smiled Raine’s way. “Bryn said there was so much darkness in your life before Hammer and Liam brought in light and love. Lately, she’s been telling me the trials and tribulations the three of you were going through, trying to fit yourselves in one another’s lives. I woke up one early November morn last year to find her gloating because she knew wee Raine was pregnant.”

  “Even before we knew, then.” Liam covered his eyes and groaned. “Is nothing private, Da?”

  “Contrary to your belief, Liam O’Neill, you three didn’t invent sex. And that wasn’t the point anyway.”

  Raine blushed, pointedly not looking at his father.

  “Your mum mostly talked of the anguish you’ve all been through.” He paused. “Bryn knew afterward what happened with your father, Raine. She was a mess for a week with heartache and sorrow. She knew what you had suffered at the hand of your own kin. What she told me made me rage with the want to shield you from such a monster. Knowing you sent him on to his just rewards brings little comfort.”

  Raine’s eyes filled with more tears. Liam scooped up a box of tissues and set them within her reach, then stood at her back, gently rubbing.

  “Thank you,” she choked out his father’s way.

  “I can’t pretend to understand that terrible man, Raine. I love my girls and my son fiercely. If one of them had been in your shoes that day, I would have encouraged them to do exactly what you did. Bryn and I want to thank you for making our boy happy. I think he and Macen will be outstanding fathers, and you love one another enough to last a lifetime.”

  Raine sobbed a laugh. “I know. I’m so lucky to be here with them now. I’ll always do my best to make them happy.”

  “Of course you will.”

  Raine smiled at him through unshed tears and gave him a quick, fierce hug. “Thanks, Duncan. I needed that.”

  “There you all are.” Bryn bustled into the kitchen and brushed Duncan’s shoulder before giving Raine a smile and Liam a hug. “I’m still getting used to the time difference, but I can’t imagine why you two are up.”

  “We tend to keep late hours.” The truth was, Liam simply felt unsettled, and he wasn’t sure why.

  “Well, since you’re still up, Raine, I want you to know that your mum and your sister appreciated your visit yesterday. Oh, they’re so proud of you for being such a fighter. And your sister—what pretty dimples she’s got—she wants you to know she’s with your mother and at peace now. Though she’s a bit envious that you found two such strapping men who love you with their whole hearts.”

  “You’ve talked to them? Seen them?” Raine’s eyes widened. How else could Bryn know about Rowan’s dimples?

  “They’re with you always in spirit.” Mum pulled Raine in for a hug. “They want you to be happy. Now…” She looked Liam’s way. “Your girl is exhausted, sweetheart. Why don’t you see her to bed and come back and finish your tea with us.”

  Liam might have missed the importance of her suggestion…but her psychic nudge felt more like a kick. It put him instantly on edge.

; “Your mom is right. I’m beat now.” Raine rose. “I just want you both to know we’re thrilled you’re here. I’m so happy I could meet you before the baby comes.”

  “Of course.” Bryn smiled. “Our pleasure.”

  Liam took Raine’s hand. “Come on, love.”

  He led her back upstairs to bed, waiting until she was settled once more. His weary lass dropped off in seconds.

  With a heavy heart, Liam returned to the kitchen to find out what had his mother worried.

  She didn’t keep him waiting for the news, and his suspicions that it wasn’t good were confirmed by the whiskey decanter and three glasses waiting.

  “Let’s take our drinks in the lounge and talk there.” He poured a generous measure for each of them and led the way. Liam took one of the armchairs, as did his father. Mum curled up on the sofa opposite.

  He raised his glass. “Sláinte.”

  Da did the same, swallowing the dram before setting his glass down.

  His mother didn’t toss hers back yet. She simply stared down at the liquid rolling in her glass, looking as if she searched for words that wouldn’t break his heart.

  “What is it, Mum?”

  “I wish I didn’t have to tell you that Hammer’s struggle isn’t over. You best be prepared this time. They mean business. It’s far more serious.”

  “Oh, fuck. Sorry, Mum.” The fiery liquor that had settled in his belly only moments ago did nothing to fight the cold fist of fear he felt now. “How long have we got?”

  “Not long. I can’t tell you when exactly, but everything is in place. The decision has been made to proceed.” She looked at him with anguished eyes. “I wish the news was better, son. I know this will be extremely upsetting for you all, but you’ll need to keep Raine as calm as possible and—”

  “Christ, she’ll be beside herself with worry and grief.”

  “Your bigger task now will be to keep Macen’s head above water.”

  Liam sat back. The loss of freedom—of control—would kill his best friend.

  Duncan leaned in and laid a hand on his shoulder. “We’re here for you, son. For all of you.”

  “Perhaps it might be best if you let Macen get what rest he can. You can wake him in a bit and tell him before Raine gets up,” Mum suggested.

  “I’m so bloody tired of not being able to do more to help my family. It’s as if we’re trapped in a war zone, caught in endless crossfire, regardless of which way we turn.”

  “I know. And things will get worse before they have any chance of getting better. But a happy outcome is still possible. Don’t lose hope.” Bryn came to him, resting her hand on his other shoulder to gentle his worry.

  There wasn’t much more Bryn could tell him, and though they talked of family and the Emerald Isle for a while longer, they eventually left him to his thoughts and sought their bed again.

  Liam didn’t return to his. He sat mulling over all the events of late, trying to thread together the pieces of the puzzle. If River had recanted, why had the situation become even more serious? When he focused, Liam could feel an oppressive force closing in, condemnation and purpose like a dragon’s breath firing down his neck.

  When he looked up again, the clock on the mantel said it was nearly five. Wearily, he rose from the chair and went to wake Hammer.

  That part was easier than he expected. To his surprise, his mate was coming out of the shower when Liam entered the master suite. With a quiet word, he told Macen to meet him downstairs and not to wake Raine. While the man dressed, Liam tossed on a T-shirt and left him to make coffee.

  Hammer didn’t keep him waiting long, and Liam returned the favor by not dragging it out. It took less than two minutes to worry his best friend sick. Liam hated that he had to.

  Macen collapsed on to the nearest barstool and stared out the kitchen window, into the darkness beyond. “I wish I knew who wanted to destroy me,” he murmured. “Do you think it has something to do with those damn missing backup drives?”

  “I’ve wondered that, but really, what do they prove? That Raine likes kinky sex. She admitted as much to the police. She was an adult then, and nothing that happened was a crime.”

  “She’ll never say I raped her, so I’m not sure how they can prosecute me with that video. The only other evidence they have is the money orders, which prove nothing without the contract I gave Beck for safekeeping. The photos of Raine that Dean was insistent I destroy… Winslow and Cameron may find them in the system, and they might even know I had them. But nothing about the pictures proves that I took them or that she was a minor at the time. Nothing. If she’s asked, Raine would never tell them that, either.”

  “No. She’d tell them she brought those photos with her or something similar.”

  “Yeah. I hate to have her lie, but I know she’d do it without even being asked. I just don’t understand how this shit is coming back to me.”

  Liam ran his hand back through his hair, then poured them each a cup of coffee. “Maybe it’s that bloody witness they warned you about.”

  “Yeah. I’d like to know who that lying fucker is.”

  “Me, too. If we haven’t heard anything in an hour or two, I’ll get a burner phone and call Dean, see if he can find out.”

  “Good idea. The sooner we tackle this, the better.” He paused, obviously gathering his words. “Just promise me that no matter what happens, you’ll look after Raine and our baby.”

  Liam ached for his friend’s pain. “Macen, nothing’s final, and we have so many reasons to fight.”

  “Just set my mind at ease and fucking promise me.”

  “Of course. You know I will.”

  Liam came around the bar and roughly pulled Macen to his feet and into a hug. “Don’t give up, brother. We’ll figure this out. You’ll see.”

  Inside, he wasn’t so sure.

  “It’s out of my hands now.” Hammer pulled back. “Bring your coffee into the study. I have some paperwork I need you to see. The first of it protects Shadows. The rest… Well, if the worst happens, Sterling will advise you.”

  With a heavy heart, Liam spent the next hour reviewing Hammer’s files, discussing possibilities and options.

  As they wrapped up, Hammer’s phone rang. Sterling Barnes.

  Macen answered immediately, turning on his speaker. “The police are coming, aren’t they? What’s the charge?”

  “Forget the police. This has escalated. Now you’re up against the FBI. Someone found those pictures of Raine battered as a minor. There’s a bit of nudity, and coupled with the money orders…” The lawyer paused. “They’re assuming the worst. Someone really wants you nailed to a wall. Get ready, Macen. The feds are on their way as we speak.”

  Macen looked stricken, struggled to process his lawyer’s warning, but could only gape for a reply.

  Liam forced his own shock down and jumped in. “Barnes, this is O’Neill. What can Raine and I do to help?”

  “Let me take care of Hammer this morning. You focus on the agents with search warrants. They’re coming to both your home and the club, and everyone will have to leave both premises. Anything deemed to have evidentiary value to their case will be seized. I mean anything—paper, photographs, and especially electronics. If they ask, you and Raine should be ready to give them your phones, tablets, computers, access to any safe…everything.”

  In other words, their entire life would be invaded, turned upside down, seized, scrutinized. Another wave of furious disbelief seized Liam, but he swallowed it back for Hammer who still stood in wordless shock.

  “I’ll take care of it,” he promised.

  “Call me when they arrive,” Sterling instructed. “I’ll have more instructions then. Macen, I know this is a lot. Right now, I don’t know how we’ll get out of this clusterfuck, but I promise I’ll do my damndest.”

  “Thank you.” Liam quaked as he took the phone from Hammer’s numb fingers and ended the call.

  “The motherfucking FBI?” Hammer staggered back int
o the living room and sank into a waiting chair.

  Seconds later, the doorbell rang. He and Macen exchanged a glance. This could be the end; they both knew it.

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