The edge of dominance, p.27
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       The Edge of Dominance, p.27

         Part #4 of The Doms of Her Life series by Shayla Black
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  Hammer rose, stiff and stoic, and made his way to the door. With a tight grip on the knob and a sharp intake of breath, he braced himself, looking for the courage to open it and meet his fate.

  “Macen?” Raine called from behind him at the top of the stairs. “What’s going on?”

  He turned to Liam, jaw clenched tight. “Don’t let her see this.”

  Liam thoroughly agreed, especially when he glimpsed a horde of cars and agents outside the window, just waiting to descend.

  “I’ve got your back. We’ll see you soon.” Giving Hammer a brotherly clap, he crossed the room and took the stairs two at a time.

  “What’s going on?” Raine watched him ascend with a wary gaze and tried to dart past him. “No. This can’t be…”

  Liam grabbed her around the waist and hauled her off her feet and into his arms, grateful when his parents seemed to melt out of the woodwork to stand beside his best friend. “Let him go with dignity.”

  “No!” she screeched even louder. “They can’t take him. Macen…”

  “Stop,” Liam insisted. “Barnes will have him out soon.”

  Hammer didn’t turn to look at her again, and Liam hid her face in his shoulder. “Don’t look. Don’t make this any harder for him.”

  Raine tensed. He could feel the fight in her. She wanted to argue with every cell in her body. Instead, she clutched at him, digging her nails into his skin.

  Liam grimaced. The pain of her wee scratches was nothing compared to the agony gashing his chest when Hammer opened the door.

  Things got ugly fast.

  “Macen Daniel Hammerman, I have a warrant for your arrest for the purchase of a minor for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Please turn around and place your hands behind your back. You have the right to remain silent—”

  “Liam?”

  “I’ve got her, mate,” he assured.

  “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

  Hammer wasn’t listening to the feds. “Take care of her.”

  Liam kept Raine’s face buried against his neck. “I will.”

  Raine’s jagged sob resounded above the chaos in the room. “Macen…”

  “You have the right to an attorney…” As the agent led him out the door, he clamped handcuffs around Hammer’s wrists.

  The click sounded ominously final.

  Chapter 11

  With his arms stretched uncomfortably behind him in the back of an unmarked car, Hammer’s shoulders screamed. Liam and Sterling had warned him, but he hadn’t truly been prepared for the terrible reality of the feds hauling him away with his hands secured behind his back. Now, he tried to force himself to relax. He’d cuffed many subs over the years. They’d survived, sure. But Macen wasn’t a sub, and being bound like one pissed him off—and demeaned him—even more.

  Purchasing a minor for the purpose of sexual exploitation? Bullshit!

  Obviously, River hadn’t done a stellar job of recanting his claims to the authorities—if he’d even tried at all. He’d bet the prick had been blowing smoke up his ass, plotting all the while to zap him from Raine’s life. No doubt the motherfucker would devise a way to get rid of Liam next.

  I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you, Hammer. Liam.

  “You’re not yet, you fuckfaced son of a bitch. But if you didn’t keep your word, I’ll make sure you will be soon,” Hammer muttered to himself.

  Inside the station, he tried to block out the booking process. After the humiliation of being fingerprinted, having his mug shot taken, and being divested of all the personal property in his pockets, an officer led him down the narrow, steel-cage hallway filled with cursing and shouting. The armed officer directed him inside an empty cell.

  He should have been grateful he was alone, but once the door rattled shut behind him and the lock clattered like the lid of his coffin, Hammer’s rage reawakened. He wanted to beat the fucking shit out of someone—preferably River.

  Avoiding the dilapidated mattress and its dingy sheet, Hammer paced the eight-by-eight cell. His thoughts swirled in a furious cyclone while niggling doubt began burrowing in his brain.

  River wanted Raine in his life. Even the cynic in Hammer had believed her brother intended to clean up the mess he’d made. If he’d tried—if he hadn’t been the one who’d stolen the security footage from Shadows—then someone else was behind this sabotage on his life. But who? Who had he pissed off enough to warrant this vile revenge?

  Yes, he’d been a snarling prick at the club for the past few months, snapping at members over the slightest provocation. But had he seriously wounded another Dominant’s pride so deeply they’d resort to ruining his future with Raine and Liam? Carl lacked the balls. And no one else with a beef readily leapt to Hammer’s mind.

  “Shit.” He scrubbed a hand over his face.

  Maybe this vendetta went back further. Hell, Juliet’s mother had vowed over her youngest daughter’s grave that she’d see Hammer dead for his “irresponsibility and abuse.” Since she’d never hired a hit man, could the old woman have found the next best opportunity?

  “Face it, fucker. Your life has been bleak since Juliet killed herself.” And looking back, too many of his darkest days had been self-imposed. He’d hurt the people around him too much.

  It was entirely possible he was paying for it now.

  Hammer heard voices and footsteps coming down the hall. Stepping toward the bars, he craned his neck. The sight of a uniformed officer escorting Sterling Barnes sent a blast of relief through him.

  “Sterling,” Hammer exhaled. “Thank christ.”

  “Don’t be too happy to see me, Macen,” his lawyer replied grimly. “This shit has gotten far deeper than you or I imagined.”

  “What?” Hammer’s stomach rolled up to his throat. “River didn’t recant, did he?”

  Sterling darted a perturbed glance over his shoulder until the officer stepped back.

  “He did, but I’m afraid it was too little, too late. As far as they’re concerned, you committed a crime, and River’s opinion is irrelevant. They also have the two missing surveillance videos from Shadows.”

  Dread gripped Hammer’s gut. “I wish I knew how the hell they got their hands on those.”

  “Once you’re arraigned and we start preparing for trial, the prosecution will have to tell us the name of their witness, as well as how they obtained the footage during discovery. I don’t know if that information will help anything, but…”

  Yeah, Hammer doubted it, too.

  “The state is also reserving the right to file its own charges and is only deferring to the feds for now because their sentence will be longer. But if the federal charges don’t stick, the state will probably try you for rape. From what I heard, November fourth is…damning.”

  Hammer bit back a curse. To someone only watching, it probably looked brutal. He’d been drunk and in no way gentle when he’d heaped six years of pent-up passion on Raine.

  “I swear it was consensual,” he argued—like it would do any good.

  “The audio is fuzzy, so that’s not clear…except the part where you’re yelling and she says no. I’m not doubting you. But your number one problem right now is the photos they’re using to corroborate this federal charge. Raine is so bloody and bruised. They think you beat her for fun, snapped pictures as trophies, and shared them with your kinky friends.”

  “Oh, hell no! I have never lifted a hand to her in anger. I never would.”

  “The beating isn’t the worst part of those snapshots legally. Because a bit of pubic hair and the crest of a nipple are visible, the feds are using the photos and the money orders to substantiate their charge of purchasing a child for sexual exploitation. They’ll probably admit River’s original statement, too. Even though he recanted, an experienced prosecutor can plant the seed that you coerced him to retract his statement by threatening his sister.”

  Hammer’s knees buckled. He gripped the bars and swallowed the bile rising
in his throat. All the blood in his body plummeted to his feet.

  “How many years if I’m convicted?” he managed to choke out.

  “Thirty…in a federal prison,” Sterling murmured bleakly.

  Fear, stark and merciless, gnawed at Hammer. His heart smacked against his chest. “No! No fucking way. I can’t go to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. Someone is setting me up. I need to find whoever it is and end this goddamn charade.”

  “I’ve already talked to Liam a couple of times. He has a PI on it. They’re looking into it now.”

  “Seth? Yeah. He’s the best. Hopefully, he’ll be able to dig up evidence to save me.”

  “Even if he can’t, when Raine testifies, she should be able to shed positive light on the case.”

  He hated to heap more stress on her. “Will the prosecution try to discredit her?”

  But he already knew the answer. The feds would do their best to chew her up and spit her out. They would slap him behind bars without an ounce of regard for the truth. The injustice made Hammer want to howl.

  “You can guarantee it.”

  “She’s fucking pregnant!”

  “Calm down. They’re not going to beat her, Macen. I’ll do my best to protect her on the stand.”

  “No. If they’re going to take her apart, she’s not testifying. She’s already under too much stress. I won’t let her do anything else to risk this baby.”

  “One step at a time. Now that you’ve been indicted, come Monday, you and I, along with some of my colleagues who specialize in federal criminal cases, will go before the judge for your arraignment.”

  “Monday? Monday!” Hammer roared. “I can’t sit in this fucking cell until then. Can’t you post my bond now?”

  “It’s the damn weekend. The wheels of justice won’t turn again until that’s over. So keep it together and let me do my job. I’ll have you out of here as soon as I can.”

  Clawing for control, he clenched his teeth. “How is Raine holding up? Do you know?”

  “I’ll find out for you.”

  Sterling would, but Hammer knew Raine. She was probably devastated. He hoped like hell she wasn’t crawling inside her shell, where Liam would be hard-pressed to reach her. “Tell her not to worry about me. Tell her”—his voice cracked—“tell her I love her.”

  Sympathy settled onto the older man’s face. “She knows, but I’ll be happy to remind her for you. Look, I know things seem bleak, but I won’t stop until I’ve turned over every pebble, rock, or boulder to clear your name.”

  “I appreciate that,” Hammer replied, wishing he shared the same conviction. But all he could picture was Raine and Liam without him, and the ocean of tears she’d be crying if he never returned home.

  They said good-bye. As he watched Sterling and the cop disappear down the hall, he felt gutted. Lost. More desolate than he’d been when Raine had run away from Shadows, abandoning him and Liam.

  He supposed he should look for silver linings. This shit storm hadn’t happened years ago, when Raine had still been a girl. At least Liam would be by her side to give her love and protection if Hammer could no longer be there himself.

  It would just hurt like hell.

  Macen stumbled to the lumpy cot and sank down, not giving two shits about the condition of the bed. Bracing his elbows on his knees, he took his face in his hands and bit back the scream trapped inside him.

  Thirty years was a lifetime to lose—away from Raine and Liam, and the baby he ached to raise and watch grow. He could well be a grandfather before he tasted freedom again. And after spending three decades behind bars, what could he go back to? Liam and Raine would have forged a new life without him, sharing more children and happy years that didn’t include him. When he was finally released, Macen would be an outsider looking in.

  And after thirty years apart, how would Liam and Raine explain his sudden return to the family they’d raised? How would their children ever grasp the fact their parents had once been a threesome, especially if they’d never mentioned it before? His reappearance could cause unconscionable damage.

  But more disheartening was the thought of Raine waiting all those years, pining for his return, and blaming herself for his fate. She would dutifully visit him while he rotted, sit across from him and share stories of her happy life with Liam. It wouldn’t take long until Hammer resented his best friend for living the dream they should have shared together. How long would it be before he turned his venomous rage on Raine and sent her away for good because the sight of her ripped him in two?

  The thought of never holding her in his arms again made Hammer shake. Memories of him and Liam sinking inside her soft body together and taking her to the stars would never be enough to last him through the interminable years. He’d eventually go crazy, longing to feel her wild beneath him and shattering around his cock, her screams echoing in his ears. The notion that he would never again know the pleasure and love they shared unleashed a new realm of anguish inside him.

  He couldn’t put Raine, Liam, or himself through that kind of torture.

  Hammer lifted his head and scanned the cold, depressing cell.

  He’d make bail in a few days, but if it appeared he would serve the next thirty years trapped behind bars…

  “I can’t.”

  Macen raked a hand through his hair. He refused to spend his life trapped in this hell, just as he refused to hold Raine and Liam hostage. If Sterling exhausted all options, he’d have some tough decisions to make.

  A black veil of regret enveloped him. Instead of spending the last six years making memories with Raine, he’d let guilt consume him. Like a cancer, it had festered, convincing him he wasn’t worthy of Raine’s love. He’d spent his nights sticking his dick in women who didn’t matter while ignoring the only one who did. And for what? Had years of mental self-flagellation made him a better fucking man? No.

  He’d let remorse convince him he wasn’t whole enough to lead Raine down her submissive path without fucking up her life. He’d insisted that his Dominant needs were too harsh for her to handle because he “required” a slave. Hammer scoffed at himself. The truth was, he’d spent years greedier for a sub’s power than her heart. He’d been a manwhoring coward.

  He hadn’t really lived.

  Until he and Liam had embraced Raine.

  Prison wasn’t anything new for him. He’d been so determined not to repeat the sins of his past that he’d locked himself away years ago.

  Hammer stood and paced again. If he somehow made it out of this mess, he vowed to change. He’d open up and share his entire soul and make up for all the years he’d spent wallowing. He would live life to the fullest. Happy. Content. Committed.

  Sending up a silent prayer, he did something he’d never done before; he dropped to his knees and begged.

  For mercy.

  For this fucking nightmare to end.

  For the chance to live a long, happy life with Liam and Raine—and never look back at his past again.

  Chapter 12

  As Liam watched the feds lead Hammer away in cuffs, the world disintegrated under his feet. But he clutched Raine against him at the top of the stairs and hid her face. She didn’t need to see the unfolding horror. He would damn sure keep his promise to Hammer and protect their girl.

  Later, he’d think about the fact that life as they all knew
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