The edge of dominance, p.5
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       The Edge of Dominance, p.5
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         Part #4 of The Doms of Her Life series by Shayla Black

  Liam turned to her, his dark eyes softening. His expression said he wished like hell he didn’t have to answer her. “Sorry. I tried to talk to him. I probably said some things I shouldn’t have.”

  “It’s my fault.” She pressed her lips together, feeling her dreams of a happy life with the two men she loved slipping away. “I didn’t mean to freak out.”

  “His behavior has nothing to do with that.”

  Of course it did. This morning, she had allowed herself to hope they could talk out their problems and finally be happy. Being surrounded and touched by them had felt almost like their idyllic days at the lodge—until she’d halted everything. “I’ll call the therapist when the office opens and find out if she can see me today.”

  Liam took the ingredients from her arms and set them on the nearby counter, then grasped her hands. “Raine, I just said he’s not upset about the ropes. And it’s not you. He loves you.”

  For years, Hammer had taken care of her, protected her. He’d wanted her like hell once. Sometimes he still did. But it seemed as if everything had changed after… “I’m worried he’s going to leave us for good.”

  Liam led her to the table. “I need to tell you something. I wish Hammer would have ’fessed up himself. I thought he might when we were last at the lodge. But the way he’s acting, I’m not sure he’s faced it yet so he can.”

  “About his past? I asked him—”

  “He told you the bare bones. If you’ll listen, I’ll tell you the bit you really need to know. Not his whole life story, mind you. Hammer told me that once when he was shitfaced while we lived in New York. But what I have to say affects all of us.”

  With her heart in her throat, she glanced at the beginnings of the breakfast she’d planned. Did it even matter now? Liam wouldn’t mind simpler fare, and she had lost her appetite. “All right.”

  He sank down beside her, turning her chair to his. “He’s drowning in guilt, and not simply because he failed to rescue you.”

  “Then why else? Because he may have gotten me pregnant? We don’t know for sure who fathered the baby, and I don’t care.”

  “We don’t, either. That’s nothing to do with it.” Liam sat back. “I have to go back a decade. Can you bear with me? It’s still hard.”

  Raine knew where this was going. As much as she didn’t want to hear it, she needed to. “I’m listening.”

  “Some of this you may know…” He paused, seeming to gather his thoughts. “Hammer and I met ten years ago at Graffiti, a BDSM club in New York. I was new to the lifestyle and learning all I could. One night, he approached me about topping Juliet while he watched. I agreed. Things went well, so he invited me to join them in the bedroom. We shared her for a year and a half.”

  “That long?” Raine always imagined the flame had burned fast and hot before being snuffed out tragically.

  “Well, I stayed on more than I might have because Hammer is the brother I never had and I didn’t want to lose that. But our relationship with Juliet was nothing like the one we share with you. I deferred to Macen because she was his wife. I never agreed to be exclusive with them.”

  “Did you want to be?”

  He shook his head. “I cared for Juliet. I didn’t love her.”

  That was a guilty relief, but Hammer was still hung up on his wife. His feelings for her must run so deep even now. Raine bit back a cry. How was she supposed to compete with a ghost?

  “When Juliet committed suicide, I was in Miami on business. Before it happened, I’d decided to stay an extra week because the weather was warm and the club scene was fantastic. For years afterward, I wondered if my absence had anything to do with her decision to end her life. Or if not having my heart hurt her too much. I never knew. But Hammer told me this past Thanksgiving.”

  She remembered that awful day—the stilted dinner, the migraine, the misunderstanding. The argument between him and Macen. The blame. And the two of them yelling at one another, surrounded by a sea of broken dishes. At the time, Raine had assumed their disagreement was about her.

  “So you fought that night in the kitchen about Juliet?” That shouldn’t hurt…but it did.

  He nodded. “I waited to tell you this because I hoped Hammer would do it himself. But he won’t. Hell, he’ll barely talk to me. And you need to know.”

  Though the suspense was eating at her, Raine wondered if she was ready for the truth. “What?”

  Liam dragged in a breath. “Juliet was eight weeks pregnant. Neither of us had a clue.”

  Raine’s heart stopped. “Did she?”

  “She left a note saying she couldn’t handle the shame of not knowing who had knocked her up.”

  Then Juliet had swallowed a bottle of pills.

  A million feelings raced through Raine. Shock. Horror. Sadness. Empathy. Both men had assured her they were looking forward to watching her belly swell and filling their house with children. After Liam’s admission, she wondered if Hammer’s excitement was less pure.

  “So he’s using me and our baby to heal his wounds?”

  “No.” Liam squeezed her hands. “That’s not what I’m saying, love. Neither of us wanted you pregnant simply to fix the past or repeat a pattern. We’re certainly not playing a game. Just because the babe you carry isn’t the first between us doesn’t mean he or she will be any less special in our eyes.”

  Liam was right, and she had to stop letting insecurity run away with her. Knee-jerking with her emotions and not thinking before she reacted was an old pattern and always complicated the situation.

  “Sorry. That was an unfair question.”

  “But an understandable one.” He caressed her face. “Raine, you’re so special to us. There’s no comparison, so don’t think otherwise.”

  “I’ll try.” Raine knew she’d have to work hard at that.

  “I know you will.”

  She tried to absorb Liam’s story, but there was one thing she simply couldn’t understand. “What kind of woman could end her child by ending her own life? I don’t mean to pass judgment but…”

  “Juliet had problems. I doubt she even thought about the babe when she made her choice.”

  Raine placed a protective hand over her belly. “I would never do that. Hammer should know. Tell him. I couldn’t—”

  Liam nudged her palm aside. “That’s not what has him turned inside out, love. He had no idea she was unhappy, much less in despair. Neither of us did.”

  Because Juliet didn’t communicate. Raine remembered Seth saying that.

  “It’s one reason he’s so different with you,” Liam went on.

  Pieces of the Hammer puzzle slid into place. “That explains why he always watched me so closely, why he kept track of my cycles…” She gasped. “Why he kept my medication. Why he was desperate to know the second my period was late. And I fought you both.”

  Raine closed her eyes. They’d all gone through hell. If she had known Hammer’s feelings, she would have been more compassionate, more honest. But she had to focus on here and now. Regrets were a waste of time.

  “I’m sorry I shut you two out and failed to communicate.” Raine slid her hands down her face, surprised to find her cheeks wet. “Hammer prides himself on having control of every situation and taking care of those around him. Juliet’s suicide must have made him question everything about himself as a man and a Dom.”

  “Precisely. The pain and guilt crippled him. He pulled stakes out of New York almost the moment Juliet’s funeral ended. He came here and started over.”

  “Then he walled himself off and became the big, bad Dom of Shadows, plowing through one pretty sub after another. He ignored me because I loved him.”

  That still hurt.

  “More so because he loved you,” Liam countered softly. “Fiercely. I saw that the day I arrived. None of the other women mattered to Macen. In his head, if he didn’t touch you, he couldn’t harm you. It was his way of protecting you—and himself. He’s afraid to give anyone the power to truly hu
rt him again.”

  “But his aloofness only hurt us more. It still does now.”

  “I know it feels as if he’s slipping away from us. I don’t mind saying that scares me, love. I’ve tried to reach him, but he shuts me out.” Liam frowned. “He’s stalled. Stuck. Now that he finally has the life he’s wanted, he’s scared shitless of losing it. He loves you far more than he ever did Juliet. If something happened and he no longer had you and the baby in his life, it would end him for good.”

  “I’m fine. I’m careful. I’m—”

  “Human and vulnerable. Bill nearly made his worst nightmare a reality. It messed with Macen’s head.”

  Raine knew that morning had taken a toll on everyone. “Bill is gone, and nothing that bastard did could drive me over the edge.”

  “I know. But Hammer has only cared about two women, and he’s shared them both with me. The first time didn’t end well. When she died, neither of us knew she was pregnant. You almost died, and we had no notion you were expecting, either. In both cases, he was powerless to stop the worst from happening. The parallels disturb him.”

  “He doesn’t want to lose me but he’s pulling away?”

  Liam gave a sad laugh. “It sounds mad, but fear isn’t logical, love. As you well know.”

  Raine couldn’t disagree.

  After her abduction, she’d known she would have to deal with her trauma, but it had seemed possible because she’d believed Liam and Hammer would be beside her, every moment, every step, every day for the rest of their lives. But soon Macen had begun drifting away. She’d been so confused and angry and hurt. Hammer had begun acting more like her bodyguard and caregiver than her Dom and lover.

  Now it made sense.

  Ignoring her screaming insecurities wasn’t easy, but her therapist had coached her about stepping outside of her emotions and looking at things logically. Hammer was quick to help others…and slower than molasses to ask for anything in return. When he screwed up, he barely apologized. For years, she’d assumed he simply had too much pride. But she knew now he tried to deal with his issues alone because he didn’t want to affect others. After Liam’s revelation this morning, she could see that Hammer had shut down because he hadn’t forgiven himself for failing to rescue her from Bill. He’d closed himself off years ago after not saving his pregnant wife.

  The implications weighed a thousand pounds on her heart.

  “You’re right.” Raine tried to hold herself together. She was stronger than all this crying, damn it. But the thought of losing half her soul tore at her. “My heart hurts for him, and I wish I could heal his pain.”

  “If I had a magic wand, I’d do it myself. It took him eight years to confide in me, and I was the bloke sharing Juliet. Only he can decide to let go of the past. I’m thinking you may be the only one who can help him.”


  “He’d do anything not to lose you. I’m not saying opening his eyes will be easy, but I think you can do it.”

  “I can’t even make that stubborn man stay for breakfast. How am I supposed to make him let go of years of guilt?”

  “You’re looking at me with those beautiful eyes and the body that drives me to distraction, and you’re telling me that you don’t know how to get his attention? You may not believe it after this morning, but you turn Hammer’s head. Give him a smile and a come-hither glance. The man will fall over himself to be with you. Then you shower him with your love. And you talk to him.” He cupped her cheek. “I’ll be there with you. We’ll convince him to let go of the past.”

  “What if that doesn’t work? Liam…” Raine understood that he’d run out of options, but failure terrified her. “What if he’s not ready to move on? This is our family. Our future. We don’t have years to make him see the light.” She pointed at her belly. “We have six months.”

  Raine hated to sound negative. Of course she would give it her all, not only to keep their unconventional family intact but because Hammer deserved happiness. Deep down, he wanted the paradise dangling just in front of him. Maybe she needed to remind him of all they had.

  “You can do it. We’ve weathered worse, love. We can survive this, too.”

  Liam had a point. Marlie and Gwyneth. All the jealousy, insecurity, and fighting. The breakup, the tough reunion, the difficulty confronting their pasts. Bill, the kidnapping, the violence, the bombshells, the awful aftermath. Seth often remarked that their lives resembled a soap opera. He was right.

  “Thank you for telling me. I know he would probably be angry, but I needed to hear the truth. I’ll do whatever it takes until we help him understand that Juliet’s choice wasn’t his and no one blames him.”

  “Unfortunately, Juliet’s family does, and they were never shy about expressing their opinion. That hasn’t helped Hammer, either.”

  Raine had never met those people, but she wanted to punch them. “That’s ridiculous!”

  “They were looking for someone to blame.”


  “Language…” Liam raised a brow. “You wench.”

  She did her best to look contrite—but she stood by her opinion. “Do you want breakfast now? I can—”

  The ringing of her cell phone broke into their conversation. She looked at the display and frowned.

  Liam approached. “Is it Hammer?”

  “No. That partner who works with Macen’s lawyer, the one who’s representing me in Bill’s probate.” She pressed the button to accept the call and turned on the speaker. “Hello?”

  “Ms. Kendall? It’s Silas Hoffman from Barnes, Hoffman, and Laughlin. How are you today?”

  “Fine. Do you have news that could resolve my father’s probate?” Not that she wanted anything from Bill’s estate except to throw a can of gasoline and a match at it. But this might be her only chance to locate River. “Has anyone found my brother?”

  “That’s why I’m calling. I just received word from an army representative who informed me they’ve advised him to call me about your father’s estate.”

  Raine’s knees buckled. She nearly dropped the phone. “Really? River is alive?”

  In the last few months, she had often wondered during the sleepless hours of the darkest nights whether Bill had lied and somehow done away with her brother, too. Knowing that her father hadn’t was a relief. And a confusion.

  Where had River been for the last dozen years? She knew he’d joined the army when he turned eighteen…but that was a long time ago. Had he been in the service since? Overseas? Or maybe when he’d left home, he had written off his family and not given a shit about his younger sisters.

  “Apparently, yes,” the attorney said without offering anything else.

  Raine tried to stifle her frustration. “Do you know how I can reach him?”

  “I’m afraid not. The army won’t release his personal information. I only know he’s no longer active duty.”

  Seth had managed to find that out weeks ago.

  She sighed. “So you don’t know if he’s even in Southern California?”

  Hoffman murmured a sound of regret. “I’m sorry, no. The good news is, since you’ve already filed the federal and state taxes on your father’s behalf and completed the inventory of claims versus assets, once River contacts me, we can resolve your father’s estate quickly, probably six months or less. As soon as I’ve spoken to your brother and notified him of the impending probate, I’ll let you know.”

  Until then, she could only hope—wonder—if her last remaining family wanted anything to do with her. “See if he’ll give you his contact information to pass on to me. Please.”

  “Of course.” Then, with a polite goodbye, the attorney hung up.

  Liam cupped her shoulders. “You look shocked, love. Tell me what you’re feeling.”

  “So many things.” She blinked at him, grateful to have his beloved, comforting presence to anchor her. “He moved out when I was nine. I know almost nothing about him or his life. The last memories I have of River a
re him and Bill screaming about his teenage hell-raising and their ugly, parting fight. But I don’t know him.”

  “He’s your brother. He’s family. Don’t you want to talk to him?”

  “I think so.” She sighed, trying to sort through the barrage of her emotions. “But maybe there’s a reason it’s been so long since we’ve spoken.”

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