The Break by Shayla Black


Los Angeles

Tuesday before Thanksgiving

Macen “Hammer” Hammerman stifled the mundane conversation with his assistant, Raine Kendall, and stood, bracing his hands on the desk between them. Though his office door stood open—he wasn’t “allowed” to talk to her otherwise—they were as alone as they’d been in weeks. It was now or never. He had an important question to ask.

“Tell me something, Raine. Your period is what, five days late?”

Blood leached from her face. “Wha—I… How would you even know that?”

Because it was his business. After six years of being her mentor, caretaker, and employer, he’d recently given in to his gnawing hunger and fucked her in every way known to man. And recklessly, he’d done it without a condom. Since admitting how much he wanted her, he couldn’t seem to stop. But the elaborate collar that now dangled from her neck strangled him with one indisputable fact: She was owned. Taken. Completely off limits. Property of another.

That son of a bitch, Liam O’Neill. His former best friend.

“Kind of blows your theory that I’ve always looked through you, doesn’t it?” He smirked. “Since you came to Shadows, I’ve kept tabs on your cycle every single month. You promised you’d let me know if you were so much as a minute late. I’ve been waiting.”

She pretended to scan through the pages of her notepad. “I promised to tell you if I was pregnant. Right now, I don’t know anything. We need to finish discussing the Thanksgiving menu. I hope you bought cranberry sauce.”

“Cranberry sauce? Really?” He cocked his head, his tone a warning.

“Don’t do this, Hammer.”

He leaned closer. “In case you’ve forgotten, it was my cock riding your pussy, precious. So I’m not shutting up until I have an answer.”

A rosy flush suddenly stained her cheeks. Hammer smiled. She hadn’t forgotten the passion they’d shared any more than he had. It had haunted him, day after day, night after night…

Raine scrambled to her feet, clutching her notepad and pen. “I have enough for the menu. We’re done here.”

“We’re not,” he barked. “Sit down.”

She tossed her things on his desk and crossed her arms, glaring up at him. The swells of her pillowy breasts spilled from her V-neck tank. She looked sexy when she was mad. “So you can harass me again?”

Yes, Raine would see it that way. Christ, he needed to dial back on the confrontation, figure out how to drag information from her without distressing her even more.

“So we can finish talking. It’s not my intention to upset you,” he murmured.

She gave him a skeptical stare.

“Sit. Please.” He waited until she complied, then he sat across from her. “You know I’d normally rather fucking swallow glass than say I’m sorry, but I owe it to you to shove this apology past my pride. That night, my need to mark you as mine overwhelmed my better judgment. It was selfish and reckless. I’m sorry.”

Raine sighed, some of the starch leaving her. “You were drunk.”

“That’s even worse. I was pissed off, too. And hurt. To me, Liam’s claim on you didn’t mean shit. He messed with your mind and played you, just like he played me.”

“You don’t get to decide if my relationship with him is meaningless. I was afraid, and Liam took care of me. He still does.”

A fact Hammer hated. “Why do you think he took such a sudden interest in you?”

“Why do you care? You and I were a mistake. Move on. I have.”

No way.“I made love to you that night, Raine.”

She squirmed and looked away. “And your ‘love’ was so meaningful, you couldn’t wait the next morning to tell me that I wasn’t woman enough for you.”

Hammer reached across the desk and grabbed her chin, forcing her gaze to his. “Sixteen days, ten hours, and thirty-seven minutes ago, I heard your screams of ecstasy as I drove into your sweet little pussy. And you were so much woman that it changed me.”

Raine shivered in his grasp. She tried to act like he didn’t affect her, but he knew her way too well to believe that.

“So you don’t want a slave you chain to your bed every night anymore?”

“I’ll always want that.” In fact, he could picture her as his, collared, naked, wet, kneeling… He swallowed down a surge of arousal. Raine wasn’t built for that kind of submission, and he couldn’t expect her to change for him. “But I’ve always wanted you, too.” He reluctantly released her. “And every time you submit to Liam, I can hear that son of a bitch all over you through the thin walls. It hurts like hell, but I still listen and remember the taste of you on my tongue.”

“Stop.” The pulse picked up at Raine’s throat. She pushed out of her chair and whirled for the door, leaving her pad and pen behind.

Hammer rushed around the side of his desk and grabbed her elbow. He’d tried not to crave her. Impossible. Raven hair, rosy lips, porcelain skin. Striking. Sensual. Soft-hearted. For weeks, he’d struggled to overcome his addiction to Raine, but every time he looked at her, he suspected he’d relapse really fucking soon.

“Let go.” Her breathing sounded rushed, shallow. Aroused. “Please.”

“Give me one more minute.” As he pulled her closer, she trembled. “For six years, I wasn’t honest with you about how I felt. I’m sorry for that, too.” He spun her around and delved into her blue eyes. “But I won’t apologize for touching you. That would be a lie.”

He’d said as much as he could without confessing that he loved her and always would.

“Seriously, Hammer. You can’t say things like that.”

“Too honest?”

She hesitated. “Inappropriate.”

“We passed inappropriate when Liam…” Sank balls deep into your virgin ass, and I had to watch you thoroughly enjoy it. Hammer cleared his throat. “Claimed you.”

Her black lashes fell softly to her cheeks as she closed her eyes. “Macen…”

“It’s done. You seem to have everything you’ve ever wanted. If Liam makes you happy, I’m glad.”

Or he was trying to be. But standing this close to Raine and knowing he couldn’t slide her beneath him again was eviscerating his restraint.

She scoffed. “You’ve never tolerated anyone blowing smoke up your ass. Neither will I.”

Hammer pressed closer, barely resisting the urge to rub his hard cock against her. “What do you want to hear? That it’s not smoke I want to fill your ass with, precious?”

She tensed. “I think you’ve said enough.”

Because she belonged to Liam. Right.

Hammer sighed. He’d been the center of her life for years. Now Liam had stolen her away and taken his place. Hammer’s only consolation was that he suspected she shared even less of herself with the Irish prick. Her stubborn, sometimes secretive behavior was a far cry from the loving deference a Master sought from his collared submissive. Which meant she probably wouldn’t tell Liam about this conversation. She should, but…that was Raine. He loved her independence, even if it sometimes made his palm itch.

The vixen needed firm guidance. She might seem fragile on the surface, but her will could be iron. Idly, Hammer wondered if Liam would figure out that overindulging Raine wouldn’t give her the boundaries she required before she crashed and burned.

“You’re right.” He smiled wryly. “But I’m being honest.”

“If you don’t have anything else, let me go. I’ll have Thanksgiving dinner ready on Thursday at three.”

“One more question. Has your period ever been late? I can’t remember a single instance.”

She closed her eyes. “Leave it alone.”

“Like hell. I didn’t take responsibility for you like I should have that night, but by god, I will now. If your period hasn’t started by Black Friday, you won’t be shopping. I’ll be taking you to the doctor.”

Raine jerked from his grip. “I’m perfectly capable of visiting a doctor myself.”

“But I know you won’t go without a push. Consider me your personal bulldozer.”

“I’m not your responsibility anymore. I’m Liam’s.”

And wasn’t that a kick in the balls?

“I want to be very clear, Raine. If you get a positive result from that test, everything changes. Every. Fucking. Thing. I will take care of you—in every way.”

“I have to go.” Her voice cracked.

In a flurry of dark hair, lace, and ruffles, Raine dashed toward the door. Hammer surged from his chair, caging her between the wall and his body, breathing on the back of her neck. God, she smelled good.

Fear, desire, dread—he felt them all pinging off of her as she shivered. “Hammer…”

Pulling together his restraint, he eased back, trying not to torture himself with what he couldn’t have. Nearly three weeks without a woman—without her—was killing his self-control.

“I’ll let you run away for now since it’s what you do best, but I’m not letting this go. Be ready by eight a.m. Friday morning.”

* * *

Liam O’Neill clutched the little box in his hand and rehearsed the speech in his head again. He prayed this package contained the key to his future with Raine. Maybe they could finally find some bloody happiness—and he could convince her that he intended to stay. Would she stop hoarding chunks of herself then? Of course, she’d push back at first, but she needed this. One day, she would agree.

As if his thoughts had conjured her up, his little hellcat tore out of Hammer’s office and barreled down the hall, fists clenched. She nearly charged straight into him.

He pocketed the box. “Raine?”

She stopped short, trembling, blue eyes wide with panic. His fury—always simmering these days—began boiling.

Hammer, that fuckwit, had rattled her.

The need to protect rode Liam hard as he gripped her shoulders. “Tell me what happened.”

Instantly, Raine’s walls went up, and she shut down. Here we go again… Every day the same shit—him struggling to reach her, her hiding behind her defenses. So far, no amount of gentle cajoling or patience had convinced her to believe in him. After a couple of weeks as her Master, he’d seen only the merest glimpse into her soul.

Most men would have given up on her, but Liam’s divorce had proven that if he wanted a relationship to last, he had to try harder. He’d never bothered to work his way into his ex-wife’s soul or bared his own to Gwyneth. He couldn’t make that mistake with Raine. She’d seized his heart, gripping it more tightly every day until he wondered if he could even breathe without her. He had no bloody idea if she would ever love him in return, but he’d do whatever it took to earn her trust.

Liam pinned her to the wall. “I’ve asked you what happened. Answer me.”

She tried to wriggle free. “Nothing.”

An evasion and a lie. Bloody hell.

Maybe things would be different if he could persuade her to leave Shadows, Hammer, and all the distractions. Maybe then he could win her over. But Raine refused to budge. This was the only place she’d ever known safety, and she felt obligated to Hammer for taking her in as a teenage runaway. But that wasn’t her only reason. How fucking long would she pine for a man who refused to give her any part of himself that wasn’t temporarily engorged?

“Give me the truth,” he demanded.

Worry furrowed her dark brows, strained her delicate face. “Just hold me. Please don’t let me go.”

Her begging reached into his chest and tugged. “It’ll be my pleasure, love, as soon as you tell me what Hammer did.”

“Let’s not talk about him. Or anything.”

She clutched his lapels and brushed her lips over his. Then she did it again. Her next kiss turned urgent. He drowned in her sweet mouth for a lingering moment, knowing he should pull away.

Too often, Raine tempted him to carry her off to their bed, bare her pussy, and sink deep inside her when she sought to divert his attention. More than once, he’d lost himself in the pleasure that eclipsed everything but the explosive desire between them. When he succumbed, they never discussed what troubled her—which suited her fine and dandy. For Raine, talking through her problems was akin to peeling the flesh from her very bones.

But she hadn’t smiled in a week. Giving into her manipulation wasn’t going to help that.

Liam forced himself to set her away. “Wait for me in our room. I’ll be along in a few minutes.”

“Just forget it. Please.” Raine plied him with another desperate kiss. “I’d rather be with you.”

He sent her a stern scowl. “What part of ‘wait for me’ did you not understand?”

“It’s not important.”

“I’ll decide that.” He pointed down the hall. “Go.”

With a sigh, she plodded down the hall, a sad slump pulling at her shoulders. Liam gritted his teeth against the stab of guilt. Sorting out this mess would do a lot more to help her than sex.

Dragging in a steadying breath, he watched her disappear into their room, then charged toward Hammer’s office. Steeling himself, Liam shoved his way inside and slammed the door.

The bastard looked up from his paperwork and frowned.

“What the fuck just happened?” Liam demanded. “I let Raine spend a few minutes with you, and she left distraught.”

“Don’t come into my office looking for a fight, O’Neill. You won’t like how it ends, and neither will Raine. For some reason, she likes your face the way it is.”

“What did you do to my sub?” he snarled.

Hammer stood with such force, his chair rolled and hit the metal filing cabinet behind his desk. “Worried that I grabbed her tits? Copped a feel of her pussy? Fucked her? All with the door wide open?”

“You want her. So whether the door was open or closed wouldn’t matter if you thought you could get away with it. Of that, I’m sure.”

“What did Raine say? Or haven’t you figured out yet how to make her communicate with you?” He crossed his arms over his chest with a sneer.

“I want your side of things.”

Hammer snorted. “So she didn’t tell you shit. Let me clue you in on a little secret: You’ll need a crowbar to open her up when she walls herself off, like she’s doing right now.”

“That’s no secret. I’ll deal with that. Did you touch her, yes or no?”

“I didn’t break the Code of Conduct.” He tugged stiffly on his suit coat.

“Let’s not pretend that honoring the Code would mean a damn thing to you if not for your fellow Doms’ disapproval. Respect Raine enough not to make this situation any more difficult and tell me what happened.”

“I’m not making it more difficult; I’m ensuring that she runs back to me when you figure out she’s more than you can manage. I know how to handle her.”

The silky threat in Hammer’s voice crawled up Liam’s back. He swallowed an answering insult. He needed answers more than he needed a fight—no matter how badly he wanted one. Hammer blamed him for losing Raine, obviously so enraged that he could barely see straight. And Liam couldn’t forget—or forgive—that Hammer had done his bloody best to plant a seed in her womb the moment Liam took her for his own.

He rubbed at the knot at the back of his neck, staring at Macen. “If you care about her at all, put her needs first for once. Tell me what has her rattled.”

“I didn’t take any liberties, so stop busting my balls.”

“I don’t care about your balls. I’m here to protect Raine.”

“Yeah?” Hammer gave him a hard glare. “You don’t seem too worried. Do you know how many days late her period is? I sure as hell do.”

There was the proverbial punch in the gut. Raine’s monthly was late…just as he’d suspected. Liam closed his eyes, damn near crippled where he stood.

Hammer knew the answer to the question Liam had asked Raine many times. No matter how Liam had tried to wrest it from her, she’d danced around the truth, as though possibly being pregnant by another man was none of his goddamned business.

What else was she keeping from him? Time to pry Raine open and find out.

Liam turned away and opened the door.

“Wait,” Hammer called him back. “I want you to know that night with Raine was the only time I haven’t gloved up since Juliet. I’m clean. She really is just scared and lashing out. It’s how she copes. Don’t take my mistake out on her.”

Liam didn’t turn back, just curled his hands into fists. “Fuck you.”