The Betrayal by Shayla Black


Six years ago

September 1

Los Angeles

Raine Kendall held her breath as she waited for Macen “Hammer” Hammerman to touch her. He prowled closer. She swallowed, her insides feeling jittery. In seconds, his hands would be on her.

Then it came, his touch. She jolted when he cupped her shoulder, just as she had the first time. Except when his fingers curled around her now, it wasn’t fear that made her tremble.


She loved the way he called her—and no one else—that.

Raine leaned closer, her heart racing, as he studied her for a long, silent moment. She resisted the urge to fidget under his intense hazel stare. “What’s up?”

He set a guiding hand at the small of her back and led her into his office, gesturing her to the chair opposite his big desk. “Sit. Let’s talk.”

Her insides pinged with foreboding. She was a seventeen-year-old runaway, and he had taken her in off the streets three weeks ago. Who did that out of the goodness of their heart? Only a saint. Admittedly, she didn’t know Hammer well. So far he’d been great…but he was hardly a contender for a halo or his own holiday. And why would a bachelor with a busy life volunteer to finish raising an almost-grown kid with a chip on her shoulder?

The short answer? He wouldn’t.

Damn it, once he tossed her out, where would she go? Back home was not an option…

Raine sucked in a calming breath and prayed for the best. So far, Hammer had fed, sheltered, and comforted her, never taking his watchful eye off her. And true to his word, he had kept her safe from—

No, she refused to think about him.

God, she didn’t want to leave here. For the first time in years—maybe a decade—she felt blessedly safe. How would she give that up?

Maybe she could make a pitch to convince Hammer to let her stay. Everyone had a price, right?

She froze, feeling incredibly stupid. No, naive. That’s what this chat was about. Hammer intended to tell her what he wanted in return for all the consideration and care he’d shown her. He hadn’t asked her for anything—yet. But of course, nothing in life was free. Everyone wanted something.

The only thing she had to give him was her V-card.

It was probably a fair price for taking on the role of her strong, stalwart protector. And it wasn’t as if climbing between the sheets with him would be a hardship. He was fucking gorgeous. And Raine suspected he’d make it good since he seemed thorough and capable in everything he did. Besides, she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t curious.

At least she now knew why high school guys had never interested her. They were boys. Macen Hammerman was a man. Sure, he was older than her, probably by a dozen years or so. And he owned a kink club. Apparently, he liked to spank women or whatever. She didn’t completely understand that stuff. But he’d definitely proven dependable, patient, concerned, tender, and completely hands-off.

At least until now.

Raine wasn’t really down with selling herself. But if she had to choose between his bed or the streets? No contest. She’d pick Macen. She would just respect him less.

She sat, watching with clammy palms as he rounded the desk to his own chair. The heat of his hand was like a brand on her skin.

It wasn’t the first time his touch had lingered with her.

The night he’d taken her in, she’d stumbled into the alley behind his club, Shadows, too injured to go on. It had been hot. Though the concrete had reeked of urine and rotting garbage, Raine had preferred the gag-worthy stench over the swagger of local pimps searching the dark streets for fresh flesh to peddle. Nor had she wanted to tangle with the drug dealers seeking another customer to addict. Two blocks away, she’d seen a gang initiate a new member by beating the hell out of him, then passing his resistant girlfriend around for the rest of them to use.

Raine had run as far and fast as she could, given her bruising and what she suspected were cracked ribs. She’d hidden, crouched in the dark safety behind Hammer’s dumpster, where the light overhead looked as if someone had thrown a rock and broken the bulb. There, she’d dry heaved, since she hadn’t had actual food in her belly to lose. The involuntary spasms had hurt like a bitch.

That had been nothing compared to the heart-stopping moment Hammer had opened his back door, trash bag in hand, and caught sight of her.

Heart thudding, breath all but stopped, she’d felt terror roll through her when he bent to cup her shoulder. She’d expected the worst. He’d been nothing but gentle as he’d offered her a hot meal.

She’d refused—immediately and more than once. But Raine was learning fast that Hammer could be very persuasive. And he persisted until he got his way.

He’d coaxed her trust with a cold bottle of water and a protein bar, talking with her in the alley for hours as if he had nothing better to do. Finally, her adrenaline had worn off and exhaustion had overcome her. He’d carried her inside, ignoring her protests, then given her some soup and a Coke. Next thing she knew, she’d awakened in an unfamiliar bed—alone and fully clothed. Hammer offered to take her to breakfast at the diner down the street. There, he’d cajoled her until she admitted why she’d been hiding behind his club. Not the whole story, though. God, if he really knew, he’d see her as a freak show and a charity case all rolled into one. But after the bits she’d shared, he hadn’t treated her any differently, simply given her more of his kindness.

She’d been hanging out at Shadows since, reluctant to leave.

Would today change everything?

“Raine, school starts next Tuesday. What do you plan to do about that?”

Of all the things she’d thought Hammer might say, she’d never expected that. “School?”

“You have to think about your future.”

And he didn’t mean in his bed?

“Macen, I can’t go back there. It’s too close to—” Raine couldn’t finish her sentence, couldn’t think about the monster who would find her. He would take her…and no one would stop him. “I’ll get my GED and find a job. Then I’ll repay you and get out of your way.”

“A GED is a good start, but you’re too bright not to go to college.”

Was he crazy? No, it probably sounded simple to him. He seemed to have money. But she couldn’t keep sponging off him, especially before she heard what his support would cost her. “It’s too expensive. Hardly anyone in my family has their degree.” Her sister was well on her way, Raine supposed. But she hadn’t heard from Rowan since she’d waved goodbye and headed to London for her amazing university experience almost three years ago. God knew where her older brother, River, had gone or what had become of him. “I’ll get by without one.”

Hammer glowered. “No.”

One word; that was his whole answer. Raine shouldn’t be surprised. Most of the time, he listened with open ears and offered wisdom, but he sometimes acted as if his word was law. He definitely had a bossy side.

“Yes. I need to get a job so I can start reimbursing you for the food and the roof. Then I’m sure you’ll want me to get a place of my own.”

“Do you know what kind of money you’ll earn in a job that requires no education? What sort of apartment do you think you’ll be able to afford?”

She shuddered. Everything was expensive in LA, but that wasn’t his problem. “I’ll figure it out.”

“How, by selling drugs or your body? Without a good education, you’ll have few other alternatives.” Hammer stared, tapping his fingers on the desk slowly, considering her. “I have an idea. Hear me out.”

Here came the pitch, where he told her that if she’d just take off her clothes and keep his bed warm at night, that would be payment enough. He had probably waited so long to proposition her because he’d wanted her bruising to heal. After all, who wanted to do it with someone black and blue?

She shot him a cynical glare, hating that she’d let herself hope Hammer was above taking advantage of her. But he was a man, so apparently not.

“You don’t have to say anything else. I get you.” She stood and headed toward the private bedroom attached to his office, surprised to find she was shaking. Should she take off her clothes or wait for him to do it?

“Where are you going?”

“The bedroom. You want me to pay you with my body, right?”

“No. Never.” Thunder rolled across his face as he gripped the desk with big hands. “Sit down.”

Raine didn’t understand the reason he was pissed off, but she quickly complied. In fact, she always did her best to please him. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe because she owed him? Usually, she just told people to kiss her ass.

As she slinked back to the chair, embarrassment stung. “Sorry. It sounded like you were propositioning me. You really don’t want me to repay you with my virginity?”

He clenched his jaw. “I didn’t pluck you out of the alley for sex. I took you in so you’d have a chance. You want to repay me, Raine? Go to college. Make something of your life. I’ll help you.”

Seriously? “You’re not even after a blow job? I’ve never done it, but I can get on my knees.”

Macen’s gaze dropped to her lips. She tingled. The air turned thick. Her breath caught. Was he reconsidering?

“No. I want you on your feet. Where do you want to go to college?”

Like all he had to do was snap his fingers and he could make that happen?

Raine sat back in her chair, staring. “You’re serious? Higher education with no strings attached?”

That would be an amazing gesture. No one had ever believed in her. Well, maybe her mom, but...

“There are conditions,” he clarified. “But nothing sexual. How are your grades?”

“Decent enough, but I can’t accept more of your charity. And I don’t want to start my life saddled with student loans. I’ll just get a job and support myself.”

“You don’t need a loan, Raine. And I’m not offering you charity. You’ll work for me while you’re going to school.”

She blinked. This man barely knew her, and he was offering to save her. Why? As far as she could tell, he wasn’t any sort of philanthropist or caped crusader taking troubled teens in off the street. Since he apparently hadn’t offered her a roof because he wanted to get his kink on with her, what was his deal?

Raine could only think of one other possibility; he pitied her. She swallowed a lump of frustration. No way would she ask him if he felt sorry for her. She didn’t want to hear the answer.

“Hammer...” To Raine’s horror, she started crying.

“Precious…” His voice was painfully soft. “Let me do this for you.”

“Why?” She swiped a hand across her wet cheeks.

“It sounds like you haven’t had many breaks in your short life. I can change that.”

He wasn’t wrong. How nice would it be to have one advantage?

She sighed. “What kind of work did you have in mind?”

“First”—he looked slightly sheepish—“you must have noticed I can’t cook. At all.”

That was the first time she’d heard Hammer admit he sucked at something. And as far as she could tell, he never apologized for anything. He could be damn stubborn…but under his bluster, he could also be terribly kind.

She hid a smile. “Yeah, you nearly set the kitchen on fire the other morning. And you make lousy coffee.”

“Well, I can count on you to be honest.” He chuckled. “You’re fantastic at both. So you can take on those responsibilities.”

“That’s easy. I like to cook. And I love to bake.”

“I’ve noticed. Those apple spice muffins?” He all but groaned. “The best.”

“Thanks.” Her lips curled up with pride. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had complimented her.

“It’s good to see you smile, precious.”

“You talked about a job, Hammer. The going rate for a few home-cooked meals is next to nothing. School is way more expensive than that.”

“I wasn’t finished. I also need reliable help around here. Inventory and secretarial assistance are in short supply. I could use a hand preparing the club each night before opening, so tasks like stocking the coolers with chilled water and filling the bins with clean blankets. And the equipment must be sanitized and stored properly.”

Okay, so he had more responsibility in mind than a little kitchen duty, but it still didn’t sound like a fair exchange. Her considerable pride told her to refuse his handout. Except…what if he really did need help around here? He’d stuck his neck out for her when no one else had. He had faith in her when no one else did. He cared for her well-being when no one else would.

She owed him.

“Of course I’ll do it. But how am I supposed to cook and tidy up for you from a dorm room?” A place like that honestly sounded horrible. The last thing she wanted to do was share space with vapid girls whose only worry was how their hair looked and which jock to flirt with. She would have nothing in common with them.

“You’ll stay here.”

“Really? I can?”

“Absolutely. I’ll need you nearby. And it’s not safe for you out there.”

A smile spread across her face. This deal got better with every second. “That would be great. But are you sure you’re getting your money’s worth?”

“I will. You’ll get a business degree with a focus on accounting and finance. I know my limitations; keeping the books is one of them. And if I never had to work on the club’s taxes again, I would be thrilled. Trust me, you’d be doing me a favor.”

Now he was talking. That was a real job people got paid decent money for. Maybe he didn’t see her as merely a charity case.

“You’ve got a deal.”

“Excellent. I expect you to take care of the paperwork to get your GED. Let me know when you need money and how much. You can start at the local community college while you figure out what four-year university around here you’d like to attend. Then we’ll work on getting you accepted.”

Suddenly, the future Raine hadn’t wanted to face because she’d merely been surviving looked lots brighter.

She had so much to be thankful for now, and she owed everything to Hammer, who apparently wasn’t like other guys. Obviously he liked sex. Duh, he ran a kink club. But he wasn’t demanding a piece of her ass. Maybe he wasn’t into jailbait. After all, a statutory rape charge would be bad for business. Or maybe he just wasn’t into her…though she’d thought she’d caught him looking once or twice.

Then again, it was possible she’d read him all wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Thank you so much.” She shot to her feet, resisting the stupid urge to launch herself into his arms in gratitude, but he kept the desk squarely between them. “I won’t let you down.”

The smile that stretched across his face was benevolent and proud. It did something to her heart.

“I know you won’t. But I’ve got a few rules. Sit.”

Raine sank to her chair again. “I’m listening, sir.”

He froze. Then he squirmed and cleared his throat.

Had she said something wrong? Was he worried she couldn’t be obedient enough? Please let his rules be easy to follow. The way she felt right now, she never wanted to disappoint this man.

“First, I’ll be giving you a cell phone so we can stay in contact. We’ll figure out transportation when it’s time for you to go to school. Do you have a driver’s license?”

“No.” Dad hadn’t wanted to give up his control of her enough for that.

“Then I’ll teach you. If you make friends at school and want to go out, curfew is midnight. I expect to always know where you are and who you’re with. It’s the easiest way to help you stay safe.”

Most people her age would chafe at his demand. It sounded pretty freaking parental. But honestly, it had been so long since anyone had given a shit about her that she didn’t mind. If it helped keep her past from catching up with her, she could check in. Besides, she wasn’t much of a social butterfly. “Okay.”

He sighed, steepling his fingers and staring at her over the long tips. “I’ve been honest with you about the purpose of my club. You’re a minor, Raine. I’m taking a huge risk by letting you walk through the door at all, much less harboring you here. Until now, I’ve managed to separate you from the play space, but if you’re going to help me prepare for the evenings, you’ll be seeing the rest of the club and all its equipment. I’m sure you’ll have questions. You will ask me and no one else. Is that clear?”

“Yeah. Totally.” But it was sex. How hard could it be to figure out?

“I’ve also advised all the members, especially the Dominants, that they’re forbidden to approach you or talk to you, much less lay a hand on you. In fact, they’re not allowed within ten feet of you. No one here will touch you. No one.”

Especially him. That’s what he meant.

He’d more or less already turned her down tonight. Not that she’d been panting for it or anything. But his blunt refusal kind of stung. She was hardly a troll. Maybe he just saw her as a stupid kid. Whatever. The weird pull she felt to him would go away. She was only curious because he was hot and he knew about life and sex and all that. But obviously, he wasn’t feeling it for her. Fine. He didn’t have anything special, like a magical penis. And it wasn’t as if he’d ever be the love of her life. She didn’t believe in that shit. But she’d settle for friends.

So why did she feel oddly disappointed?

She shrugged. “All right.”

“It’s important you understand that rule, Raine. The club members know you’re off-limits.”

“I got it. Geez… What else?”

He paused. “Every November, I travel to New York for a few days. I usually leave on the fifth and return on the eighth. I’ll cut my trip a day shorter this year if you’d like. But you’ll be safe here. I’ll make sure of that.”

Raine wondered why he went back there at the same time every year. Friends? Standing appointment? Kink convention? She was curious but it was his business. It would be a little weird to be at Shadows without him, but if Hammer said she’d be safe, she would be. Besides, she rarely saw people associated with the club except that Beck guy. She avoided him because he seemed intense and kind of scary.

“I’ll be fine,” she assured. “Do what you need.”

“Good. Then it’s settled.” He rose to his feet. “You can start work next week.”

“Sure. Thanks.” She bit her lip, then turned back to him in all sincerity. “Really.”

He gave her a clipped nod, then slipped into the private suite adjoining his office. Raine floated out on cloud nine. She would get an education. She would have a place to stay that wasn’t sorority central. She’d get to live with Hammer. Finally, she had some hope for the future.

Smiling, Raine made her way to the kitchen. He might have suggested that she start her new responsibilities next week, but they both had to eat tonight. She’d rather not suffer more takeout or whatever he tried to whip up. He might be more experienced in many ways, but her cooking was way better.

As she slid some seasoned chicken in the oven and readied squash for baking, she heard the clicking of stilettos on the concrete in the hall behind her. Who was that?

Raine whirled to find a stylish woman standing in the doorway. Looking a few years older than Hammer, she had the casual elegance of someone who had lived and felt comfortable in her skin. Raine envied her easy polish. The woman’s champagne tresses looked artlessly tousled. Her berry lips had been painted with precision in a shade that was sexy without being overt. A black sheath clung to her graceful curves and stopped a few inches above her knees. The woman’s patent shoes looked designer, seductive without being hookerish. She even carried a chic red clutch.

In short, the woman looked completely put together—something Raine feared she never would be.

Realizing she was staring, she wiped her hands on her apron. “Can I help you? The club isn’t open yet.”

“I’m a bit early.” Her eyes lit up as she looked at her watch. “Traffic was lighter than normal. I’m here to see Hammer.”

Why? But Raine was afraid she knew the answer. Hammer fucked this woman, didn’t he? His business was sex. And she’d seen boxes of condoms in his personal space.

Something ugly slammed into Raine’s chest. She’d never be half the woman this amazing bombshell was. No wonder Hammer had zero interest in having sex with her. Why would any man want a silly little virgin when he could have this goddess?

“Um, he’s busy.” Maybe if she wasn’t forthcoming, the woman would go away.

Raine didn’t want to think about why that idea made her happy.

“I’m sure he’ll get unbusy for me. He never keeps me waiting.” The woman looked her up and down, ending the scan with a speculative raise of her brow. “Are you his…little sister?”

She and Hammer looked nothing alike, but clearly the woman was trying to decide why someone so young stood in his club, in his kitchen.

“Employee.” Why, are you his mother? “He can’t cook.”

Even the woman’s laugh sounded refined. “Well, his skills lie elsewhere, after all.”

Obviously, this woman would know. And Raine didn’t like that at all. “Did you need something?”

“Can you tell me where to find him?”

“I...” Raine refused to speak the words that would send her to Hammer’s bed.

“Oops. I almost forgot…” The woman reached under her dress and tugged on something. With a shimmy and a wriggle, her panties came down her sleek, spray-tanned thighs before she stepped out of the satiny undergarment and stuffed it in her purse. “There. That should make Hammer happy. Now, where can I find him?”

Raine closed her gaping mouth and resisted the urge to punch her. Was this bitch serious, dropping her drawers in the fucking kitchen?

The sound of sure, masculine steps resounding down the hall saved her. Hammer appeared a moment later, smiling at the blonde. “Erika, good to see you. Lost?”

The woman’s eyes lit up with heat and anticipation. “Eager.”

He smiled and settled a hand at the small of her back. “I’m ready. Let’s head to my…office.”

Raine knew where they were really going and what would happen there. Suddenly, she was desperate to stop it. “Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes.”

“Keep mine warm. I’ll eat later,” Macen tossed over his broad shoulder as he led Erika out of the kitchen, shutting the door behind them.

Leaving Raine alone to cry tears she didn’t understand—a cycle that would repeat itself over and over for the next six years….