Liam raised his fist and knocked on the door. Raine whipped her head around, hope brimming in her eyes. It visibly died when she realized he wasn’t Hammer.
She surprised him when she cast her gaze to the floor submissively. “Hi, Liam. Sir. Um, if you’re here because you’re worried or something, I’ll be fine. I’ll bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies and be as good as new.”
So sweet. And lying. Eventually, he’d both soothe and paddle her until she learned to be honest, but for now he simply tried to set her at ease. “While I’ve little doubt about your culinary skills, since your baked goods are most excellent, I doubt they’ll mend your woes, lass. Show me your hands.”
Obediently, Raine held them out. Liam stepped closer, taking her wrists in his grip and examining her fingers. “You’ve a few wee cuts, but nothing serious.” He gave her a smile and gently kissed her palm. “I think you’ll live.”
She stiffened. “I told you I’m fine.”
“Your hands, yes. What about your heart?” He watched her shoulders slump. “I’ve come with a proposition. Would you hear me out?”
He had to win her consent—and give her hope—or she would leave and take Hammer’s only chance of healing with her.
Raine sent him a wary glance. “I guess.”
Liam sidled closer cautiously, careful not to give her cause to bolt. “Would you be adverse to me training you?”
At his words, her startling blue eyes widened, sucking him in like a whirlpool. He’d surprised her. Almost an instant later, she opened her mouth, regret already softening her face.
Before she could refuse him, he cut in. “How much longer will you let your own happiness be denied? Why not seek it with someone ready to appreciate the beauty you are?”
He watched her, following her every nervous gesture: her slight shrug, the tilt of her head, the rise and fall of her chest, the cant of her hip as she leaned back against the counter. Her innate grace and the subtle feminine scent he inhaled as he drew closer sent blood rushing to his cock unexpectedly. The primal reaction surprised him, but he was male, and Raine was lovely, after all.
As he looked into her haunting eyes, he knew yet another reason Hammer had kept this one for his own. Innocence. Fear. Hunger. A swirling mirror to her soul lay just beyond reach. Interesting. A heady challenge.
She bit the fullness of her lower lip. It only took that instant to make him want to comfort her. But that wasn’t all. Lust to taste her sweet mouth, touch her, lay her back and—
He shoved the urge down and told his stiff cock to take a rest.
“I don’t understand.” She blinked up at him. “You want to train…me?”
“I think you need it. And you deserve it. I admire your spirit and your grace. I can’t imagine that you want to wilt away, pining for unrequited love.”
Her mouth pinched. “What’s in it for you? You saw my stupid display earlier.”
The girl needed reassurance. Liam reached for her and pulled her into his arms. The act nestled her pillowy breasts against his chest, her soft curves against his body. An intriguing musky lily scent wafted from her pale, smooth skin. A vision flashed across his brain of Raine beneath him, crying out as he fucked his way deep inside her.
Liam sucked in a shocked breath. He forced himself to think about something else—anything else. Absently, he rubbed her back, his thoughts racing. What the hell? Sure, he’d thought Raine was stunning when he’d first arrived at Shadows. Her inky hair and eloquent blue eyes turned heads every night. But now that he had her close, everything about her called not only to the Dom in him, but to the man as well. He needed to get his head screwed on straight, for Hammer’s sake.
“It isn’t your fault. You care for Hammer, and he’s…well, he’s got a few issues he needs to be sorting out, for sure. While he does, wouldn’t you like to learn about true submission so you might be ready for him? Have you ever wished to stretch a bit, find out if you truly have the courage to submit?”
The way her breath caught before she blushed and jerked her gaze to the floor again suggested that his idea intrigued her.
Liam curled a finger under her chin, raising her face to his once more, and had to steel himself against another shocking jolt of lust. “You have, haven’t you?”
“I want to be what Hammer needs, but I don’t know for certain that I have the self-discipline to kneel and hold my tongue. I’ve never had the opportunity to try.” She swallowed, honesty paining her expression. “But I still don’t understand what’s in it for you.”
“You’re a beauty, for sure. Touching you will be no hardship, lass.” Right now, he hated how true that was. “From what I’ve seen, you can be a mouthy wench who would benefit from a red ass now and again.” He forced himself to wink and grin.
After a split second of waiting for her reaction, her eyes flashed wide. Then she bestowed on him the sweetest sound he’d heard in months, her unbridled laughter.
“There’s a girl.” His smile became real. “Let me help you. I see your need. I enjoy molding and teaching.” He cupped her cheek. “You should be cherished and nurtured, and I’d be honored to give that to you, Raine. Are you game?”
Indecision washed over her face. Liam found himself holding his breath, praying she’d say yes. Hammer needed her…and Liam staggered with his own need to touch her—at least once. It wasn’t noble, and he wasn’t proud of it. But she was so damn fuckable, and he was just a man. This lust would pass.
“You don’t seem like the sort to do something halfway. You’ll want to lay my soul bare, won’t you? Make me show you all the broken parts?” She crossed her arms over her chest, nudging him back. “If I show you, are you going to run like Hammer, too?”
He uncrossed her arms and leaned closer. Now he could hear her softly indrawn breaths, see her fine trembling. Desire surged. Liam couldn’t stop himself; he curled a hand around her shoulder, eliminating her personal space, and brushed his palm down to fasten on the curve of her waist. “I never run from a challenge I’ve set my mind on. Yes, I intend to split your soul wide open like a ripe peach, study you until I know well every piece of the intriguing puzzle you are, down to the last detail, lovely. Then, I mean to put you back together with my touch and make it worth your while.”
Raine looked half terrified. “Wow, that’s awfully honest.”
“Best to set the expectation up front.”
She let out a deep breath and fidgeted, trying to drop her gaze once more. He didn’t allow it, lifting her chin again and bending until their eyes met. “Answer me, Raine. Yes or no?”
“I-I’ve wanted a good Dom. I thought it would be Hammer, but…” She closed her eyes and frowned.
Liam bit his tongue. She wanted to feel valued above all else—needed it. He tucked that knowledge in the back of his head and let her continue. “But?”
“I can’t be less than honest with you. You know where my heart is. As much as I would love to explore everything you could teach me—really, I would—I don’t know if I could give you the devotion you deserve. And I doubt Hammer would ever give his consent, even for you. It might be better for us all if I just left.”
He trapped her against the counter in an instant, pressing his body to hers. Her lips parted in question. Her wide gaze jumped to his, then she focused on his mouth. An electric jolt rattled down his spine. Damn, she was potent.
Yanking her soft curves flush against the hard ridges of his body, he ached to dig his fingers into her hair, pull her lips under his, and eat away at her mouth until she moaned. Liam forced himself to stop. This wasn’t about him, but Hammer. And Raine.
Dragging in a rough breath, he palmed her nape tenderly with one hand, fingers teasing the perfect pink shell of her ear with the other before trailing down to caress her throat. Finally, he settled his hand on her chest, just above her plump breast. Her breathing changed to soft pants. He could feel her heart beating madly under his palm. She wasn’t immune to him. An intoxicating rush of power filled him.
Then he took her wrists in his free hand and brought her arms up slowly, bracing them against the cabinets above, her breath caught. A triumph he didn’t welcome spiked inside him. Still, he bent to Raine, giving her ample time to push him away. She didn’t. Her tongue swept nervously across her upper lip. His cock jerked. Then he couldn’t stop himself from seizing her mouth with his own, capturing her gasp.
Soft. So fucking soft. And sweet. Bloody hell… Pleasure fired through his blood like a potent drug as he delved inside. She melted beneath him.
Curling his tongue around hers, he feasted on her addicting flavor, hungry to memorize it. One kiss melted into the next, and he devoured her, inhaling her into his lungs. She turned to liquid desire against him, wild and tumultuous. One leg slid surreptitiously around his, capturing his calf, pulling him in tighter against her small frame, splitting her thighs open. He should pass up that perfect invitation, but he didn’t. Instead, he ground himself against her pussy, leaving her no doubt that he desired her. Despite Raine’s little skirt, her flesh burned him. A low groan ripped from his throat. He didn’t need air or space or tomorrow, just more of her. Right fucking now.