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Duke: Chapter 15


My throat goes dry and my eyes widen as I try to process. Duke lets out a harsh grunt, his hips slamming forward to meet Mason’s ass. He holds himself there as he shudders out his release.

Duke is fucking beautiful when he comes. Some dudes have weird come faces, but he really doesn’t. His normally tight jaw relaxes, and he gets this euphoric look about him. It’s totally hot. Not that I’m claiming to have seen it much. My face flushes, thinking about how strange it would seem if anyone knew I’m thinking about my stepbrother and what he looks like when he orgasms. From the heat hitting my cheeks, it’d be a very prominent pink color, so thank goodness for the darkness. Dirty, dirty thoughts run rampant through my head.

My gaze shifts to Mason, who looks like the very definition of blissed out. He’s breathing hard, but he’s content to stand with Duke’s arms around him. His lips are swollen, and I can imagine the amount of kissing it would take to make them look like that because I’ve been there with him myself. It’s not even weird for me to think about it.

The two of them curled together, water streaming over them … my god, it’s a lot for a girl to handle. My nipples are taut twin peaks behind my tank top, and moisture is gathering rather quickly between my legs the longer I stand here with my eyes glued to their naked bodies.

And I’m totally intruding. Fuck, Lennon, fuck. I scrape my teeth over my lip, backing up and turning away. I— I have no idea if stumbling in on their private moment is good, bad, or inconsequential to them. It doesn’t bother me to see them like this, but I don’t know how they feel about it. They’re so damn beautiful together. The attraction between them gets me all hot and bothered. It’s partially because the idea of two men lusting after each other is panty-melting. Men are different with each other. Rougher. Sometimes there’s even a battle for dominance. But I think maybe what I find to be so alluring has to do with seeing men be vulnerable with each other. It takes a whole lot for some men to drop that masculine bravado and let go. But damn, when it happens? That’s hot, too. A little moan slips from between my lips. I shut my eyes, silently cringing at myself. I haven’t been invited to this particular party, so I should probably see myself out. It takes me a moment, but I get my head screwed on straight and begin walking across the pool patio to go back inside the house.

“Don’t go.” Mason’s rough, gritty voice reaches me, cutting through the balmy night air, and I suck in a careful breath, turning around to search out his dark eyes. He blinks at me from under a hooded gaze, his lashes spiky with water, and drags in a heavy breath.

While I had my back to them, Duke must have pulled out because now he’s simply holding Mason from behind, his arms wrapped around his middle with his cheek resting on his shoulder. He’s watching me, too. Waiting and wondering, I’m sure, at what my reaction will be.

Frankly, I’m surprised by his reaction. Or nonreaction. A week ago, I’m pretty fucking certain he’d have flipped his damn lid. But we’ve—all four of us—come a long way since then. And the person who’s done the most adjusting is Duke. Most definitely.

“Did you need something, Stella Bella?” Duke rasps, absentmindedly sweeping his lips over Mason’s skin, his breathing slow and calm.

I tilt my head to the side. He’s content. Something about that both warms and breaks my heart. I’m glad Duke’s finally accepting what he feels for Mason, but sad that he’s been hiding this part of him for years, making them both wait. “Yeah, but—” I bite my lip, gesturing to them, and hope my point is coming across the way I mean for it to. They’re busy. They want to be alone. I exhale hard. “I know I caused some trouble, reacting to Bear’s dad … and I don’t regret it, but I also know Bear’s not sleeping. Not even resting. He’s moving around up there, and I’m worried.”

While I’m babbling, Mason grabs a bottle of what I think must be shower gel and pumps some into his hand before handing it off to Duke.

Distracted, it flits through my brain that it’s kinda odd to have soap at an outdoor shower, but hell … I guess it’s a house full of guys, and they don’t give two shits about stripping down and actually getting clean after being in the pool or spa instead of just rinsing off.

I watch the two of them working the soap over their bodies, and Jesus, I feel a little faint. I can’t even help myself, I’m way too into watching Mason work soap over Duke’s broad back. And things get worse for me when he turns around so Duke can reciprocate … only Duke spends extra time on Mase’s ass, fingers slipping between his cheeks.

I can’t tear my gaze away, making the already warm evening feel downright sweltering, and I’ve completely stopped talking, having forgotten what else I meant to say in favor of wondering what Duke is whispering in Mason’s ear.

Mase shakes his head, and I think he might have said “Stop worrying, I’m good,” but I’m a little too far away to be certain.

My heart clenches hard in my chest … because if there was anything that told me how these two really feel about each other, it was that small exchange. I swallow, unsure how to handle the swarm of emotion flitting around in my belly. I chew on the inside of my cheek. Do they feel similarly about me? Or is it different? I know how worried all of them were for me this morning, but what was behind it? And would different be bad, so long as it were true emotion? For a moment, the little devil on my shoulder whispers to me that maybe they were concerned because they’ve been charged with taking care of me and look at what happened. My eyes crash shut. No. That’s not what I felt from them this morning, especially not when they’d all gone to work to help me erase the weird way I felt after having been taken.

Duke’s eyes land on me again. “Stella?”

I blink a few times, ridding my eyes of the liquid forming at the edges. “Yeah. Sorry. I can’t tell if he’s up because he isn’t feeling well, if his injury hurts … if that Wilder guy slugging him in the side of the head is affecting him more than he’s willing to admit, or what. And, I don’t know, I just—” I wring my hands together, which is a little unlike me, but I seriously don’t know what to do, and Bear is important to me.

“Fuck. Okay.” Always the one to sense the depth of my emotions, Mason shuts off the water and grabs towels from the shelf, then hands one off to Duke. “Shit, our clothes.”

I glance over my shoulder to see what the two of them are scoping out. A small laugh bubbles out of me. “I’m on it.” They dry themselves off while I hurry around picking up stray articles of clothing. “One pair of shoes, two jeans, one pair of boxer briefs, and a button-down shirt.” Rattling off what I have in my arms, I huff out a laugh. Someone was going commando. Definitely Mason. “Did I miss anything?”

With one hand on the towel at his waist, Duke shoots me a sheepish grin. “Nope. That oughta do it. We’ll throw on clean clothes that we haven’t rolled around the grass in.”

I suppress a grin as we walk back to the house. “Okay. I was thinking of bringing a bowl of Bear’s favorite ice cream up with me. You know … something to pacify the beast if he’s a little cranky?” I wrinkle my nose at the odd looks they throw my way as we head inside. “What? Is that dumb?”

“Bear eats ice cream?” Mason frowns.

Duke shrugs, eyeing me curiously. “You got me.”

My brows raise in surprise. “He told me his favorite is mint chocolate chip.” They give me a strange look, but once we’re back inside, I walk into the kitchen and open the bottom freezer. Sure enough, it’s right there. I pluck it out of the drawer and hold it up.

“Well, damn, Kin. Scoop some of that shit in a bowl for him. We’ll meet you upstairs and see what the fuck is up.”

My stomach clenches and twists, wondering if the ice cream really is a stupid idea after all. It almost feels like it’s making light of the issue? Or …? Fuck, am I overthinking this? And what if he’s really having a rough time? What do we do then? I glance at the container in my hand, noting the tremor visibly moving through me. Maybe I shouldn’t.

Mason’s brows pull together, observing the shake in my hand. I look at him with wild eyes. He steps close to me, frowning. “What’s wrong?”

Feeling numb, I watch a drop of water from his hair slide from his neck down his chest. I blink, blowing out a hard breath. “I-I don’t know why, but I feel kinda overwhelmed. What if we can’t handle this? Ice cream can’t fix everything.”

Duke cups my nape and tugs me to his chest. “We can handle it. Promise.” He kisses the top of my head. “The ice cream won’t hurt. If he doesn’t want it, at least he’ll know you were thinking of him.” He eases away from me, putting a few fingers under my chin and lifting my face to his. “He might need you to be strong for him. Can you do that?”

I inhale deeply, nodding. “Of course. Sorry.” I give myself a shake. “My stomach’s just in knots.”

“Well-rested, healed, unmedicated Bear will be back,” Mason grits. “We’ve got this.” He gives me a cheeky smile that fades when we hear something upstairs. “Let’s get on it.” Mason taps Duke’s arm and they take off for the stairs in their towels. I busy myself scooping out the ice cream into a bowl and snagging a spoon from the drawer before I head up myself.

I hear the commotion from the end of the hall before I reach the top step.

“Goddamn motherfucking asshole piece of shit!”

Shocked at the sudden string of curse words, I stumble, recover, then race down the hall, the bowl of mint chocolate chip held precariously in my fumbling hands. Bear’s door stands open, and Duke and Mason are already inside. I skid to a wide-eyed stop just inside the room.

Bear faces us, his bare chest heaving with angry breaths. “Fucking prick. How the fuck?” He’s shaking and fidgety, waving his uninjured arm around. Even without knowing what I’ve missed, I feel the tension rolling off all three of them. I set the ice cream on the small table just inside the threshold where Bear drops his keys and rings and other assorted items and close the door behind me.

There’s something in Bear’s big hand, but he’s gripping it so tightly, I can’t tell what it is, especially since he’s gesturing with the same hand. I exhale slowly, stepping between Duke and Mason. “What’s going on? Talk to us.”

As if he only just realized I’ve joined them, he looks directly at me with this awful, bewildered look in his eyes. He’s so tired. Distraught. “They were under my motherfucking pillow,” he grits out low, his jaw tighter than hell as he shakes whatever it is that he’s got clenched in his fist.

It hits me all at once. The pills. Whatever the fuck Derek’s been supplying him with. Because daddy dearest sure as fuck hadn’t denied that little assumption I’d thrown like a bomb earlier—and neither had Bear. “Seriously?” I take a step forward and hold out my hand. “How long have they been there? It’s the medication you’ve been taking, right?”

Duke hisses from between his teeth. “Yeah. Son of a bitch found a way for them to be here when we got back from the fight. So, they either sent them with someone who lives here in this damn house—”

Mase scrubs a hand over his jaw, shaking his head. “Or they have unfettered access. I’m inclined to think the latter. Or fuck, both. What the hell do we know? Such a dick move to leave them for you after the fight. Rubbing the loss you just suffered right in your face.”

Bear, though, he’s out of his head, spinning around before I get a chance to take a look at them. “I’m gonna fucking kill him.” His breathing is labored as he paces. “I could have won. If he hadn’t been such a fucking dick about it and just given them to me …” His eyes slam shut, and he bends at the waist. “Doesn’t fucking care about me.” The words rip from his throat raw and defeated.

I turn around, asking Duke and Mason with my eyes what we should do. I fold my lower lip into my mouth and let my teeth scrape over it as I try to control myself so I can help him, but it’s so fucking hard. I can practically feel his pain, and not just the physical stuff either—the mental anguish. Everything that’s been weighing heavily on his heart.

Mason blinks, swallowing hard as Bear lets out a sound that’s so damn lost and uncertain. It’s clear from looking at Mason and Duke that they’re terribly affected by their friend’s breakdown. Duke tugs on the back of his neck with both hands, shaking his head as he stares at the floor.

“Go sit down,” I murmur, pointing at the couch and chairs where we’d been this morning. Jesus, was it only this morning that we’d all gathered to figure out what happened to me? I rub a hand over my face, trying not to let the fact that we still don’t know the answers to that bother me. “We need to sort through some shit.” No matter that we’re all on the verge of collapsing. No matter that it’s almost two in the morning. No matter that we have class in only a handful of hours.

Because Bear needs us right now. I drop to my knees at his side, peeking up at him. “Gideon.” His jaw twitches, and he blinks rapidly. At his knee, the small package is all but crushed in his hand. I tentatively reach up, touching the back of his bicep, the same place the lion tattoo is inked. I think he’s going to need a little bit of that brave-hearted lion courage to pull himself through this. His eyes flick to mine. I nudge the hand holding the drugs. “Can I see this, please?” He exhales hard, then nods, allowing me to tug it free from his hand. I flip open the flap and look inside to find a small packet of pills. Oxy. No wonder he’s been going through withdrawal off and on if he hasn’t had a steady stream of the stuff. I stand up, folding the package closed again before I stuff it into my back pocket so I can focus on him.

He wets his lips, straightening from his hunched over position. As he does, he puts one hand on my shoulder, briefly squeezing. “I’m not good enough for you. Go to bed. Let me talk this through with Duke and Mason.”

His words slice me wide open, and my heart plummets from my chest and lands at my feet. I exhale softly, shaking my head as I reach out, putting one hand on his waist where his joggers give way to warm skin. “I don’t want to hear you talking like that about yourself.” I chew on my lip as I study his haggard features. He doesn’t want to look at me, that much is obvious when I shift my head, and he moves his so he can avoid me. “Don’t fucking do this to me.” I step directly in front of him, lifting both hands to cup the lower half of his face, tilting it to me. Raggedly, I whisper, “I love you, Gideon, and I refuse to just give up on you.”

His jaw clenches tightly, and I can practically see all the lies he’s been fed about himself by his own damn father running through his head. “You love the idea of me, Little Gazelle, not who I really am.”

A strangled, “Oh, fuck,” is muttered by either Duke or Mason, though I don’t know which. It doesn’t matter.

I frown stubbornly up at Bear, searching the hazel eyes I’ve come to read so well. He’s hurting. “Don’t tell me how I feel. And if you really think I’m so clueless that I don’t see you for who you are, we have more problems than you’re thinking. Now, come over here with me, and let’s sort this through.”

He exhales hard, grips my wrists, and tugs my hands from his face. I open my mouth in protest until he brings them to his lips instead, kissing the backs of my fingers. He lets out a long sigh. “I hope you’re right.” He trails me over to the sitting area where Duke’s waiting on the couch and Mason’s taken up residence on the armchair.

I nod toward the couch, and he moves to sit beside Duke. “I know I’m right because I’m the only one who knows you like mint chocolate chip. Let’s hope it’s not soup by now.”


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