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Duke: Chapter 23


Ever since Duke and I returned home from my doctor appointment earlier, I’ve been trying to convince myself that the doctor is right, and my shoulder is going to be just fine. It needs to be rested. I don’t know the guy, but he seemed to know his stuff and had been very reassuring. Doesn’t make the choice I have to make between telling the team doc or not any easier.

I’m on my way upstairs after eating a snack when I hear a car pull up out front. I stoop so I can see out the window next to the door. Correction. Not any car. A police cruiser. What the fuck?

Anxiety rolls through me. Mason and Lennon aren’t back from classes yet, and it’s well past time that they should be. Did something happen? A riot on campus? A shooting? A car accident? My mind drifts through a host of possibilities before the terrors become more specific. Did Lennon get locked in a bathroom again? Shoved in a locker?

I stand stock-still on the stairs, undecided as to what I should do. Finally I shake myself out of it. “Duke!” I shout as loudly as I can, my bellow echoing from the high ceilings of the entryway.

Unfortunately, the noise I make also draws the attention of several other members of the brotherhood who’d recently come home from classes. Brendan and Kai scoot down the hall from the kitchen, wide-eyed and curious, then Tucker and Quincy make an appearance from opposite sides of the upstairs balcony. Pierre, Warren, and Arik are unaccounted for, and obviously, so are Mason and Lennon. My throat goes dry. I don’t wish anyone harm, but I also really, really fucking hope that this has nothing to do with my people.

There’s a sharp knock at the door just as Duke hits the top of the stairs and barrels down them. He stops one step above me. “What’s going on?”

I glance toward the door. “I haven’t a fucking clue, but there are a couple of police officers on our front steps.”

Duke’s eyes capture mine, and I see in them an almost identical worry to my own. “Mase? Lennon?”

I give a sharp jerk of my head, catching the inside of my cheek with my teeth. I bite down hard.

Another knock.

“Come on,” Duke grits out. “Better to know than wait and wonder.”

We descend the stairs together, and Duke disarms the alarm, then pulls the door open. Two police officers in uniform give us a once over, one male, one female. The tall blond guy looks down to read something on a notepad. “This is Bainbridge Hall?”

Duke nods. “Yes, sir. What can we do for you?”

“We’re going to need to speak to a few of your um … what do you call them? Brothers?”

I step forward. “Yes. Can we ask why you’re here?” I stare down the cops before peering at Duke out of the corner of my eye. He doesn’t like this anymore than I do. His entire body is tense with concern for whatever the hell these cops are about to tell us.

“Hey, you’re Bear Pierce, right?” The dark-haired cop with the short hair cocks her head to the side and smiles. “You sure are as big as they say.”

Doing my damnedest to stall my eye roll, I grit out, “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Scary on the football field. Not so much now.” She squints up at me.

I stare right back at her, one of my thick, dark brows raised the smallest fraction. No one pushes us around. She should know better, actually, if she knows who we are, which I think she does. On most days, I don’t need my father’s money or the prestige that comes with being his son. Don’t want it, really. Nor do I need my football-god-in-a-small-town status. But I’ll be damned if I won’t use it to my advantage right now … especially when these cops seem to think we’ve done something wrong.

Duke clears his throat. “I’m Duke Valentine. Come on in.” We back up and grant them entrance, then Duke points towards the office—the same one where he and his father had words about the way he’d thrust Lennon on us. Feels like fucking ages ago.

Duke shoots me a look that says Stay on your toes then shrugs. He doesn’t know what to make of this either. For all we know, these are dirty cops on our fathers’ payroll, so caution is definitely called for.

As I turn around, I note Quincy’s little fucking ass trying to get a look at what’s going on. FuckerI ought to tie a knot in his dick for being too damn nosy. I snap the door shut with finality. They don’t get to know what’s going on unless we deem it necessary.

Offering the officers a seat, Duke and I perch on the edge of the big mahogany desk. Duke juts his chin toward them. “Sorry, could we get your names?”

The woman jerks her head in the affirmative. “Of course. This is Officer Ford and I’m Detective Simms. We’re looking for Lennon Bell, if she’s here.”

I grunt, rubbing at my chin with a few fingers. I haven’t shaved in several days and am halfway to a full beard. “She isn’t home. But she does live here.” A deep line forms down the middle of my forehead. “Is she in some kind of trouble?”

The detective eyes us warily. “Took us a bit to track her down. She’s not on any housing contract we could find with the university. We thought maybe she’d be at one of the sororities. Didn’t have any luck with that. But then we thought to look at who paid her tuition.”

Duke bristles. “It’s not so odd. She’s my stepsister. And my father wanted her here so I could keep an eye on her.”

“I see.” Simms glances at Ford, and he shrugs. I have no idea what that silent communication means, but it’s obvious these two work together all the time.

Just then, there’s a commotion from beyond the office door. I rise from the desk just in time for it to fly open. Mason walks in, his eyes darting rapid fire around the room with Lennon right behind him. She appears to be about ten seconds from a panic attack until she lays eyes on us.

It’s the strangest thing. We all stare at each other for several awful, terrifying beats of my heart. What the ever-loving fuck is going on?

Mason is the first to speak. “Sorry. We saw the police car and freaked out.”

“We thought—” Lennon stops herself, shaking her head.

Whereas I stay where I am, staring down the police officers, Duke crosses to our friends, catching each of them by the back of the neck and dragging them close before he whispers something quietly. Whether he just wants to know if they’re okay or if he’s telling them to keep their mouths shut, I have no idea. But maybe that’s odd to think he’d tell them to keep a lid on things, as we have no clue what’s happening. Being Derek Pierce’s son has made me both wary and cautious.

He brings them over to the desk where Lennon flies into my arms. I put my nose in her hair and inhale deeply before mumbling, “You okay, Little Gazelle?”

She nods under my chin. “I’m fine. Just, ugh …” Looking up at me, I have a feeling she has a lot to say, but she’s reluctant to do it in front of these people we don’t know. She lowers her voice to the faintest whisper. “That day in the attic …” Wide, embarrassed eyes crash shut. I shake my head, not wanting her to worry, and cradle her against me. I’m unsure what else to do, because I feel the trouble coming at us like a hurricane about to make landfall.

Detective Simms purses her lips, cocking a brow as she looks from one of us to the other. Studying. Searching. “This is all very touching, but we need to know how these photocopied images found themselves all over campus today.”

My eyes bug out as they land on the pieces of paper Officer Ford holds up. I startle, and Lennon winces. “Where the fuck did these come from?” There are a few different photos. Lennon from every damn angle. My chest heaves as I hold out a hand. “May I?”

“Of course.” The detective takes them from Ford and hands them to me, a curious smile twitching at her lips. Fuck. I don’t like this lady. It’s almost as if we amuse her, like we’re here for her entertainment.

Officer Ford finally speaks up again. “We were contacted by campus police this morning to assist them because these papers were tacked on every bulletin board, door, and light pole on campus. They were even inside classrooms and littered throughout the stadium.” He rubs his hand over his face. “Just a real mess to clean up, never mind the content of the images, which they found disturbing enough that we were contacted to step in. We, of course, needed to find out who we were dealing with.”

Detective Simms holds a hand up. “And before anything else is said, Lennon, I’m going to need to speak to you alone, please.” She presses her lips together. “Do you have an issue with that?”

Lennon pulls away from me and turns around. I can tell she’s steeling herself for whatever questions she’s about to be treated to. “No, I’m good with that.”

Officer Ford tilts his head and beckons to the rest of us. “I’d like to speak to the rest of you. Come with me, please.”

Before we get a chance to move, Lennon turns toward us, swallowing. Duke cups her cheek with his hand. “Just answer honestly. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

She exhales, nodding. “Yeah. Okay.” But then she clutches at him, staring into his eyes. I sense it’s an apology of sorts passing between them. They’ll be fine. Honestly, their relationship is more solid than any of us would have thought it’d be, considering the crazy path they’ve traveled together. They’ll have to kiss and make up later, though.

As Duke lets her go, her eyes flick to Mason’s. He looks like he’s going to throw up whatever he ate for lunch. I can guess why. The detective is going to want to know who drew on her and who the fuck took those photos. So, even if he isn’t responsible for plastering them all over campus … I’m going to assume the rest of it was all him, though whether she knew he took them or not is up for debate. I have no idea. I rub my hand over my jaw. It’s hard to say what the cops are going to have the most issue with here.

She’s an adult, though, so as long as she doesn’t say he forced her to do that—which she won’t—then he should be in the clear. I mean, maybe not with her because of the photos, but at least they shouldn’t be dragging Mason to the jail this afternoon. They’d better not be. I can’t imagine what that would do to him.

Mason pulls her close and whispers something that sounds a whole lot like I’m sorry before brushing a soft kiss over her cheek and reluctantly letting her go.

It’s been a solid forty minutes that Lennon’s been in the office with the detective. Arik and Pierre are home now, both having brought copies of the photos with them, waving them around like the dickheads they are. I’d snatched those fucking things out of their hands so fast, and smacked Pierre upside the head, his established place in the brotherhood in serious jeopardy. That little weasel Arik managed to dodge me at first, but one hand to his chest sent him flying through the air to land on the tiled floor. Knocked the wind out of him. He was still lying there five minutes later, grumbling about unfair treatment and how flyers posted on campus are fair game. I’ll show him fair if he doesn’t shut up about it. Eventually, the jackass will learn Lennon is off limits. I would have thought that’d been well-established, but maybe he’s just not the brightest crayon in the box.

Most of the guys have now taken turns talking to the officer and, for the most part, they’re grumbling way too much for my liking. Fucking assholes. Like this isn’t a thoroughly entertaining Thursday afternoon for all of them.

Warren slips in last and sidles up to me, gesturing to follow him. We cross the room, away from everyone else, and he gives his bag a brief shake. “I have a shit ton of those flyers in here. I couldn’t leave them up. Felt like a creeper putting them in my bag, but I swear I meant well.”

His gaze is earnest, and I think he’s telling me the truth. “Thanks, man.” I glance in the direction of Ford. “They’re probably going to want to ask you a few questions. If you could just leave those in your bag for now, we’ll pull them out later and get rid of them.”

Warren tugs at the back of his neck, eyeing Mason and Duke where they’re standing across the room. “Is she, um …” His brows furrow hard, leaving a line right down the middle of his forehead. “I just want to make sure—”

He’s gotten awkward all of a sudden. Who the fuck knows who is responsible for tacking those papers all over the place. He could have put them up this morning and taken them down this afternoon. I let out a sigh, eyeing him and how his face is turning red the longer he stares at me. Then it dawns on me. The poor guy is worried that Mason drew on her without her permission.

“It was consensual. Is that what you’re after? Lennon let him do it. That’s all you get to know unless she wants to tell you more.”

“Okay.” He exhales harshly. “Yeah, okay. I didn’t mean to pry. I just worry about her sometimes.” He moves away from me just as the door opens, and Lennon comes out, making a beeline for me and tucking herself against my body.

Detective Simms catches Mason’s attention. “Mason Mikaelson?”

He exchanges a look with Duke, then runs a hand through his hair. He’s the only one Officer Ford hadn’t gotten to yet besides Warren. I don’t know if that was done purposefully or if it’s just a coincidence. I cross my arms over my chest. Duke did encourage her to tell the truth, so I assume she did—which has led Simms to believe she should speak to him. Probably texted Ford to leave him for her to question. Mason’s chest fills with a deep breath before following the detective into the office.

Duke watches until the door shuts behind Mason, then comes over to join us, standing close to Lennon. Most of the other guys have taken off, with the exception of Warren, who’s at the kitchen table with Officer Ford.

“I hope she’s not going to give him a hard time. I had a tough time explaining to her that I told him he could draw on me like that.”

“Lennon baby, where did those photos come from?” I tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, trying to understand what we’re dealing with.

She grits her teeth. “Well … when I first saw them, I thought there was a camera in the attic. Video. But”—she looks first at me, then at Duke before answering—“Mason actually took them. He confessed that to me before we came home. He had me close my eyes, and he must have taken them then.”

My brows dart together while Duke’s raise. I’d imagine it’d be funny if anyone were watching our reactions. “Fuck. So, you didn’t know he took them?”

She shakes her head, and Duke lets out an aggravated sigh, eyeing me before dragging a hand through his hair. “Mason told me how it went down while we were waiting for Lennon and you were talking to Warren.” He grimaces. “He wasn’t hiding it, he just hadn’t had a chance to say something.”

Lennon is quick to come to Mason’s defense, too. “Mase always takes photos of his work because sometimes he gets a little weird about them and—”

I hold up a hand to stop her ramble and nod, my eyes crashing shut for a moment. “Like he did that one night I went up and the canvases were all broken.” I take a breath and expel it loudly. “Fuck.” My jaw works to the side, a very unwelcome thought hitting me. “If this is all true …”

“Someone had access to his phone,” Lennon mumbles against my chest, but then lowers her voice further. “That’s the one thing I didn’t tell that lady.” Her eyes dart to the closed office door. “We don’t know for a fact who got their hands on his phone or when. But Mason and I talked about it at length. We can’t imagine when it would’ve happened unless it was while he was sleeping—not that he sleeps that much as it is—or, more likely, it was compromised during the auction.”

“Fuuuuucckkkkk.” Duke’s irritation bleeds from him. “That entire night was nothing but bad fucking juju.”

It’s burning me up inside to think someone had the balls to move around our home the way they must have. And it really makes me wonder what else they managed to accomplish that we’re unaware of. My mind races a million miles a minute. “Do we know if his phone was on him that night?”

“He said it was charging. He didn’t figure he’d need it,” Lennon murmurs, her eyes flicking to the door. There’s some indistinct talking coming from the other side, so it’s obvious they aren’t done yet.

“It could be fucking anyone.” Duke heaves a sigh of frustration just as the door opens across the entryway from us and slams into the interior wall of the office.

Mason storms directly from the room and charges up the stairs.


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