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Duke: Chapter 5


I’ve seen a lot of drunk people in my day—hell, I’ve mostly been the drunk one—but I’ve very seldom experienced anything close to what we are currently witnessing with Lennon. She doesn’t have a clue where she’s been, nor any idea how she ended up in Warren’s bed. She sure as fuck wasn’t in here earlier. I know because I personally did a sweep of all the bedrooms, checking closets and bathrooms and under beds. She was not here.

My teeth grind as my jaw clenches. I don’t understand any of it, but that’s not what’s important right now. Making sure she’s physically unharmed is. Making sure she’s mentally stable. And from her rant right before Bear left, I’m not so sure she’s either of those things. I step close to her side and run my hand over her back, smoothing it down Duke’s shirt. I fucking love the idea of her wearing his clothes … but not for this reason. “What can we do to help you, Kin?”

Duke slips closer to her, and his gaze meets mine over Lennon’s wild blonde hair. Worry burns like a fury in his piercing blues. “Stella, it’d be helpful if we had a clue, or if you could at least look at us so we have an idea of what level of fucked-up we’re dealing with, because I don’t want you to think you’re alone in this for a fuckin’ second. We’re a little lost at how to help you or what you need from us.” He stares down at her, but she’d closed her eyes the moment he’d started speaking. Wetness clings to her fluttering lashes, threatening to spill down her cheeks.

I press my lips together and shake my head. Neither Duke nor I know what the fuck to do, what the right move is … and as I’m wondering where the fuck Bear is because he always knows what to do, his curt voice drifts to us from the other side of the bathroom door. “We need some space. Go wait downstairs. I’ll be down in a few to talk to you. Do not leave the house.” There’s a mumbled response from Warren that I can’t quite make out, then a moment later, Bear’s imposing form fills the doorway. He clears his throat, eyeing the current situation.

With a brief dip of his chin, he makes his opinion known. “I think we should consider taking her to a hospital.”

Lennon goes rigid between us, and if it’s possible, her skin becomes even paler. The trembling of her body quickly morphs into a fast shake of her head. “No. No, no, no—” Her breath hitches, her chest jerking. “I can’t. I don’t want to. Please”—she covers her face with her hands—“don’t make me go through that. I-I can’t do it. I’ll be okay. I don’t want anyone else to touch me. I don’t want anyone to see me like this.” Her words rush out in a panicked jumble. “I can’t fathom how I’d explain, or—” With her fists bunching at her sides, she shakes her head again, visibly distraught at the idea of being seen by a medical professional. “No.”

My eyes dart to Bear as he watches Lennon’s breakdown with a tense jaw and heaving chest. Fuck, the way he yelled at her was so uncharacteristic, it makes me nervous about how he’ll handle any of this. I let out an agonized breath. While I understand the dark places in her heart and Duke has an increasingly strong emotional bond with her, I know damn well Lennon needs Bear to be there for her on this. He’s the one who makes her feel safe and protected. A second later, he abandons his place in the doorway, crossing to Lennon in three quick strides. Worry slicks over his features as he tugs her back to his chest, and she turns, melting into him.

“Fuck, Lennon,” he mumbles gruffly, his lips on the top of her head. “I—”

But he doesn’t get to finish because she makes an awful, strangled sound in the back of her throat. “I can only handle so much.” Her fingers claw at his shirt. She turns her head, and her stormy blue eyes land on me. “Please—”

“Okay, Kin. Okay. We can talk more once you’ve had a chance to decompress.” I make an executive decision for us that I hope doesn’t backfire right in my face. “You don’t have to do this right now. No one is making you do anything. Do you want to go back to your room? Get cleaned up?”

Before she can answer, Bear’s rugged voice spills out. “We’ll go to mine. Big bed. Bigger shower. A seat so you don’t have to stand.” He gathers her as if he’s about to lift her into his arms, but as he begins to do so, he jerks to a stop. His jaw clenches tightly as pain etches itself wickedly across his features. “Fuck,” he bites out. “Duke? Can you—?”

Duke’s eyes flick to mine before narrowing on our troubled friend who stares at some indeterminate spot on the floor instead of at us. Roughly, Duke answers, “Yeah, I’ve got her.”

I study Bear for a moment. Setting the physical pain he’s in aside, I can tell he’s mostly frustrated at not being able to help Lennon in the way he wants to—and worse—in the way she expects him to.

With a grimace, I watch as Duke lifts her, then recognizing he’ll need me to both open doors and run brotherhood interference, I hurry through Warren’s room to pave the way. Sure enough, there’s a crowd of half-dressed, sleepy-but-way-too-interested brothers at the opposite end of the hall. I draw in a breath before I grit out, “Get. The fuck. Back in your rooms or go downstairs. Nothing that’s gone down tonight has been for your goddamn entertainment.”

Just then, the door opens across the hall. Tucker smirks, taking in the four of us exiting Warren’s room. He huffs out a laugh. “Maybe your girl could sleepwalk my way next time? Obviously, whichever one of you is fucking her isn’t wearing her out enough that she sleeps through the damn night. I’d be happy to help her out.”

I don’t even think about it, much less comment. Tucker doesn’t see it coming when I plow my fist into his stomach. He folds in half with a deep grunt, and as he wraps his arms around his middle, I plant both hands on his shoulders and shove so hard he goes flying backward into his room. I shake my head. Stupid fucker. I give him one last look as he lies on the ground, whining that he hit his head on the floor, before I follow Duke. He’s already taken off toward the end of the hall with Lennon curled against his bare chest. Bear follows right behind us.

Inside Bear’s spacious room, I glance around, reacquainting myself with it. I’m not in here often, but it kinda is the best room. He’s got an entire wall of built-in bookshelves on one side and the same view of the front lawn that Duke has. His bed is gigantic, which makes perfect sense, seeing as how we’re allowed to furnish the rooms as we please … and let’s face it, there’s no reason a six-foot-six star football player shouldn’t have the oversize bed he needs to fit his frame.

As Duke sets Lennon on her feet, my brow furrows. She’s still really woozy. I know it won’t help to say it out loud again, but … what the fuck.

Standing there shaking and swaying, Lennon wets her lips, then searches me out with her anxious gaze. “I want to take a shower. I need—” Her eyes drift shut. “Mase, I need you.”

My brows shoot up, and I give Duke and Bear a brief glance before I collect my wits and go to her, gathering her in my arms and hugging her to me. “I’ve got you, Kintsukuroi. Whatever you need.”

Bear nods and clears his throat. “How about if Duke and I talk to Warren and see what he has to say about everything. We’ll give you some time.” He juts his chin at me. “Shout if you need anything. We won’t be long.” He clamps his hand on Duke’s shoulder, because it looks for all the world like Duke doesn’t want to leave the room—or more specifically his stepsister. I see it in his eyes, though, it’s not because he doesn’t trust me. It’s out of fear for her. His reluctance to let her out of his sight isn’t surprising considering everything that’s gone down in the last few hours.

I catch his gaze and let it hold there for a moment before I mouth, “Go. I’ve got her. I promise.”

With uncertainty in his eyes, Duke rests his hands on her shoulders, dropping a kiss on top of her head. She shivers. “Don’t.” She swallows hard. “I wasn’t kidding around when I said I feel dirty. I-I don’t know—” Lifting one hand, she skims it over her chest and neck. We hadn’t quite buttoned Duke’s shirt all the way, and her trembling fingers brush hesitantly over her skin.

Standing off to the side with his jaw clamped shut, Bear looks to the ceiling, rubbing his hands over his face. Duke takes a deep breath—so deep his chest expands with it—before he dips his mouth close to her ear. “Baby, I’m concerned that we don’t know what happened to you. But the reality of it won’t ever stop me from wanting you, won’t stop me from touching you. If you’re dirty, then I’ll be dirty, too. Don’t fuckin’ care,” he rasps. “We’ll be back soon.” At her slight nod, he kisses her head again, then squeezes her shoulders before releasing her.

Bear steps in, pulling her to his side in a one-armed hug. His head dips, and he rests his lips on her temple. He takes several breaths with them connected like that, the relief on Lennon’s face visible to all of us. “I have things I want to say to you. Don’t you go anywhere while I’m gone, Little Gazelle. My heart couldn’t take it.”

Once they’ve departed, I shuffle Lennon into the bathroom. Now that I’ve had a few minutes to think about it, I suspect she wants my help because based on some of our post-nightmare conversations and what we discussed while we were trading secrets in the pool house, I’m a little more aware of her past trauma than Bear or Duke might be. She sees me as the most equipped to deal with this. I should feel honored, I guess … but all I really wish is that it never happened in the fucking first place.

“My mind is a big fucking blank. And my skin is crawling.” She exhales hard, giving me a weak smile as a shudder rolls through her.

I wince. It must be fucking terrifying not to have a conscious memory of the last several hours or a clue where she’s been. Cautiously, I unbutton the shirt and gently push it off her shoulders. “How about we get you into the shower?”

She nods, shakily letting the garment slip to the floor. I take the next few seconds to scan her body, hating that because of the situation, I’m forced to look at fresh red marks on top of old bruising from several days ago instead of focusing on luscious curves and soft skin. As she stands naked before me, my mind twists for a moment, knowing it’s partially my fault that she’s gotten banged up the way she has. But I can’t think about that right now because the fresh markings on her delicate skin are seemingly everywhere—hips, arms, legs, neck. She sways on her feet, and I put out a hand to help her balance. Drawing in a few ragged breaths, I peel out of my own clothing in record time, keeping a careful eye on her as I do. “I’m getting in with you. You’re too unsteady for my liking.”

“I figured as much.” Slowly, she moves into the enormous walk-in shower, and I follow. Her eyes roam over the many dials and knobs before shaking her head. “I don’t know what does what.”

I give her a little smirk. “Me neither. But we’ll remedy that.” Fiddling with everything, I get the rainfall showerhead going, then blast a couple of the jets from the wall. My gaze falters, skittering down her body again, worry for her pouring through me. As blood pounds through my head, making me feel out of control, my hands clench and unclench. What foul motherfucker had their hands on her? What sick things did they do? My head spins, hating the awful, disgusting things that my mind conjures. Get a fuckin’ hold of yourself. You heard her. She asked for you. Desperate to be the man she needs me to be, instead of the wrathful, fuming monster that dwells within me, I inhale slowly. Exhale. Repeat. I reach out, the hot water pelting my skin. “Okay, Kin. The water is ready.” I take another breath. “Tell me what you need from me. I don’t want to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

She’s got this faraway look in her eye that’s crushing my soul. Finally, she murmurs, “I can’t explain it. My skin is sticky. I feel gross, but”—her cheeks blaze pink—“I don’t think I was a-assaulted … like … that. I would know, I think. I’ve been there before.” Her last words are a harsh whisper that I’m unsure I was supposed to hear.

But it’s too late. I definitely heard and digested what she said. A harsh gust of air blows from between my lips, as the darkest parts of me curl and snake around her bitter words. She means she doesn’t think anyone inserted a goddamn dick into her. But who the fuck knows what else could have been done. My stomach flips over simply considering. As her body quakes, I reach for her, pulling her swiftly into my arms. I need to feel her heart beating against my chest, need to assure her that I’ve got her. To my surprise, she doesn’t resist, but holds on tightly. “Fuck, Kin.” I grit my teeth. I’d love to know exactly what she’s referring to by before but pushing her to relive something that caused her pain in the past won’t help, especially with all we have to deal with right now. “You don’t remember anything?”

She tilts her chin up, shaking her head as she bites down on the fleshiest part of her bottom lip. Her eyes close. “No— Yes, but—” A horrible, anxious expression washes over her gorgeous features. “I don’t know. It seemed like one of my nightmares, only I couldn’t wake up, and I couldn’t make sense of what I saw. Glimmering lights and flashes and voices pounding in my head.” She pauses for a moment as a ragged, painful breath jerks from her. “Mase, I need to feel clean again.” Seeming none too secure on her feet, she steps into the spray and lets the water pummel her back and fall over her head, running in rivulets down her body.

Rage burns, licking along my veins and flaming so hot that it flashes over, eating its way into my bones. My marrow. Becoming a part of me. I see it all over her face. She knows something bad happened, she just doesn’t know what—which has got to be the scariest fucking thing. Someone did things to her that they had no right to.

Maybe it’s for the best that she doesn’t remember. But that won’t help us catch the fuckers. We haven’t discussed things yet, but I seriously doubt Duke or Bear are any more willing to let things go than I am. I run a hand over my chest, rubbing hard over my heart as I attempt to contain the beast inside me that wants to tear out of my skin and pummel to death whoever put their hands on her.

But me losing it right now isn’t what she needs. Clamping my jaw shut to contain my anger, I look over Bear’s selection of soap in the cut-out shelf in the wall, briefly putting my nose to a few bottles before I find one that is more citrusy than manly. She looks at me with wild eyes, and my forehead pinches together. “Lennon, can I help you? Or—” I stop, searching her eyes.

She blinks rapidly before taking the bottle from me and pours some shower gel into her palm, then gives it back to me. “I need your hands on me, Mase. I don’t want to think about—” Her eyes slam shut, but she works her palms together, creating a lather. Slowly, she brings them to her chest, sweeping over her skin.

As I pour some of the gel into my own hand, I watch her facial expressions change, flicking from worry to fear to relief to anxiety to disgust. She takes a huge gulping breath, dropping her arms to her sides. “I-I’m trying not to fall apart, but every piece of me is threatening to fly off in different directions.”

“Then let me be the one to hold you together,” I grit out, my words sounding raw. Because yeah, I’m fucking upset, too. I bring my hands to her shoulders, then sweep them down her back, touching every inch of skin I can reach. She’s stopped trying to clean herself entirely, allowing me to take over. I don’t linger like I would normally, instead gently and thoroughly soaping down every part of her from her toes to her nose and everywhere in between.

Her breath hitches when I massage the bubbles over her breasts. “Do you need me to stop? Or give you a minute? Fuck, Kin, I’ll do anything you want me to do.” I hesitate, then touch a few fingers to her chin so she’ll look up at me.

Wetting her lips, she shakes her head. “No, please finish. I-I’m okay.”

I don’t believe her for a fucking second because here she is again, our girl trying to be so fucking strong when her world has been turned upside down. Inhaling slowly, I let my hands roam over her stomach, dipping my fingertip into her navel and swirling it around before I proceed lower. “You still with me?”

“Yes,” she gasps raggedly, before I’ve even touched her. “Keep going.”

My hand slides between her legs, soaping her pink pussy and praying it doesn’t make me hard. I don’t want her to think that I’m getting off on this … because I’m not. Not in the slightest. “Do you want— Um. Should I …?” My eyes connect with hers. I don’t even know how to ask her if she’s worried whether they touched her on the inside. We don’t know in what way she was assaulted, only that she doesn’t feel right and she woke up with Warren. Naked. Unclean. My mind practically explodes.

With a stuttering breath, she puts her foot up on the built-in seat and nods toward the handheld showerhead. “Maybe just use that?” She looks anxiously at me from under spiky-wet eyelashes.

“Yeah, okay.” I flip the lever and pick up the handheld, aiming where she needs me to. After a few seconds, she nods and pulls her foot down. “I’m good, I think.”

“You sure?” I stare into her blue eyes and wish I saw some of the spark there that I’m so used to.

She shrugs. “I have to be, right? Gotta put it behind me.”

Before I can argue that point, there’s a knock on the door. “Hey, can we come in?” Bear’s deep voice is cautious, no doubt still feeling like shit about how he’d shouted earlier.

I look into Lennon’s eyes, questioning without words whether she’s ready.

“I want to wash my hair.”

Right. “Do you care if they come in?”

Her brow furrows. “No. It’s fine.”

I raise my voice, so they can hear me over the water. “You can come in. We’re just finishing up.”

She picks up the shampoo from the shelf, pausing before she starts. “Something about closing my eyes makes me dizzy.”

“I won’t let you fall. In fact, why don’t I deal with your hair? Maybe if you put your hands on the glass in front of you, you’ll be able to keep your bearings better.”

“Good idea,” she murmurs as the door opens. Bear and Duke file in, immediately taking in the two of us. Lennon is quiet as I work the shampoo through her long locks, and the guys take advantage of that, firing what feels like a million questions at me with their eyes. Does she remember what happened? Was she assaulted? Is she gonna be okay? I give a slight shrug, along with a grimace of uncertainty, unable to answer much of anything. I mouth them a completely honest, “I don’t know.”

A few minutes later, we’re done with both shampoo and conditioner and ready to exit the shower stall. Lennon hasn’t spoken since Duke and Bear joined us, but I think it’s mostly the result of having way too much on her mind.

Bear holds up a pair of panties and one of his T-shirts. “I thought she could use something to change into.”

Duke clears his throat, not to be outdone, and holds up her hair dryer as well as something in a small plastic package. “I’ve got the hair dryer, and apparently these were on the grocery list. Figured I’d bring them up here while I was thinking about it.”

Aha. My lips curve into a grin. “Those would be the hair ties I requested.” I hold up a finger. “But please say you’ll still put your hair up with the pencil sometimes. It’s so fucking sexy.”

My smile falters when Lennon’s eyes ping nervously from one of us to the other. I would have thought at least the hair ties would make her happy, but she wets her lips, and I swear to fuck it looks like she’s going to cry. “What’s wrong?” I tug her body to mine, unsure what’s setting her off.

“Nothing.” She sucks in a breath, wiping her fingers under her eyes. “This has all been a lot, and I—” Shrugging, she shakes her head. “Just … thank you. No one was there to help me the last time something like this happened.”


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