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Duke: Chapter 9


Bear’s got a speculative look on his face, so I can only imagine where this is going. I glance over my shoulder at Duke before I meet Bear’s golden eyes with a shrug. “Shoot.”

In a low voice, so as to not wake Lennon, Bear murmurs, “We’ve all seen the fuckin’ aftermath of the nightmares Lennon has had since coming to Bainbridge, and, Mase, you’ve been there during some of them. What do you guys make of it? The things she says, the sleepwalking, all of it.”

Duke lifts up onto his elbow so he can see past me to Bear. “I’m gonna be fuckin’ honest here. The realization that Juliette has something to do with Lennon’s problems makes me really nervous.” His swallow is audible behind me. “Maybe it’s—” He stops, his gaze cast down on Lennon’s sleeping face. “What if it’s being around me that’s setting her off?”

I shake my head, then shift to my back so I can reach Duke. I place a firm hand on his thigh. “Stop.” Our eyes connect, and the anguish inside him nearly knocks me out. “Don’t.”

To my surprise, Bear growls, “No, he’s right to want to try to hash this shit out,” before he seeks Duke’s gaze. “I figured you might worry about that because it occurred to me, too.” He winces, as he readjusts himself on the bed, swearing under his breath. “But fuck knows Lennon has plenty of issues to trigger her without jumping to the conclusion that it’s you, know what I mean? Maybe we’re missing something more specific.”

I look up from studying my charcoal-stained fingertips and bite my lip, momentarily distracted by the twisting pain streaking across Bear’s face as he moves. Fuck that shoulder of his. I’m surprised he hasn’t complained at all, but maybe the sex haze helped him ignore it for a bit.

Steering my brain back to the question at hand, I run my fingers gently up and down Lennon’s bicep, watching her for any signs of wakefulness before speaking. I let out a heavy sigh, hating what I’m about to say. “Duke, you know damn well dear old Dad said there were problems with her at home before he dumped her here.”

I know Duke way too well, so I feel the wave of disagreement rising at my side, making me prickle with unease. He grits out, “Yeah, but I was hardly in her life back then. To her, I was Juliette’s boyfriend, and I’d only see her every so often. Forced family time at holidays and shit.”

“Not regularly enough to be fucking causing problems, though,” Bear barks, teeth grinding.

I glance down, amazed—but relieved—that Lennon is sleeping through this. We must have worn her out. “Okay. So, set that aside for a sec. I have concerns, too. Let’s look at all angles. That first time she sleepwalked out onto the front lawn? It was after I attacked her, caught up in my own dark and disturbed shit.”

“But that’d also be the day that I laid into her, if you recall.” Duke’s eyes close before mumbling, “And the night you came upon her mid-nightmare? That was the same day I tried to give her the clothes, and she overheard me talking about her with you, Bear.”

“Right. And … you said something about her being a head case,” Bear rumbles, holding up his hand before Duke can open his mouth to explain. “We all know you were just repeating what fucking Tristan said. You don’t have to defend yourself.”

We’re quiet for a few moments, all three of us watching over her as she sleeps. She’s become so important to us in such a short time. I wish I knew how to fix things, but how the fuck can I do that when I can’t even help myself most of the time? We’re both broken. Hell, I’m damaged beyond repair. But … I can be here for her, so that’s what I’ll do. I chew on my lip as I draw in a deep breath. “I see what you’re getting at, Duke, but fuck. The awful nightmare that happened after the whole mess at the football game had nothing to do with you … except the fact that she did say Juliette’s name.” I wince. Okay, so maybe it did have something to do with him. Damned if I’m going to admit that, though.

Duke groans, throwing a hand out as he speaks. “The sleepwalking into the pool … that was post fight night—where I spent a lot of time with her again.” Duke rolls from the bed, the irritation he’s feeling vibrating from him, making his every movement jerky and erratic. He huffs as he stands at the side of the bed, looking down at the three of us. “Did you see the way she looked around in a panic before she realized where the fuck she was when she woke up?” He rubs his hands over his face, cringing when he asks a second time, “What if this is all my fault? I don’t understand. But— What if it is? It’d break my fucking heart if being around me is what’s causing all this to fucking escalate.”

My heart squeezes, then cracks right in two at the agony in his voice. I scramble from the bed to reach for him, but he shoves me away. I blink hard, hurt lancing through me.

“Duke, really?” Bear rolls his eyes. “You’re being a complete idiot about this. Let’s not forget that she’s been attacked multiple times since being here. Don’t you think whoever is behind all of that is the one who should be taking the blame for what it’s doing to her?” He throws his arm in the air, and his jaw automatically tightens. “Fucking wake up. Pushing any of us away isn’t going to help a goddamn thing.” He heaves out a breath, his face pale. “I need a second.” He gets up from the bed, careful not to wake Lennon, and goes into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him with a quiet click.

Duke hasn’t moved, but stands no more than a few feet from me, his jaw twitching as he stares at the floor. Slowly, I close the distance between us, then in an act of complete daring, considering his current state of mind, I grasp the nape of his neck with both hands and gently tug until he looks up at me. Those bold blue eyes. Fuck, they do me in every goddamn time. My thumbs slide back and forth, stroking the hinge of his jaw. He’s so worked up, I’m kinda waiting with bated breath for another explosion. Several agonizing seconds pass while I wait for him to make his move. The ball is in his court. He can accept that I’m here for him, always—that I fucking care … or he can deny me like he’s done in the past, ruining all the progress we’ve made.

Just when I think it’ll never happen, he relents, tipping his head toward mine. Our foreheads meet, and a shuddering breath escapes him. “Mase, I don’t want it to be my fault.”

My teeth scrape over my lower lip as I stare into his worried eyes. “I know. Neither do I. Not my fault or yours. But even if she somehow connects you and Juliette in her head, and that’s why things have gotten worse, you’re not to blame.” When he doesn’t answer, my fingers dig into the back of his neck. “You can definitely be an asshole to her—you burrow right under her skin—but it’s because you’re trying to bury yourself deep. You might not be ready to fully admit what you feel for her, but I fucking know. I’ve known since the second I first saw the two of you together. The chemistry is explosive … but you’ve felt something for her for a very long time. Or am I wrong?”

Duke shakes his head, his jaw twitching, and a second later, he grasps my hips and pulls our bodies flush. “No, you’re not wrong,” he whispers raggedly. His lips crash into mine, hands sliding back to palm my ass through my boxer briefs. I let out a semi-startled groan, but quickly recover, angling his head so I can push my tongue deep, explore every part of him. My heart trips and falls as we continue to kiss like the other person holds our last breath. We remain locked together like that for a very long time until, gulping for air, we pull apart.

“You okay?” I search his eyes, hoping for a hint that anything that I’ve said matters to him.

His gaze slides over my shoulder to Lennon. “I won’t be okay until she is.” A hard swallow works its way down his throat. “But I fuckin’ need you, Mase.”

My heart flips in my chest, and because I know that was hard for him to admit, I retort, “Of course you do,” then give him a cheeky, devious wink. I grab his hand and lead him over to the couch on the far side of the room. “We’ve got more shit to discuss if we’re going to get to the bottom of this. I didn’t get a chance to ask what the last thing Lennon does remember is.”

Bear comes out to join us, and I have no idea what to say to him, but maybe he’ll fucking clue us in on what’s going on with him. We all have eyeballs and can see he’s struggling. He did mention last night he’s out of his prescription meds—the same meds that Duke and I are both convinced aren’t coming from a doctor. He slings his long body sideways over the armchair, his arms crossed over his chest without saying a word. Cool. I guess we aren’t ready for real talk where he’s concerned.

Duke takes a deep breath, catching Bear’s eye. “We were just saying we should start with asking her what she remembers from last night.”

My brow furrows hard. “I want to say how could she not remember? But then I think about myself and my malfunctioning brain, and it doesn’t seem so odd. Is she not remembering because she was drugged, though? Or because she doesn’t fucking want to have to think about what happened?” Whatever she was given fucked her up bad.

“Good question, right?” Bear’s lips twitch in discomfort before he nods. “Seems like as good a place to start as any. Maybe ask if she remembers Cannon being in her room? We know he was up there with her … and we know she saw us take Elliot into the pool house, otherwise, she couldn’t have relayed that information to Cannon.”

The bedding rustles, and I crank my neck around in time to see Lennon’s lashes flutter before her eyes open.

“Okay, so we ask about that,” Duke intones quietly.

From over on the bed, Lennon exhales an audible breath. She pushes herself to a sitting position, an anxious look on her face. “I’m awake. Who’s Cannon?”

Bear grits his teeth, gets up and goes to her, picking up the discarded T-shirt from the floor and helping her back into it. “We were hoping you could tell us the last thing you actually do remember from last night.” As she rises from the bed, he puts an arm around her and steers her over to the chair he’d just been sitting in and pulls her down on his lap. She automatically curls up, leaning against his chest.

Looking among the three of us, she winces, and it’s obvious she’s uncomfortable. “I-I don’t know. I was at the auction. You were dealing with Elliot.” Her eyes crash shut. “I don’t know if I even want to know what happened with her. I ran. I remember I was going to my room.” She pauses, and my eyes narrow as she touches a spot on her chest like it’s bothering her.

I rub my hand over the side of my head where Kingston managed to nail me. “We took her to the pool house. We wanted it to look to everyone at the event that we were hauling her off to fuck her.”

Lennon’s lip trembles, but she stares blankly at us. “And?”

Duke’s brows dart together. “No, Stella. We didn’t fuck her. It was an act. We told you there would be things happening that we knew you wouldn’t like, but it was for show. For my father and Derek and the rest of the alum, since apparently they aren’t happy with how we’re running things around here. We aren’t asshole enough, I guess. And you know what?” Duke eyes each of us before looking around to the far corners of the room. “I don’t fucking care if they can hear us right now. At least we’ll know if they come after us for what we’re discussing that they’re somehow listening.”

Ah, fuck. I shouldn’t have said anything about our deception. Dammit. “Shit. Sorry. That was my slipup. Too fucking late now, though.” I raise both hands in the air, flipping the bird to whatever cameras might be catching it and say in a flat, disinterested tone, “You hear us, you motherfucking bastards? We don’t fucking care if you hear us.”

Bear grumbles with a twitch of a smile on his lips and a roll of his eyes, “Well, that was certainly one way to find out if there’s a camera in here.”

“Maybe it’s better if we know whether they’re watching and listening. Whatever. They’re going to do what they want. Use anything we say or do against us, if necessary. If it’s not cameras, it could be someone spying. Either way, they’re bound to find out how we really feel sooner or later.” Duke rubs a hand over his face before refocusing on Lennon. “Anyway, just so you know the rest of what happened, we went as far as getting into it with the Hawthorne Hall brothers while we were in the pool house, just to make triple damn sure that the OG Bastards saw—via camera or snoop or however the hell they are finding things out—that we’d lived up to the bastard code or whatever.”

Her eyes widen.

Bear ducks his head near her ear. “It’s okay, it’s over. We fought. We’re fine. They’re fine. Elliot went home with them, unharmed.”

I huff out a disturbed laugh. “Too fucking bad according to Hunter they still didn’t see it that way. I have a damn headache this morning from Kingston ringing my bell.”

Lennon’s brow furrows. “I guess I didn’t get to meet Hunter.”

“Right. You came in just as things got started. He ended up near the drink table.” Duke shrugs. “By the time we saw him after the chaos, you were already missing.”

I exhale, scrubbing a hand over my face. “Kin, do you remember anyone coming to your room?”

There’s a long pause while Lennon sits very still. She closes her eyes, breathing deeply. Her tongue peeks out, wetting her lips before her eyes fly open. “I’m not here to hurt you.” She blinks, looking around.

Duke’s eyes dart to mine, then to Bear’s. “Wait, what?”

“I do remember something. This big guy. He was looking for Elliot.”

“That was Cannon Cole,” Bear murmurs.

“He was frantic.” Lennon swallows, frowning. “Talked a little funny?”

I clench my teeth. “Yep, that’s him. He said you were giving off a strange vibe.” My eyes drift back to her hand, which is definitely moving almost subconsciously over a spot dead center on her chest. “Bear.” I nod toward what she’s doing.

“Lennon.” He places his hand gently over hers stilling her motion. “What are you doing?”

Her eyes flick around the group, and she begins to shake. “No. Nooo.” Her breathing has become ragged in no time flat. “He h-had a knife.” She stutters, eyes squeezed closed.

Duke launches from the couch at the same time I do, and we’re both in front of that goddamn chair on our knees in a split second.

“Cannon held you at knifepoint?” Duke snarls, his hands on top of his head as if he’s trying to keep it from popping off. I lay a hand on his shoulder, squeezing.

Meanwhile, Lennon’s eyes have gone from nervous to wild. “No! Not Cannon.” She shakes her head. “He said we’d met before.” Fear coats her features.

“Let’s have a look,” I suggest, trying to keep my cool, even though I want to rage. Duke’s already out of his mind. Bear is working with a hairpin trigger today. I’m the only calm we have. Hilarious, if I let myself think about it, but we don’t have time for that. I jut my chin toward Bear’s hand, and he removes Lennon’s along with his so I can lift her shirt up. My ears immediately get hot in response to what I’m seeing, and chaotic rage threatens, no matter that a moment ago I thought I was calm. Sure enough, there’s a small cut dead center between her breasts that I hadn’t noticed while we were in the shower, and none of us had seen while her shirt was off earlier either. The surrounding patch of skin is an angry red from where she’s been massaging it with her fingers. Summoning all the control I can manage, I murmur, “Lennon? Did you know this was here?”

Shock floods her features as she looks down at a pinprick mark marring her skin. “I-I guess not. He had a knife.” She sucks in a breath, her features close to crumbling. “I remember the glint of the blade where the moonlight was hitting it.”

“You can’t remember who it was? At all?” Duke’s jaw is so damn tight he’s going to crack a molar.

She shakes her head, her face screwing up in displeasure as she yanks her shirt back down. “I-I can’t remember. I’m sorry.” She turns toward Bear, taking several gulping breaths.

He runs his hand up and down her arm. “It’s okay, Little Gazelle.”

“Wait.” Her head snaps up, then she springs to an upright position. “He was wearing a fucking mask. I remember.” A look of horror washes over her features. “He threatened to kill me if I told whoever came into the room that he was there. Before we knew it wasn’t you, but rather Cannon, he threatened to hurt you, too. Called you—” She scrunches her nose, like she’s trying hard to call forth the memory, and presses a few fingers to her temple. A moment later, she nods. “He called you my ‘lover boys.’”

My eyes widen, my voice lethal. “Wait. First. Are you telling us he was right there in your room when Cannon showed up?”

“Yes.” Her answer is emphatic. She swallows, then continues. “I’m remembering more now. He hid behind the curtain.” Her shaking hand makes it up to her mouth to cover it. “Oh god. That’s what I saw the second I opened the door to my room. The curtains on the far side of the room. I had direct line of sight from the doorway. That must be why I freaked.”

“I don’t fucking like the fact that he knew enough about us to assume that we’re your lover boys.” My jaw works back and forth as I connect with Duke’s and Bear’s gazes in turn. They don’t like it any more than I do, I can tell by the stiffening of their postures.

Duke’s eyes crash shut, his head bowing. “Who the fuck?”

Bear growls, “I don’t know who, but the threats explain why Cannon thought you were acting a little off.”

Duke reaches out, cupping Lennon’s cheek for a second before he stands back up and begins to pace. “I still don’t fucking get why my fucking father first brought you to us to see if having you stay here would help you … then all of a sudden for auction night, he’s hell-bent on teaching you some sort of lesson. It makes no goddamn sense.”

“Since when does half the stuff our fathers do make sense?” I shake my head. “The Elliot thing made no sense either. I’ve asked before, and I’ll say it again. What the fuck does an eighteen-year-old girl with ties to Hawthorne Hall have to do with my old man and getting him out of prison?”

Slowly shaking his head, Bear grits out, “Their plan was not for us to take Elliot like we did. It was probably for Hunter to bid on her, but then he wasn’t around, and we created the diversion to get Lennon the fuck out of there and ended up helping Elliot escape at the same time.” He huffs out a laugh. “Do you think they’d apologize for trying to go toe-to-toe with us if they knew we’d actually kept their girl from the OGs and whatever they needed her for?”

Lennon shoots us a small smile. “I don’t know, but I like that you were able to help her, yet still make it look to your fathers like you were doing their dirty work. Smart not to blow that cover.” A moment later, though, she begins thoughtfully chewing on her lip. “There’s gotta be a connection. You just aren’t seeing it.” She pauses, inhaling deeply. “Have you … considered doing a little detective work of your own?”

Duke winces. “I think we figured it was best to ride this out, graduate, and then deal with the alum from the inside.”

“Because until you graduate, you aren’t truly one of the trusted few.” Lennon tilts her head to the side, mulling over his words. I can see her brain working through that information almost as if I could see right inside her head.

I nod. “Right. All these years of doing what we’re told, and we still haven’t earned the right to know what they’re up to. Fuck, we’ve been doing their bidding ages longer than any other brothers because of who we are.”

“Well”—Lennon’s lips twist—“maybe it’s time you started using your place as the sons of the OG Bastards to dig into them and figure out what the hell is going on.”

Bear readjusts his arm where it’s resting on the arm of the chair. His voice is clipped when he answers her, even though we all know he doesn’t mean it to be. “Where would we even start?”

With all eyes on her, Lennon murmurs, “The trail is always the dirty money. Always.”


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