I never missed my voice more than when Deacon touched me, when I opened my mouth and wanted to moan his name.
Sure, there were other times it annoyed me—when I wanted to tell someone off, when I wanted to explain myself, when I just wanted to be heard. Those times irked, but the loss never bothered me as much as when Deacon teased his lips over my breast, when the lack of noise from me made it feel incomplete.
Not that Deacon seemed to mind—or perhaps it was better to say he could make up for it easily. He might not have been the most vocal man in his normal life, but that all changed in bed.
I looked around for a moment, noting the quiet corner of a shed in the yard where we’d tucked ourselves away. Maybe bed is a stretch…
We couldn’t risk people catching on to us, which had left us finding out-of-the-way spots like this for our little rendezvous. Neither of us wanted to turn into a weakness for the other.
“I missed you,” Deacon whispered in his low, rough voice against my skin, his breath warm and rapid.
I loved these moments, how he lost that composure he usually had, how he seemed like anyone else. Normally Deacon was bigger than life, a guard at Larkwood Academy who even the other guards feared and distrusted.
In these moments, though, he wasn’t any of that. He was just mine.
I set my hand on the back of his neck and brought him closer, pulled him to my body until I could use my lips to try to tell him the things I couldn’t say with my kiss.
He groaned against my lips, then grabbed my thigh to pull it around him. My ass pressed against the small table I sat on, but I didn’t care about anything. Not splinters, not discomfort, nothing but drowning myself in these rare moments of happiness.
I’d lived at Larkwood for months and had mostly accepted the brutality that made up my world now, but that made these moments even more important. When Deacon touched me, when he growled into my ear, it made the rest of the ugliness of my life drift away.
He sank his cock into me, and I dug my nails into his back. It always gave me this wonderful burn when he took me, when I could feel entirely filled by him.
So I lost myself in him, in his strength, in the rough whispered praise he offered. Too soon, it ended. Too quickly, I wiped off and pulled my sweats back on, brushing my hair with my fingers to appear presentable. We never had much time, never got to indulge in the quiet happiness normal people could when they enjoyed languid motions and gentle kisses through the night.
Deacon buttoned his pants, his expression having shifted back to the usual closed-off one he showed to everyone else. No doubt that was one reason I so cherished the times we had, because they were the only chances I got to really see him.
“You need to be more careful,” he muttered.
I turned toward him, furrowing my brows.
The zipper of his pants was loud in the quiet shed. “You’ve got guards watching you. Warden put out a memo to keep a close eye on you. You think they don’t know you’ve been meeting up with those delinquents you seem to think are friends?”
I pressed my lips together and narrowed my eyes. Of course Deacon didn’t care for the other connections I’d made—he considered all the shades dangerous, so he saw any other resident as a risk to me.
What he didn’t understand was that everything was a risk to me. The whole damned world seemed to want to take me apart, to pull me to pieces until nothing was left.
He came forward and set his hand on the back of my neck, angling my face so I looked right into those bright purple eyes of his. Those eyes had ushered me into my new life at one time, but they meant so much more to me now. “I don’t want to lose you, Hera. You can’t trust anyone, can’t let your guard down. Whatever they’re talking you into, it’ll get you killed.”
I set my hand on his chest and pushed. He didn’t move because of the pressure I applied, but because he chose to. I could have used my powers, my ability to control sound waves, but I tried my hardest to keep that hidden. I’d finally gotten to where I didn’t do it on accident, so I kept it on a tight leash. While he’d witnessed that skill, he had no idea of the extent of it.
“Nothing to say?” Anger flashed across his features, but I didn’t fear him. I knew him too well already, knew he’d never hurt me, at least not on purpose. Sure, he was a guard at the very place holding me captive, but he did all he could to protect me.
“No one makes me do anything,” I signed to him.
“You’re too naïve,” he snapped. “You think I don’t know they’re trouble? That they’re looking for some magical way out? Look, this place has stood for a long damned time, and no level-one shade has ever escaped. A lot of them have died trying, though. I don’t care how good a friend you think they are, they’ll let you take the fall if it benefits them at all.”
Deacon’s words were callous but not unexpected.
We’d done this for weeks, ever since I’d left solitary after being caught breaking into a file room. Deacon was smart enough to know I was up to something, but pushing too much might just end up making me a bigger target. It had driven a wedge between us, one that hurt more than I liked to admit.
I hated having to separate my life, to keep things from all the people around me, but I didn’t have a choice.
Deacon couldn’t find out about the plans I had with Wade, Knox and Brax, and the three of them couldn’t know the extent of my relationship with Deacon.
Though I had a feeling all the men in my life had made wrong guesses about one another. It was in the looks, in the aggression they all showed when talking about each other. No doubt each of them assumed I was sleeping with all the others in my life.
Which wasn’t true.
Though…not because of lack of effort on my part.
It just turned out romance was as foreign a concept to me as the economics of other countries and how football worked. Getting people into bed was much more difficult than I’d have ever imagined. I recalled all the times I’d heard as a teenager how boys were animals who only wanted one thing, how I had to be careful as a woman or I’d get taken advantage of.
Yet most of these men were not taking advantage of me in the way I wanted them to, no matter how I tried to tempt them.
Not that telling them that would matter. Deception was a way of life here at Larkwood, and we all had our secrets.
“Don’t fight with me. We don’t have long.”
“I’m not trying to fight,” he assured me, despite the aggressive tone of voice that he used almost exclusively for fighting. “I just worry about you. I’m afraid I’ll open my email and see your name on the North Tower list. I don’t want that.”
To be fair, neither did I. Despite the fact that the North Tower seemed my only real escape option, I wasn’t ready to face that horror just yet. I needed a better plan, more information—anything to give me an edge.
But it wasn’t as if I could admit any of that to Deacon. If he discovered any plan for escape I had, he’d just ruin it to protect me.
So I had to keep that all close to my chest and play dumb. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
He made a soft sound low in his throat, as if he couldn’t believe what an idiot I was. “Of course I do. You’re trouble, Hera, and you attract trouble like a fucking magnet. Don’t forget, I was the one who saved you that night when you changed. I saw it all. I know exactly how much you need someone worrying about you.”
I dropped my gaze at the painful reminder. If it wasn’t for him, I’d have died on that parking structure floor. I’d have bled out because of the man who had slit my throat, the one who had taken my voice.
Instead, Deacon had heard my scream, had come and saved me.
Then he’d brought me to Larkwood…
It was a complicated relationship.
He reached forward again, but he didn’t touch my cheek. Instead, he touched the scar at my throat, the whole reason I couldn’t speak. “You almost died. This happened because the world didn’t like what you were. I saved you that time, but I’m terrified I won’t be able to the next, that you’ll do something stupid and end up in a situation I can’t do anything about.” His words were so soft, so sad that they took me aback.
I forced myself to stare into his eyes, to witness the pain and fear there. For all Deacon’s faults—and there were a lot of them—he wasn’t a bad man. He wanted the best for me.
We didn’t agree on what was best. He wanted me alive even if it meant losing everything else. I wanted freedom, even if it meant risking my life for it.
It was an impasse I didn’t know how to fix.
“I don’t want to see you get finished off because you want to escape,” he whispered.
I forced my hand up so I could sign back. “I’m not planning anything.”
* * * *
“So, what’s the plan for our escape?”
Knox let out a laugh as he read what I had signed. “You really don’t beat around the bush, do you?”
I shrugged before reaching into his fridge for a water. It was odd to think that weeks before, I’d been so nervous in his place, so afraid of doing anything wrong, of upsetting him.
Now I treated his space as if it were my own, and each time I did? He smiled a little wider.
I held one water out to him, but he shook his head. It gave me the chance to look at him for a moment, surprised as ever by just how handsome he was.
He had a body that could have tempted me even if he hadn’t been the kind man he was. He was lean but strong, and he kept his hair so short it was basically buzzed off. He had on a T-shirt, and while that wasn’t normally the type of outfit to swoon over, he made even it look amazing.
Then again, that was partly due to the general sensuality he had, all thanks to his incubus side. He was essentially a walking billboard offering sex, and while he and I had never fully gone there, it didn’t make me immune to noticing.
Hell, maybe that denial made me even more aware.
I let out an obvious sigh along with an eye roll for good measure. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re way too casual with him.” Knox shook his head, the same argument I’d had with him a few times. I’d had the same fight with Brax as well, though my fights with him were more yelling—at least from him—and always ended up with us having angry sex. Wade didn’t bitch, but his snarky comments suggested he didn’t approve.
Knox at least acted nice when we argued.
“It’s nothing to worry about.”
“You say that because you don’t know the real him. If he gets wind of anything, he’ll turn you right in.”
“He wouldn’t do that.”
Knox didn’t know Deacon like I did. Sure, I wasn’t rushing to tell Deacon everything—that would have been stupid. But I was fully capable of spending time with him without blurting out every last thing on my mind.
Not being able to speak helps.
Knox set his hand on my cheek, his palm warm and teasing. He stroked his thumb against my skin. “That you still have some of that innocence after being here is amazing. I just don’t want to see it get you killed because you trusted the wrong person.”
His words melted some of my annoyance. I understood his worry, especially because if I made the wrong choice. If I trusted the wrong person and we got caught, Knox and his brother could easily pay the price for it.
Even with that, though, I couldn’t just not spend time with Deacon. Sure, things would end when I escaped, because what sort of future did we have? That should have made it easier to let go now, before I got too attached, but the opposite seemed true.
I just couldn’t imagine ending it sooner than I had to.
Knox offered a half-hearted smile, as if I were an idiot climbing too high into a tree, and he knew I’d fall and break something. “You are impossible.” He leaned in and brushed his soft lips against mine, the touch gentle and sweet.
And it did what his innocent touches always did to me. A rush of sensation, like drowning and suddenly being able to breathe all at once. It was his power, that incubus part of him hungry and wanting to feed.
But he’d refused to feed from me or to touch me almost at all. I’d been able to touch him, to focus on him, but he never reciprocated. It wasn’t selfishness but fear.
As soon as it happened, he pulled back and shook his head hard, as though to clear it.
“It’s okay,” I told him the way I always did, even when his rejection hurt, even when it didn’t feel okay at all.
I missed the warmth of his hand when he took it away, when we stood there with this distance between us that I had no idea how to fix. Understanding the reason for it didn’t change the hurt. No matter what I did, he didn’t trust himself, didn’t trust that other part of him, didn’t want it near me.
And there wasn’t a thing I could do about that.
Instead of letting him see just how much it hurt, I turned away and brought the water bottle to my lips, trying to let the cold liquid cool my flushed cheeks and slow my racing heart.
“Hera,” Knox started to say, but the opening of his front door saved me.
Not sure if the angry face of a berserker who I’m pretty sure hates me counts as being saved.
“Have you found anything yet?” Brax asked, his tone annoyed.
Was he ever not annoyed, though? Maybe, when around others. I had no idea if it was just me or if he was always unpleasant.
Judging from his glare my way, I’d say it was a mixture.
Knox translated for me, since Brax seemed the only person unable—or more likely unwilling—to learn American Sign Language. When it was just the two of us, I used my writing pad, but when others were around, they translated.
“So what good are you? You had this big idea about wanting to escape but then you get nothing over the last month? Fuck, I hate people who are all talk.”
And, as usual, I rose to the occasion when it came to his anger. Funny that back when I’d first met him, he’d terrified me. Now? Now I didn’t give a fuck about his little hissy fits. If he hadn’t killed me yet, he probably wouldn’t.
I was pretty sure…
“I’m sorry that I’m not doing enough for you. What exactly was it you’ve done? Because I’m pretty sure I figured out about the North Tower and the two projects they’re doing there.”
Brax narrowed his blue eyes into a murderous glare as Knox translated. It was funny how similar the twins looked—everything but their eye color. Physically, they were identical, despite their behavior being nothing alike. At the end, he let out a huff. “Well, don’t get sloppy. If you fuck up, we all go down, and I’m not about to let that happen.”
I lifted my eyebrow to stare back. What was the point in arguing? Brax only heard what he wanted to hear, and having Knox translate everything made it all take longer.
“Be careful,” Knox offered, his voice even gentler than before, as if trying to make up for the attitude of his twin.
Then again, the two were always looking out for each other. Brax tried to protect Knox and Knox made excuses for Brax’s horrible behavior.
When I didn’t respond, Knox went on. “After getting thrown in solitary, you’re bound to be watched more closely. I know Brax is pushing you, but don’t do anything risky.”
Brax opened his mouth as if to argue that point but snapped his lips together before he could. He let out an angry sound and the edges of his face sharpened the way they always did when his temper got away from him. Berserkers weren’t known for their control and calm. Instead of saying anything else, he turned on his heel and stormed out, slamming the door behind him, his exit as dramatic and quick as his entrance had been.
Knox sighed, his gaze pinned to the door as if he could still watch his brother through it. “I swear, his temper is worse than ever…”
It seemed the same to me. The only reason he’d gotten annoyed was because he wanted me to do whatever it took, no matter the danger to me, and that it was a dick-thing to say frustrated him.
“You don’t understand him,” Knox said.
“Stop defending him.”
“That’s never going to happen.” Knox gave me a sad smile. “He’s not the easiest to get along with, but there’s more to him than anyone realizes. Don’t take the things he says at face value.”
I took another drink of water, mostly to give us a way to end the conversation. I knew what Brax was like, had experienced his brand of asshole behavior plenty of times. The last thing I needed was for Brax’s bad behavior to sour my relationship with Knox.
It was all rather precarious already.
Knox glanced behind him at the clock on the wall. “You had your work detail this morning, right?”
“I have an evaluation in about an hour.”
He pressed his lips together, and I knew he was getting ready to lecture me yet again. This time, about Kit.
But what did all these warnings matter? I couldn’t just not see Kit, since the adjunct professor handled not only teaching lessons but also most of the evaluations. It wasn’t like I had an option to not go.
Besides, we hadn’t had one since solitary, since I’d gotten caught with files from a restricted room. After spending the time being punished, I’d had my work details increased for two weeks. That made this the first eval since that had all happened.
Which meant I’d probably get an earful from him as well.
Why was it that everyone thought I needed their advice? That everyone saw me as some helpless creature who others had to tell how to behave?
Well, I did get caught when I tried to work on my own…
I cut off his lecture by tossing the now-empty water bottle into the recycling bin under Knox’s sink. “I’ll be careful, I promise.”
Knox let out a long breath, catching my arm before I walked out. When he tugged me back and pressed his lips to mine in a kiss that stole all my annoyance away, I worried I’d lose myself. Kissing him was like looking over a cliff and down at a body of water. It tempted me to jump, made me want to dive in no matter how deep or dangerous.
As quickly as it happened, however, he let me go, stealing away that warmth. It was like shoving me away from the edge of that cliff. He swallowed hard, his green eyes bright as he stared at me, as if he wanted me to understand something.
Maybe he didn’t know, either. Maybe it was just hopeless, pointless desire, a drive to have something that wasn’t possible.
Whatever it was, he stepped backward, fleeing as he so often did to his room, leaving me there confused and surprisingly cold.
Which felt like a good representation of whatever I had with Knox.