BUY ON AUDIBLE:
Lead me not into temptation …
Easier said than done when your name is Deacon Jacobs and temptation is your drug of choice.
The woman with a broken soul shouldn’t even have registered on his radar, but a wolf wants what a wolf wants.
Sparks fly between the feisty female and the arrogant wolf, but Gemma got caught in the Midnight Pack’s crossfire once before, and now all she wants is to forget.
A familiar enemy re-surfaces but all is not as it seems and the pack closes ranks to face what could be their toughest challenge yet.
The risks are daunting but Deacon will gamble everything, including his life, to ensure Gemma’s safety.
It had been seven days since their cousin had escaped from the Pack.
Seven days since they had brought their brother back—broken and addicted to a drug he hated.
Seven days of repeatedly asking Gemma to tell him what had happened during her captivity and getting nowhere.
He’d thought he had broken through to her when, after showering the dirt from her body and tucking her into his bed, she’d caught his hand as she was drifting off into a drug-induced sleep and whispered her request for him to stay. He had hesitated, knowing there was a high chance the drugs were directing her actions. But his wolf hadn’t wanted to leave her alone, so he’d stripped off his wet clothes, pulled on some clean sweats and lay beside her. During the night, she’d sought him out, burrowed against his chest and slept in his arms. He had convinced himself he could break through the barrier she had erected and discover, for certain, what Damien had done. But no, by the next morning, she was back to her prickly standoffish self and that’s where she stayed.
Until night fell, that was. Every single night for the past week since then, he’d been sleeping on the couch in the games room. He had considered staying beside her in his bed, but her daytime attitude made him feel she would throw him out. In fact, during the day she acted like Damien hadn’t taken her at all and met any attempt by Deacon to discuss the subject with deflection and avoidance. But every single night, without fail, he would wake up to the door being opened and Gemma crawling onto the couch. She never slept too close or ended up in his arms like she had the first night. She curled up at the end of the couch and she never mentioned it.
He yanked open a drawer with more force than necessary, almost spilling the contents onto the floor, and pulled out a clean t-shirt, as the bedroom door opened. Her scent, vanilla and coconut, reached him before he saw her, and he straightened so he could look at her.
“I was hoping you’d appear before I go out,” he said, and heard her sigh.
His wolf huffed inside his head, amused at her irritation with him, and he felt his lips curl up into a grin, even while his eyes flared gold. “Don’t be like that, Starshine. I know you love our daily chats.”
“I don’t know where you got that idea.” She pushed past him and sat on the bed. “Let me make this conversation short, so you can go and do whatever it is you were planning to do. No, Damien didn’t tell me anything.”
That was the first time she’d said Damien’s name without stumbling over it, he noticed.
“No, there’s nothing I want to share with you about what he did while I was his prisoner.”
He arched a brow but said nothing, fascinated by her sudden decision to mention it at all, without any prompting from him.
“No, I don’t know what happened to Scarlet.” And, finally, he sensed some emotion from her. They had found Scarlet’s body a couple of days ago. There was a brief tinge of sadness to her voice before it hardened again into the brusque tone he was beginning to hate. “And no, I never saw Sam once the entire time I was there.”
Deacon folded his arms across his chest, staring at her while he examined her scent. While she did a great job of hiding her feelings from her voice, her scent told him everything she tried to keep from him. She was tired, anxious, irritated—all things that made him want to push her further, to generate a genuine emotional response.
“Your reaction isn’t natural. You know that, don’t you?”
“You’re not natural,” she retorted.
He fought to hide an exultant grin at her retaliation and immediately questioned why every successful hint of emotion he pulled from her made him feel like he’d won the lottery. “Childish, Starshine, childish,” he admonished, nothing of his thoughts showing in his voice.
“Stop calling me that.”
“You need to talk about what happened,” he continued. “Chase says it’s not good for you to keep it locked up like this.”
“You have many kidnap cases to compare it to?” She tucked her feet beneath her and leaned back against the pillow, clearly aiming for nonchalant and forgetting he could smell every emotion in her scent—and nonchalant was far from what she was feeling.
“No, of course we don’t, but I have eyes. And I saw you, remember?”
That got a reaction, he saw with some satisfaction and a little regret, when she flinched. But, stubborn female that she was, she kept her unconcerned expression in place.
“You saw what you wanted to see, with your snarly face and glowing eyes. You burst inside that place looking for a fight, and you’re still looking for one.”
Her perceptiveness and unwillingness to give in pissed him off, and his wolf growled angrily inside his head. “You can bet your fucking ass I am. Do you want to talk about how I found you?”
He ignored her. “Locked in a cage with a water bowl on the floor.”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Well, tough fucking shit. I’m tired of pussyfooting around,” he snapped. Her scent was wavering between anger and upset.
What would it take for her to let it out?
“A shifter collar around your neck, with a leash attached to the wall. Just how a human takes their pet dog for a walk.”
“Stop it!” Her fingers curled into fists and the scent of her anxiety spiked.
She was close to losing it, he could tell.
“Naked, bruised, filthy, covered in who the fuck knows what. With a name-tag on the collar announcing your role to all who looked,” he continued softly. “Do you remember what it said? Do you want to tell me how many people saw it?”
“Fuck you, Deacon!” she snarled, and Deacon was sure he saw her eyes flash pale blue before she rolled onto her stomach and presented him with her back.
“Pretty sure that wasn’t what it said,” he replied.
His eyes slid over her legs, and he bared his teeth in a smile as he contemplated his next move in his one-wolf war on her emotions.
If words didn’t work, how about touch, he wondered.
“Was it a wish?” He rested a knee on the end of the bed and smoothed a hand over her ankle, waiting for her to react. He had been careful not to touch her since the first night. “A request, possibly?” His other hand curled around the opposite ankle and her scent wavered, dancing between anxiety, irritation and … something new? “Or maybe,” he drew the word out, “it was a demand?” Deacon yanked and dragged her down the bed until she was hanging off the edge, the material of her robe scrunching up around her thighs. His fingers twitched, and he fought to stop himself sliding them further up her legs to discover if her skin was as soft and smooth as it appeared. “I don’t respond well to demands.”
Gemma cursed at him and attempted to twist onto her back. Deacon leaned forward, dropping the full weight of his body onto hers, pinning her to the mattress, and rested his hands either side of her head.
“Get off me!” She shrieked, and kicked back with one leg, almost connecting with his balls and he laughed, shifting out of reach.
Her scent surrounded him, vanilla and coconut wrapped up in a mixture of fear, anxiety, and the faintest trace of desire. It enticed him to lean in and bury his nose against her throat so he could draw it into his lungs.
“You’re so fucking violent,” he murmured, struggling to ignore the urge to see if she tasted as good as he remembered. He was unable to stop his lips brushing against her neck, and she froze beneath him. “I could make you feel so much better, if you were nicer to me.”
“I don’t want you to make me feel better,” she snapped.
Deacon knew he needed to move, but her scent was pulling him under, and he could feel his wolf stirring, prowling closer. He tensed when she lifted her hand, waited for her nails to dig into his skin and draw blood, and he anticipated the sting of pain with bated breath, needing it to clear the fog of desire threatening to overwhelm him. She surprised him by tangling her fingers into the long spiky tendrils falling over his forehead and dragged his head closer.
“What are you doing?” he asked her, curiosity at her unexpected action driving him and her scent shifting too quickly for him to read it. Her grip on his hair tightened and he bent his head, trying to ease the sting. “Gemma? What do you want from me?”
Gemma’s face turned to him, her eyes flicking up to meet his before darting away.
Were they lighter than normal?
Her lips parted and his attention slipped, dropping to watch as her tongue flicked out, splintering his thought process, as it dragged across her full bottom lip. She closed the distance between them and sank her teeth into his lip, releasing it quickly before he could react.
“Gemma—” he began to ask.
“I want you to make me forget,” she whispered over him. “I need to forget, Deacon.”
Hearing the bleakness in her voice made his wolf howl. Made him wish he hadn’t pushed her. His unease matched and merged with that of his wolf, rousing the latent need of an Alpha to protect a Pack member. But, more than that, it made him want to do whatever it took to make her laugh again.
“I can do that,” Deacon told her softly. He lifted his body from hers long enough to flip her onto her back, then lowered himself slowly back down.
Holding his weight on one arm, he laced the fingers of his other hand into her hair. Deacon’s eyes glittered gold as he gave the strands a gentle tug and lowered his mouth to hers. His touch was light, barely there, as he brushed his lips across hers—one, twice, a third time.
The touch of his mouth, the feel of his body pressed against hers felt good, and Gemma’s own lips parted eagerly beneath his. She lifted her hands, ran them over the short hairs on the sides of his head before sliding them through the longer strands on the top. He growled, the noise vibrating through his chest and his mouth caught hers again.
Gemma clung to him, letting the small voice inside her head coax her into deepening the kiss when the pressure of his mouth intensified, his teeth nipping at her lips. The warmth of his palm cupped her cheek, and angled her head to his satisfaction, and his body shifted against hers until she could feel his erection pressing against her thigh. Without warning, her stomach twisted and flipped. Icy fear crept up her spine and she dropped her hands, pressed them against his chest and pushed.
She tore her mouth from his and twisted her head to the side. “Get off me … get off!”
Deacon complied immediately, rearing back, brows pulling together into a frown as she rolled to the side of the bed and vomited all over the carpet.
She raised a hand, keeping him away without looking as she retched again and again, until her stomach was empty and cramping. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she sobbed, gasping for breath.
“I’m sorry … I’m sorry, I thought I could … I thought …”
His legs entered her eye-line and he crouched beside her, uncaring of the mess she’d made on his carpet.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked.
Gemma shook her head, sucked in a shuddering breath and pushed herself up into a seated position, drawing her knees close to her chest. Deacon’s head tilted to the right, golden eyes watching her carefully.
“Give me a minute,” she whispered into the silence. “And then I’ll clean that up.”
His gaze bounced to the carpet, then back up to her face and he sprang upwards in a move which made her jerk backwards against the headboard.
“Don’t worry about it. You stay there … take a nap. I’ll sort it out.”
He didn’t move from where he stood, though, and Gemma could feel his eyes on her, assessing, questioning her reaction.
“Please, Deacon. I need you to leave.” She didn’t look up, but heard the door closing softly a minute later.
Why did you even think that would work?
She already knew the answer to that. Deacon was the only one who didn’t look at her with pity whenever she saw him, who didn’t treat her like she was broken.
Now he would see the truth, the reality. She was broken—a walking, breathing shell of the woman she used to be, going through the motions until she found the strength to finish what Damien had started.
Who is to blame for that? If you hadn’t …
Gemma covered her mouth to stop herself from crying out.
Don’t think about that! It wouldn’t have mattered. It wouldn’t have changed anything.
She had to get out of there, away from The Lodge, away from the Pack.
You’re running from Deacon, a voice whispered at the back of her head. You know he’ll find out and when he does …
“No!” Gemma pushed herself to her feet, clutching her head. “Stop!”
“Gemma is sick. I need whatever it is you use to clean it up.” Deacon announced as he walked into the kitchen.
Roxie and Isabella paused in their conversation and looked at him.
“How do you know she’s sick?” Isabella asked.
“The vomit all over my floor is a pretty good indication,” he responded dryly.
Isabella pushed away from the table and stood up. “Is she still upstairs?”
Deacon shrugged, bending to open cupboard doors in his hunt for cleaning products.
“She asked me to leave. I assume she’s going to have a nap or something.”
“You were there when she was sick?”
“Yeah.” He pulled out a bucket, a bottle of disinfectant and sponges. “This’ll work, right?”
“Deacon, wait a minute. Has she been sick before?”
“Not that I know of.”
“What were you doing when she got sick?”
With an irritable sigh, Deacon straightened. “Do you really want me to answer that?”
“She’s been back here a week. A week, Deacon! Tell me you weren’t trying to have sex with her!”
“She threw up before we got that far.”
“Are you insane? Damien had her for three days. You know what happened to her, what he did to her. You saw the condition of her body when we got her back.”
“I don’t know shit! She won’t talk about it,” he growled.
Admit it, a voice whispered inside his head. You don’t want her to tell you. If she does, then everything you think will be confirmed. His fingers clenched into fists.
“You don’t need her to talk about it to know! You have a nose, we all smelled it on her.”
“And that was a week ago. She’s not there now, she’s here. Safe, surrounded by the Pack. And, for the record, it was her idea not mine.”
“It doesn’t work like that, Deacon!” Isabella snapped. “She can’t forget what happened to her.”
“Yet she’s doing exactly that, isn’t she? Every day she behaves like she wasn’t missing for three days, like the bruises covering her body aren’t only just starting to fade.” He gave up trying to hide the frustration he felt. “And then one of you reminds her of it by treating her like she’s going to fucking fall apart if you breathe too heavily in her direction.”
“You can’t treat her like nothing has changed.”
“Nothing has changed. She’s still who she is. I’m still who I am. She’s not a fucking victim and I refuse to treat her like one,” he snarled.
A sound in the doorway had both of them swinging around. Gemma stood, one hand pressed to her lips as she stared at them. Without a word, she spun around and fled.
“Fuck!” Deacon dropped the bucket he was holding and shot out of the kitchen after her. “Gemma, wait!”
Not a victim … not a victim … not a victim …
The words repeated themselves over and over in Gemma’s head as she ran from the kitchen.
He knew! Somehow, he knew what she’d done. Knew it was her fault! That’s why he didn’t treat her like she was broken. He knew she had caused it all, that she deserved everything Damien had done to her.
Deacon’s voice was close behind her and she dived through the first door she came to, slammed it shut behind her and leaned against it. She knew she couldn’t stop him from entering, but she needed a second … a minute … to catch her breath, to collect her thoughts before facing him.
He pushed open the door less than a minute later, forcing her to step away, and entered, letting the door swing shut behind him.
Gemma watched him out of wary eyes, arms wrapped around her churning stomach.
“You’re right,” she blurted before he could speak. “I’m not a victim. I’m not. It was my own fault. I caused it. I caused everything.”
He moved toward her and she raised a hand.
“Don’t! Just stay there. Don’t come near me. I don’t want you to touch me”
Deacon ignored her and for every step forward he took, she moved backwards, deeper into the room.
“I need to leave. I need to go home. It’s wrong for me to be here. I shouldn’t be here.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” He stopped less than a foot away, within reach if she stretched out an arm.
“You asked me if I knew him. Knew D—Damien. I do … I did.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I thought I did.”
Deacon, eyes narrowed, gold spilling over into the brown. “How do you know him?”
“He … he’s been in town before. He was friends with my dad. He left the day before dad died.” Her arms tightened around her waist and she shivered. “He came back while Cassie was in hospital. I saw … saw him a few times. He’d ask how Cassie was.” Gemma swallowed and lifted her eyes, forced herself to look at Deacon where he stood, still and silent, in front of her. “I knew what they were—my dad and Damien. I saw them ch—change one afternoon. Damien caught me. When he came back, he told me what you are, too. Said he was part of your family, your Pack, but he wanted to surprise you.” She paused and licked dry lips. “Th—that day, the barbecue, he sent me a text and I told him we were coming up here. He said it would be the perfect time to surprise you all, to come home.”
“What did you do, Gemma? Why do you think you’re to blame?” Deacon’s voice was soft.
Gemma’s eyes closed briefly and, when she opened them, they were glassy with unshed tears. “After Shaun and Cassie went indoors and everyone started to get sleepy, he sent me a message to say he was at the gates and to let him in.
“I opened the gates, Deacon. I let him inside. Me! It’s all my fault. You’re right, I’m not a victim. I’m to blame for it all. If it wasn’t for me, Damien wouldn’t have been able to take Scarlet, would never have had the chance to capture Shaun. It’s all my fault. Sh—she wouldn’t be dead, and he wouldn’t be sick. I wouldn’t be … wouldn’t be …” she trailed off, watching as all expression leeched from Deacon’s face. Without a word, he turned on his heel and walked out of the room. Gemma sagged, and the tears that had threatened spilled over and down her cheeks.
Now he knows. Now he understands.