"If you need a safe word, pick one now," Deacon explained coolly, his eyes narrowing at Cassidy's small form beneath him.

She struggled against him, not wanting to give up or give in, but the more she thrashed and writhed, the harsher his grip tightened around her wrists. Her breathing became harder–heavier, her skin was radiating of heat and exhaustion, and her pupils suddenly dilated when she made the mistake and looked into Deacon's husky blue eyes.

Blue. Like the ocean. The skies. Not dark and soulless like the eyes she had looked into when she had been attacked in her own home.

Just thinking about it made her breath hitch, so she closed her eyes and imagined she was anywhere else but beneath Deacon. She clenched her fist tightly, wanting to take a hard swing at him, but he kept her wrists pinned to the cold surface and her back against the softened floor.

She felt useless, helpless and scared. Again.

"Just tell me to stop and I'll stop," he whispered. It almost sounded like a plea.

Cassidy snorted and shook her head. "You think those guys would have stopped if I'd asked nicely?"

"I know they wouldn't have. That's why I'm giving you a chance to tap out." He loosened his grip just slightly and settled differently against her. The movement made her focus again. Made her breathing slower. Normal. She wasn't giving up just yet. "There we go. Breathe. Relax. And focus. Try to get the upper hand in this."

A different kind of torture was what 'this' was. Teaching her self-defense. Letting her know what she could do if she ever found herself in a similar situation as she had been in her apartment. But having her squirm and moan beneath him was distracting.

So. Fucking. Distracting.

As a Green Beret, he'd helped rebuild and teach several units of the Afghan military how to defend themselves, so when the US government decided to call back their troops, once and for all, the Afghan's armed forces would stand a better chance at protecting and restoring what's lost. It hadn't been an easy assignment–it still wasn't–but depending on perspective, teaching self-defense to Cassidy seemed to be a lot harder.

It had been her father's idea, of course. And by idea, it was a direct order. One Grant Meyer hadn't been pleased with when he'd realized that meant Deacon would have her locked in all kinds of positions a parent never wanted to see their daughter in. But at least it also meant they had been rewarded with privacy. Not that he would have minded if Chris, Pete or even Lachlan had been there to help keep his head in the game. Or take over every once in a while. But that wasn't happening now.

Grant Meyer knew Deacon was the most capable for the job, and he believed the scarred X on his chest was enough of a lesson to keep him focused whenever his thoughts had started wandering… because Deacon's mind had wandered, and he'd silently cursed himself everytime. Now wasn't the time. Or the place. And the girl was so off limits, he wasn't even allowed to wonder what she'd feel like if those breathy little moans had derived from pleasure instead of panic.

He'd mentally shut that trail of thought off, right then and there, and focused on the task at hand. He was better than that. Hell, Cassidy deserved better than that.

"I can't–" Cassidy tugged uselessly at her wrist and shook her head, defeat written all over her face. "I would have been dead by now… or worse. And you're not even using all of your strength."

Deacon sighed and slowly rose to sit back up on his knees. A little distance felt good, for a change. They'd been at it for over an hour and she had actually proved to be a fast learner. She already knew many of the basic grips, moves and ways of how to get out of an unwanted embrace.

Apparently, he hadn't been the first guy to have taught her a few tricks or two, but as she had pointed out earlier, it was a long time ago, and although she had managed to throw a few kicks and punches at her assailants that night, it still hadn't been enough for her to have escaped without the help of Deacon.

"You're underestimating yourself, Cass. It's not all about strength. It's about keeping your cool too. Sometimes, you've got to wait for an opening and strike when your opponent least expects it, especially on a power move like this. If that person above you is unwanted, it's the last position you'd ever want to find yourself in. It's also one of the hardest to get out of. It'll take practice."

"Then try me again." Cassidy scrunched up on her elbows and stared at Deacon as if he was a difficult equation she couldn't quite solve. "Don't hold back, just show me what to do if you had... bad intentions. I can handle it. My safe word is Blue."

Deacon raised an eyebrow and swallowed hard. He would rather just call it a day and save that session for another day. Her father might have permitted their lessons, but he didn't want another scar across his chest if Grant Meyer suddenly came barging in and decided that those lessons in self-defense shouldn't have involved any form of physical contact.

Cassidy seemed to read and understand the hesitance in his grave expression. Her eyes reluctantly traveled to the spot on his chest where she'd been forced to make him bleed. She had apologized to him more than once and even more surprisingly; she had somehow compelled the great Grant Meyer to apologize to him as well. Deacon didn't know what she had said or threatened her own father with, but it had obviously worked.

She had certainly proved to be a force to be reckoned with.

Still, apology or not, though… Grant's warning still counted. The crime lord would personally drive a knife through his scar if Deacon ever forgot Cassidy was the daughter of a Meyer. And nobody fucks with a Meyer and lives to tell the tale.

"So usually, most guys would jump at the opportunity to get on top of me," Cassidy joked dryly to lighten the mood.

Deacon couldn't help it when he let the hint of a smirk reach his lips. He shook his head at the heiress and shrugged as he scooted up closer to her. "Well, most guys don't have a death threat hanging over their head if they get too close to you… and as much as you've tried to hide it, you keep panicking when I'm on top of you–which is normal after what you've been through–but it's not exactly the desired effect I want from… any girl for that matter."

"Then talk me through it, slowly. Step by step," Cassidy tried. "I just need to focus on something, like your voice… or else it's like I'm getting sucked right back to that night and that's when I start freaking out."

Besides, she really liked his voice. But she'd never admit that to him.

Deacon nodded once and tapped her by her calf. "Tell me your safe word again."

"Blue," she whispered breathlessly.

"Why Blue?"

Because of his eyes. "Clear blue skies… warm, calm Mediterranean waters. Blue is just… safe."

Cassidy hadn't realized she'd closed her eyes while she'd explained her safe word. When she opened her eyes again, she was staring into that very particular color and Deacon was hovering inches above her, being careful not to let all of his weight fall on her. She'd barely even registered how her legs automatically straddled his waist as he settled against her again. He grabbed her knee lightly, showing her how she could still move freely. There was no need to panic yet. Next were her hands and wrists, though.

"You're still with me, Cass?"

She nodded.

"Good." Deacon guided both her hands above her head and looked at her as he spoke. "I don't know if it was Stanley or Robert I tore away from you that night, but this is how he was positioned the second before I threw him into a wall. Do you remember?"

She swallowed hard and closed her eyes. "I don't think I'll ever be able to forget."

"What color are my eyes, Cassidy?"

"The color of my safe word." The brightest Blue. He was testing her. He even got ready to pull away, but she shook her head and opened her eyes again. Her legs even tightened around his waist, keeping him in place. "I'm fine. Just keep talking."

He made a guttural sound but continued, unfazed. "He had you in a chokehold, and naturally you had both your hands wrapped around his wrists to get them off you." He held his hand up in surrender as he continued. "I won't tighten my hands around your neck. I'll only show you what you can do. You're ok with that? Do you trust me?"

"I trust you," she echoed, surprised at how quickly the words left her mouth.

He nodded again and continued to talk and guide her through the different scenarios of how to get out of multiple holds. He also taught her how to counter an attack, how to block, strike and know when to make a run for it.

By the time, she was acting purely on muscle memory, Deacon slowly started to put more strength into his attacks and Cassidy surprisingly hadn't panicked once. She kept her cool, relied on what he'd taught her so far and even managed to take him down a couple of times.

"Alright, last time," he breathed and rolled over after Cassidy successfully had thrown him off her for the fifth time. She'd even managed a few kicks and blows that probably would have him sore by the next morning.

So this time, he tried something different. He used all of his strength and pinned both of Cassidy's wrists to the floor. When she wiggled and bucked, he didn't bulge. As expected, that's when her anxiety slowly started to set in. Her breathing changed again, but she didn't close her eyes. She focused on his instead and waited for him to say something. She needed to hear his voice…

"Remember, this is the worst position you want to be in when I've got bad intentions. So sometimes you need to wait for that opening. I can't unbuckle my pants with both of my hands holding your arms." He slowly brought her arms over her head and switched so he held her wrists with only one hand. Realization slowly dawned upon her as she understood what he'd meant by keeping her cool and waiting for the exact right moment to strike, uncomfortable as it might be. "Just so we're clear, I'm keeping my pants on, but if this had been real, you wait until you got me at my most vulnerable. That's when you strike."

Cassidy managed a quick nod, understanding the scenario he'd just described. Feign submissiveness, relax her body and wait. She arched her back just slightly and calmly breathed in as they started over.

As promised, he didn't hold back. She struggled to wrestle her one hand free, but when she finally succeeded, she moved quickly, rising inches from the floor to lock the back of her arm around his neck and swing her opposite leg against his back which instantly made him lose his momentum. The moment she rolled, he was forced to roll with her, and in one swift movement, she was suddenly the one on top, looking down on him with a triumphal smile.

"I did it!" she exclaimed happily, still straddling his waist.

"You did," he repeated stoically and tapped her by her thighs. "But now you'll be facing the next problem. You're still in a vulnerable position, so you need to immobilize me quickly, create as much distance from me as possible, and make your escape. Or else you're just going to find yourself in–"

Cassidy barely registered what had happened before her back hit the floor. Again.

"–The exact same position as before." He even had the nerve to look smug about it. "But let's save that for another lesson."

"Cheater," she stated sourly. "That was fighting dirty."

"If a guy got you locked in this position–and you don't want him here–you better use every damn trick to get him off you. Scratch, punch, kick, claw, I don't care. You fight dirty. Promise me that, Cassidy."

Cassidy nodded and felt her breath hitch again, but it had nothing to do with her panicking this time. Her body even seemed to realize it before her mind did.

Heat. Desire. kind she so rarely experienced because she'd always been so damned picky when it came to men. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd felt the warmth of a man's body pressed against hers–someone she'd wanted, at least–until now.

"Cassidy?"

He was probably mistaking her silence for discomfort and giving her the opportunity to scream out her safe word, but she couldn't get herself to do it. She'd always been taught to never cry wolf when the predator is clearly not there.

"Does this room have surveillance?" she breathed the words out dazedly.

Deacon's questionable look slowly turned into a frown as he seemed to decipher her thoughts. "No."

His necklace swayed steadily in front of her, and just as he was about to rise and create some much-needed distance between them, she reached out and carefully touched the small pendant with an engraved archangel. She calmly twirled the thin chain around her finger and looked up at Deacon, her movement slow and calculating as she tugged, one torturously measured inch by inch.

And worse was that Deacon let him get pulled closer, let his thoughts wander and even shortly considered what might happen if he didn't get control of the situation. Quickly.

"Careful, Cass." He whispered the words next to her ear. "I wasn't kidding about the death threat hanging over my head. You've already gotten my blood on your hands twice, and your father has made it very clear to me that I won't live through a third time."

She seemed to snap out of her trance and let go of the pendant as if it had burned her. Using one of the moves he'd taught her, she quickly tucked her leg up and kicked him in his chest before she could stop herself.

He was off her quicker than a cat on a hotplate and judging by the way he flinched and rubbed the sore spot at his chest, she knew she'd hit his already scarred wound.

"Sorry!" She blurted out and sat up quickly. "I didn't meant to–"

"It's ok," he reassured her, but his voice told her something entirely different.

Cassidy almost wanted to punch herself for acting so inappropriately and for clearly not thinking. She wiped a hand over her head instead, wishing she'd find a fever there. Anything that could explain why she'd suddenly felt tempted to… test him?

What the hell was wrong with her?
"I'm really sorry, Deac. I was just…"

"Fighting dirty?" he questioned with a sharp lift of his eyebrow.

"Yep," Cassidy answered sheepishly, hoping she could manipulate herself into thinking that was exactly what she'd been doing. She wanted to change the subject quickly. Evade awkwardness 101. "So… who gave you the necklace?"

He rose slowly, only to turn around and grab a towel from a training rack. "It was a gift from my sister. Why?"

"A St. Michael medal is usually given to people in Law Enforcement."

Deacon tensed at her statement, but he quickly masked it with a shrug as ruffled a hand through his hair. "St. Michael was the Commander of Gods army. He's also the patron saint of paratroopers, cops and military personal. My sister gave it to me before I left for my first deployment, hoping it would bring me luck." He shrugged again. "But sometimes a necklace is just a necklace."

Cassidy was looking at him as if she didn't quite believe what he was saying. At least, not the last part. "Well, it worked, didn't it? You made it back."

He didn't answer her. He just thought back to his fallen brothers. The warriors he'd fought alongside, only to end up carrying them in their flag covered coffins. He'd reluctantly watched as their families had shattered into a million pieces when they'd realized their loved ones weren't coming back.

It could just as well have been Peyton who'd cried for him and not the wives, children and parents of the fallen comrades he'd lost. It would have been a fairer trade that way. One he'd been willing to give, if he'd had the chance.

He'd long lost the parents who would have grieved for him. He didn't do relationships, so no broken hearts there. And as far as he knew, he wasn't some kid's father. Thank goodness.

Deacon sighed and tucked the necklace under his shirt. Survivors Guilt was a tricky thing, but he'd learned to live with it. Improvise, adapt and overcome.

He'd overcome. It's what he'd been trained to do.

"How did you even know about the medal?" Deacon wondered suddenly. "You dated a cop or something?"

Cassidy was still sitting on the floor, cross-legged, untying the long braid she'd made before they'd started their lessons. She ran a quick hand through her soft locks and let it fall messily to one side as she shrugged. "I did actually. A long time ago… but it didn't work out. Obviously."

"What happened?"

"When Alex found out who my father really was, he nearly hightailed it right through my door…" Cassidy shrugged indifferently, as if it wasn't that big of a deal, but there was an apparent pain there, hidden behind those hazel eyes. "Apparently dating The infamous Grant Meyer's daughter is bad for a cop's career." She pretended to look appalled by the fact. "I took my mother's last name shortly after that. And avoided dating those… knights in shining amor types."

Deacon arched a brow. "So that's your type, then?"

"Good, is my type," Cassidy corrected and went to stand up.

"Then I hate to break it to you, princess, but there's nothing good or honorable about leaving you just because your father is Grant Meyer. So, Alex didn't do the righteous thing."

"Of course, he didn't. But can I really blame him?" Cassidy took a large sip from her water bottle and shrugged. "Except hardened criminals like Caleb Reese, who would be stupid and reckless enough to go up against my father?"

Deacon looked down and smirked at something only he seemed to find amusing. Shaking his head, he crossed his arms under his chest and leaned his good shoulder against the training rack. "Only very few people would dare that," he stated numbly. "But if the day comes, Cassidy, and someone–let's say the good guys for a change–actually manages to take down your father… then where do you stand?"

"Isn't it obvious?" she declared, her chin raised in spite. "As hypocritical and ungrateful as it might sound, it won't be next to my father, that's for sure. I'll never side with him. He's the reason why I was put in this position, and if that makes me a spoiled and thankless brat, so be it." Her narrowed gaze seemed to draw an invisible line on the floor, underlining the stark contrast she believed to be between the two of them. Then she shrugged. "But let's be honest, Deacon. My father's not that different from Caleb Reese… and yet I'm here, accepting the protection he's offering me, when the easier solution for him would have been to simply not care whether I lived or died. But he still cares. So when the day comes, if it comes, he'll always be my father. I still call him on his birthday's. I still attend to some of his charity balls. But I'll never side with him, and I guess that just makes me one big hypocrite."

Deacon pushed his shoulder off the rack and casually walked up to her. He stopped within a safe distance and lazily shoved both of his hands in his pockets. It was the only thing that kept him from brushing that stray strand away from her face.

"It makes you a good person with a kind heart, Cassidy. Hold onto that."

"And what does it make you?" she wondered curiously.

"Isn't it obvious?" he mocked and winked, resonating her earlier statement. "I'm the bad guy."

Cassidy couldn't help it when she smiled and slowly drank in the sight of him. Somehow, he made black sweatpants and a simple black t-shirt look like something out of a fancy magazine. There were just so many factors about him that were downright confusing. Everything about him was just so unbelievable… male. But a knight in shining armor, he was not. She constantly had to remind herself that Deacon was the villain. And a pretty damn good looking one, which made him all the more dangerous.

He emitted a certain strength that not only could be measured in muscle or mass, but in capability. It nearly radiated off him in waves and she hated how her body seemed to respond to that.

"So, same time tomorrow?" she asked, changing the subject again.

"If your father still allows it, then sure. Same time tomorrow."

"I'll handle my father," Cassidy reassured him quickly. "These lessons could be the difference between life or death someday. And besides, I've always wanted to learn one of those forbidden moves that could bring a grown man to his knees. Think you can teach me that?"

Deacon looked skeptical at first, but her unfortunate situation made him reconsider her small appeal. He slowly took a step closer and gestured for her hand. He might as well give her some homework.

She was hesitant at first, but she cautiously laid her small palm in his, her eyes narrowing as she awaited his explanation.

"Hopefully you'll have escaped long before this would become necessary." He slowly brushed his thumb over hers and ignored the shiver she so obviously failed to hide from him. Her anxiety could cause that too. For both of their sakes, it better be her anxiety kicking in. He ignored it, either way, and continued. "Every joint that's bendable is a weakness. If you know exactly how and where to put pressure on it, you can bring just about anybody to their knees."

Cassidy felt the pain before she realized what had happened. She was suddenly kneeling before him, her whole body trying to evade and relieve the ache in her wrist. Deacon had barely even moved. He still had one hand tucked lazily in his pants pocket while he held Cassidy's wrist in his other, bent in a painful angle. When he applied enough pressure into his grip, she nearly cried out in pain. She knew he could break her wrist with an easy flick of his hand, but he kept her in place, expertly balancing her pain threshold to the point she could endure without screaming.

"This is called small joint manipulation and it's actually illegal in combat sports, because it's so effective. I can teach you a few more tricks tomorrow, if you'd like." He pressed a little harder and was surprised at her refusal to surrender, but he'd long learned that Cassidy was as stubborn as she was proud. Most people would have begged him to let go by now. "Forgotten your safe word, Cass?"

"No," she gritted her teeth and reluctantly swallowed what pride she had left. "But maybe you've forgotten what my father told you the last time I was on my knees in front of you."

"Oh, believe me. I haven't." Deacon quickly released the pressure at her wrist and helped her rise instead. It was such a small and simple gesture that went from pain to comfort in the matter of seconds. "I've never had to force a woman to get on her knees for me. Ain't about to start now."

Cassidy never got the chance to formulate an appropriate answer–not that she had one–when the sound of voices approaching, made them both turn and find Chris, Pete and Lachlan rounding their corner into the secluded gym area.

The three men all looked very different in appearance, but for once their expressions were strangely the same. Anger and worry haunted their eyes, meaning whatever news they were about to bring, wasn't good.

"What happened?" Deacon demanded, his voice hard and stern. Gone were all traces of the soft and mellow tone he'd used on Cassidy.

"Mia Carter," was all Chris managed to utter at first.

"What about her?"

"Yesterday, two guys assaulted her in her apartment after she'd finished her shift at The Imperium. Same M.O as what happened to Cassidy."

"Is she alive?" Deacon asked, short and to the point.

Chris nodded, but his green eyes darkened sadly. He looked over at Cassidy, unsure if he should share the information with her present.

"Just spill it, Chris. Cassidy will figure it out eventually," Deacon reminded him.

"She's alive. Physically, she's fine. She did what she had to do to survive. Mentally, on the other hand… well, let's just say she's had better days."

Shit. Deacon scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed. Mia Carter worked at Meyer's Hotel & Casino as an Event Planner. She was one of The Imperium's most hardworking girls. A cute, young, blonde, who were just as innocent as Cassidy, if not more. She had reminded Deacon of his sister, which probably was why he'd avoided her sultry stares to begin with. That, and fraternization within the Hotel & Casino weren't allowed. And he'd always been such a law-abiding citizen…

"Are there any direct connections to Reese?"

The stoically quiet Lachlan finally spoke up. "They told Mia she was taking another girl's place, one that had been much luckier than her. And that Grant Meyer were to blame…"

All four of Cassidy's bodyguards suddenly stared at her. The 'lucky' one. She looked nothing like it, though. That kind of guilt would eat her up from the inside. Chances were, it already was…

"They also said Mia wasn't going to be the last one," Chris added, his voice laced with resentment. "So, Reese just brought a truckload of unwanted attention from the Vegas P.D down on Meyer... and us."

"The cops I can handle," Deacon snapped harshly. "Reese on the other hand–"

"–Is a factor you can't handle in the same way, can you?" Chris cut him off, almost tauntingly. There was an apparent bitterness in his voice, too. It was unmistakably directed at Deacon. Pete and Lachlan even looked between the two men, not quite understanding why Chris was taking out his tempered anger on his so-called partner.

"Reese is waging a war," Deacon clarified, surprisingly calm. "I can handle war just fine. If you have any doubt about that, then go ahead… test me," was all Deacon uttered and waited for Chris to weigh his options.

They looked about ready to pounce on each other, but Chris only snorted and shook his head, reluctantly backing off. Before someone questioned their behavior, Deacon turned to Cassidy, hating how anguished she suddenly looked. And hating himself even more for what he was about to do next.

"Watch over her. I might be gone for a while."

Cassidy looked even more worried when he turned to leave. "Wait, where are you going?"

"Taking the bait," Deacon muttered over his shoulder. He didn't look back as he walked out. Grant was probably already expecting his arrival in his office.

If Caleb Reese wanted a war, they'd give him a fucking a war. Deacon only needed to find him first, but it just so happened he might have the means and opportunity to make it happen sooner than he'd first planned. He only had to convince Grant about his bright idea. But first had to beef up the security at The Imperium.

There weren't going to be another Mia Carter case. Not on his watch.


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A/N: Fun fact, I had my boyfriend reenact and teach me how to get out of some of these compromising positions. (His 13 years of training taekwondo finally paid off!) It's not as easy as it might "look" and small joint manipulation is a real thing. Hurts like a bitch, of course... but we had fun!
The necklace thing is real, too, so if you know a cop or a soldier and you ain't got any bright gift ideas... a St. Michael medal could be a sweet thought.
Lastly, the cheesy line Deac's says; "I'm the bad guy" comes from Youtuber Kurt Schneider's remake of Billie Eillish's "Bad Guy"... if it was made by Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello. Seriously, it's amazing. The music video is pretty cool too. Look it up, play it on repeat! I think it inspired the feel of this chapter, because I've heard it so many times now.
Soooo... what do you guys think? Feeling the sexual tension, yet? Or do we need to Marvin Gaye this shit up, haha.