* Clover *
“Oh my God, you kissed Mason?” Aurora squealed over the phone, “And then what?”
Clover shouldn’t have mentioned anything because her friend lived for X-rated gossip, but keeping it bottled up was driving her crazy, “We kind of made out but then I got into my head. I couldn’t tell him all the stuff I wanted to say. It was like, once he touched me, nothing else mattered. Aurora, he said he loved me.”
She shrieked again, “Well — duh! He would be a fuckwit otherwise. Plus, no man does what he’s done just for sex. Hey! Did you smash?”
Clover scowled, “Of course not stupid!”
“That man is seriously hot, idiot.”
She grinned, “He came over wearing a suit that made him look like James Bond. You don’t have to remind me how tempting he is. Anyway, he wants to take me out.”
“Awesome,” Aurora chirped, “You barely left my apartment. Go out with the love-sick fool and security will follow. It’ll be good for you. Do it. DO IT.”
She paced the living room, “I want to. He looked so happy to see me.” she expected pity in Mason’s tawny eyes, but there had been nothing but his usual warmth. Seeing his handsome face and enjoying his kisses ignited a shit ton of sensations she wasn’t prepared to handle. The last person to touch her had been Bentley, causing guilt to flood her thoughts and ruin the moment they shared.
“Clover,” Aurora’s voice turned gentle, “Going on a date, sitting beside each other, is the perfect way to work out what you have to convey. Right?”
“Right,” she let out a breath, “I’m tired. I’ll talk to you later.”
After hanging up, she flopped down on the sofa to text Mason. Hiding inside for the rest of her life was cowardly, and she was anything but chicken shit. Also, the longer he floated her bills, the guiltier she felt. She bypassed the subject since he seemed intent on discussing her reasons for staying instead of accepting the FBI’s assistance. How much did she owe him?
Hi? Really? Who was she now? An awkward teenager texting her boyfriend? Was he still hers? Navigating their new dynamic shouldn’t be this hard! They’d known each other for a long time, but Bentley damaged her trust in men almost beyond repair.
Mason: Hi, sweetheart. Did you sleep all right?
She bit her lip. No, she hadn’t, tossing, turning, wishing she took Mason up on his offer to stay. She wouldn’t admit it aloud, though. She needed to learn to live alone and not be so jumpy.
Clover: Yes, thank you. How is your day going?
Mason: Better now :) Given any thought to our outing?
Clover: Anywhere that’s not fancy. I know you love your five-star restaurants.
Mason: Um, remember how you scarfed down the food so fast half the pasta ended up in your lap!
Clover: Hey, you promised to never bring that up!
Mason: It’s still our secret, babe. I’ll pick you up at six.
The familiar tug of easiness with Mason settled her nerves. The time they spent together before her abduction seemed like something she made up. A wistful daydream where he spoiled her rotten while she gave him nothing but sass and ass. His bank account guaranteed him access to anything and anyone, but he claimed to love her. Her mother once ranted fairy-tales were for dimwitted girls, and after experiencing hell had to agree. Mason was no white knight, and she was no innocent maiden.
She replied it sounded perfect, then picked up her journal, needing to write how he influenced her moods. Sure, he was insanely good-looking. She’d forgotten the intoxicating smell of his scent of sandalwood and lemon, and last night when in his arms she basked in his essence. But what about the other stuff? He listened to her and asked for her trust. Should she? Bentley’s deception and evasion of capture were major obstacles for them to overcome. He’d been friends with the shrewd man who…
Clover threw the book across the room.
Angela had offered to sit down with them both, which she rejected with scorn, but now she wondered if it would be for the best. Better for her because she didn’t know how to voice her concerns.
They couldn’t be together unless he accepted everything.
Every fucking thing.
* * * * * *
When Mason picked her up, he gave her a bouquet of Buttercups. She beamed at his thoughtfulness, placing them in water as he came up behind her teasing, “I should call you Buttercup now. Too cheesy?”
She laughed, “Your dork is showing.”
He shrugged, taking in her dressed down blue Capri pants and light white top, “You look beautiful Buttercup.”
She growled, softly punching his arm, “Come on, I’m starving and you better pick a restaurant that has burgers.”
He gently took her hand, leading her outside saying while she locked up, “Okay, Buttercup. I know just the spot.”
Clover felt a lightness settle over her as they continued to banter and tease each other. When he parked in front of a rundown diner, she shot him a skeptical squint. Mason grinned, hopping out the car. He held the glass door open for her and a woman with bright pink hair and a nose ring called out a pleasant intimate greeting as they seated themselves.
She raised an eyebrow, “Come here often, Mr. Thistle? Gotta say, never thought I’d catch you eating in a greasy spoon. You’re still wearing half your suit.”
He chuckled, pulling off his tie with a flourish, stuffing it in his slacks, “Better?” then he cleared his throat, dodging her stare, “I kinda lived here when you were in the hospital. To be close, in case you needed me.”
Clover’s cheeks flushed in mortification, realizing their location had escaped her notice, “Okay.”
What could she say to the face he pulled at her response? Like she kicked his puppy? Clover quickly focused on the menu, going with their avocado burger and fries. He bit his bottom lip with a funny raise of his brows, ordering the toasted chicken club.
“I want to ask you for a favor,” she blurted, still surprised he camped out in the restaurant on stand by for her to call him, but she never had. “Something you might not be comfortable with.”
The waitress brought their drinks. Mason gave the pink-haired girl a tight smile, waiting until she left to answer, “I already told you anything I can do for you, I will.”
“Can you come with me to see my therapist on Friday?”
“Tomorrow?” he leaned back, posture straight.
“Is today Thursday?”
He smirked, relaxing again in his seat, “Yeah. Why do you want me to go with you?”
She fiddled with her straw, searching his warm eyes and handsome face for signs of irritation, “Because what I need to explain will be difficult and she’ll act as a buffer.”
“A buffer,” he tapped his fingers on the tabletop, “to tell me what Bentley did to you, right?”
She swallowed hard. Hearing his name from Mason’s lips made her stomach roil, “I get… angry and Angela will help if I become overwhelmed.”
His jaw flexed, “If it’ll put us in a better place, then of course.”
“What do you mean, in a better place? Have I missed a step, Mason?”
He frowned in agitation, but they needed transparency in order to move forward. When they sat down with Angela, would he still want her afterward? She was taking a huge leap of faith in trusting him again.
“You said you wanted to start over but get this,” he rasped, “I feel responsible for your kidnapping. When Dash called with the news you were in surgery after being stabbed, I was dreaming about you…” he shook his head as if she wouldn’t understand his point, “Anyway, day after day I waited for you to call. For months!” he growled, and she gasped at the pain behind his words, “Will you give us another shot or just keep taking advantage of my wealth?”
Whoa! He might as well have slapped her, “Your wealth? Are you fucking kidding me right now? FUCK YOU!”
Clover was up and out of the diner before he responded. She ran. She wasn’t a runner, but tonight she flew on fast feet. Suddenly, long, strong arms wrapped around her waist, pushing her against a storefront window. She couldn’t breathe, gasping deep breaths.
“I’m sorry! Stop fighting me!” Mason cupped her face with one hand while the other held her hip in place, “Listen to me, sweetheart. Shit, we do need a mediator. Nothing I say comes out right and I wish I could erase what Bentley did to you, but I can’t and not knowing if you blame me eats away at my soul. I love you,” he peered sharply into her eyes as she caught her breath, “All I want is for you to be happy. If it’s with me fantastic, if not, I’ll die alone because you’re it. You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved, Clover.”
“Screw your damn money and pity!” she shouted, trying to shove him, but he was a tall wall of muscles, “I’ll pay you back!”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he snarled, crowding her against the window, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you, even before Bentley came into the picture. Go ahead. Reject my financial assistance, I’ll only find another way. I don’t give a shit, because caring for you brings me joy. I like knowing you want for nothing. That’s the place I’m at, and that’s the place you need to get on board with. At my side.”
“This isn’t the dark ages, dick! I can take care of myself. You don’t own me!”
“Just the opposite. Shut up and kiss me.”
Then he stole the oxygen from her lungs all over again, nipping her bottom lip playfully after plundering her mouth. She wanted to resist. To tell him to cram his domineering, money-having bullshit up his ass and get the hell out of her life. But once he kissed her as if he’d never let her go, the fight left her.
No matter how hard she tried to deny it, she craved Mason’s stability. She’d relied on her fierce personality to survive when Bentley kidnapped her, but the selfish fact was, she knew Mason offered more. More of a backbone and a reason to challenge those who would see their relationship as nothing but a fling. Being his girlfriend came with a measure of publicity, and once they caught wind of the ordeal she faced and survived, both of them would need each other to lean on.
“Get a room!” someone hollered, another whistled
He chuckled, easing his body off hers, “You drive me crazy, babe.”
She flushed with heat, “I’m torn between kicking your ass or rip off your pants.”
He shot her a panty-melting leer, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be doing both later. Come on, let’s eat. I can’t wait to see your pretty chin dripping with hamburger grease because soon I’ll cover it in…” she slapped his shoulder in warning as he tangled their fingers so he could lead her back to the diner, “Hey, a guy can dream, yeah?”
“Is that the visual you came up with when I ordered the burger?”
He winked, leaning down to kiss the top of her head, “Ha, I have lots of visuals when you open that mouth.”
Clover decided right then she and Mason would work out as long as she believed in their connection. Knowing what he had done for her was one thing, but gazing into his bronze eyes with the honey center, realized it was up to her to return his heartfelt kindness instead of battling against it.
It was time to live again.