26. Sweet kiss.
I wake to the sound of a creaky floorboard and a door being pulled to. I’m an incredibly light sleeper and tend to wake up multiple times a night, usually for no particular reason, but this time, I’m certain that Mason is up on his feet and sneaking around. Blinking rapidly, I rub my tired eyes before hastily trying to find my phone to check the time. 3 am. With the back of my hand, I wipe away drool from the corner of my mouth and drag myself up.
Just as I expected, he’s stood in the kitchen, hunched over the microwave, shirtless and excruciatingly handsome as ever. Though he doesn’t know it, which somehow makes him even more attractive. I stare at him for a while until my curiosity gets the better of me. He has a pair of earphones on and I hear the music blaring from them as I approach. He doesn’t notice me until I’m tapping the counter just beneath his face.
He removes the earphones, eyes finding mine like a child caught in the middle of a naughty act.
I hold back laughter and gesture towards the microwave, “If you get any closer to that, you’ll be in it. It’s three in the morning. What are you doing?”
“I didn’t wake you, did I?” he asks and although he’s stood in front of me, he seems distant in himself.
“Yeah, don’t worry about that. Mason... your bruise.”
He has a few staining his skin but one, in particular, catches my attention. It’s nasty looking, a dark purple and spans across the left side of his ribcage. I join him on the other side of the counter and he stands up to his full height to greet me. Wrapping a single arm around my shoulder, he draws me into his warm body.
“It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“You sure? You did get crushed by falling debris.” I avoid the purple skin as I hug him back.
“What are you doing up at this time?”
“When I was young, I used to have terrible bouts of nightmares and my mum would take me downstairs and we’d cuddle up together with hot chocolate. We’d talk about anything but the nightmares. I wasn’t allowed back to bed until she was certain I was no longer afraid.”
“That’s a nice story... Did you have a nightmare tonight?”
I crouch slightly to look through the glass of the microwave and sure enough, a large mug spins around inside.
“Something like that. I needed that cup of hot chocolate, you know?”
I realise that his words hold a deeper meaning than simply wanting warm milk and cocoa, but I don’t bother him with the intrusion.
“Can I have some?”
“Of course. Go sit your lovely self down and I’ll bring it over.”
I do as he says.
A few minutes later he joins me on the sofa, lowering himself onto it gently before handing me my mug of steaming hot chocolate.
He takes a sip of his own and hums appreciatively, “Some people make it with boiled water you know? It has to be made with milk to get that quality flavour.”
“Who knew you were such a hot chocolate extraordinaire?”
He shrugs, “There are a lot of things you don’t know about me.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I drink, savouring each mouthful. "Tell me something."
"Anything. Anything at all."
He runs his index finger up my bare calf and tips his head to the side, the cogs turning in his head to tell me something interesting.
"What about your adoption? You told me your parents took you in when you and Maize were babies and Lou is theirs by birth, right?"
"Yeah, well. They always wanted a big family, but when mom turned thirty-two she was in an accident that paralysed her from the waist down. The doctors said she could conceive and give birth, but she didn't want to be stuck in a wheelchair and pregnant. They agreed a few months after that to help children who needed it. For five years they fostered and eventually took the plunge into adoption. We moved in with them when we were four months old on their twentieth anniversary."
I smile as my heart melts because of the warmth that radiates from him as he talks about his family.
"And you've never known who your birth parents are?"
"They didn't want us, so why should we bother finding out?" he's tracing shapes all along my skin now, his other hand clutching the hot mug.
I press forward to put my empty mug onto the coffee table.
"Mum and dad's anniversary is in two weeks. They are throwing an annual barbeque to celebrate. Then the next day Finn is turning twenty-five and we'll no doubt have more foo for that too. Do you want to come? It would mean staying at my family home for two nights and-"
"Meeting all the Argents?" I finish his sentence.
"Pretty much and a few extras. Finn's girlfriend will be there and my aunt and cousins."
"The house can hold that many people, huh?"
"It's a big house."
"You mentioned there being food?"
"A lot of it. My mum cooks enough to feed an army." he gazes down at me, "Are you in?"
"Definitely... Oh, shit- the twins! I don't know if I can ask Darcy to look after them for any longer than I already have."
"They're most definitely invited too. I think they'll have fun! There's a lake a mile down the road from the house that has this massive play area. They can hang out with my Aunt's daughters."
"Sounds good," a yawn escapes me reminding me of the time.
"Good. It's a date." he puts his mug on the table in front of us before twisting in his seat to pull my legs from underneath me so that they lay across his lap.
"A date, huh?"
My body knows exactly what the promise of having five dates with him means.
With wide eyes, I watch as he takes a hold of my left foot and begins to knead the pad of his thumb into the skin there. He then rubs at my heel with expert pressure.
"I forgot to ask, how was work last night?"
I warmly remember trying to teach Lydia a move on the pole, one that she could not get the hang of. Though the two of us aren't friends, we're becoming better colleagues and I'm happy to help her better herself when it comes to dancing. It's a passion of mine after all.
"Good. Tiring, but good."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Do you ever see yourself doing something else with your career?"
Not the question I was expecting.
"Honestly? I want to teach people, kids, how to dance. Ignite the spark inside of them like I had when I was young. It sounds stupid saying it out loud."
"That's not silly. I think you should do it."
The way he looks at me tells me that he'd believe in any one of my dreams no matter how far fetched they were.
I shrug, "It would take a lot of hard work and right now I need to concentrate on the custody case."
He lifts my leg and places a sweet kiss on the inside of my ankle.
"I like your legs."
"Oh yeah?" I wiggle my toes and bat my eyelashes for full effect.
"Yup and those freckles that have appeared out of nowhere today."
"The sun brings them out."
I laugh as he pecks his lips further up my calf.
"Don't overexert yourself, Mason."
I hold out a hand when I see him wince slightly as he attempts to reach my thigh.
He groans, throwing his head back against the sofa, "This sucks!"
"You want to kiss my thigh that much, huh?"
I sit up and pull my legs out of his lap only to kneel on them.
"Can I offer you an alternative?"
"Come on, it's a really good trade!" my eyes dance with mischief as I stare him down.
I feel like I've been given a new sense of wonderment when I'm around Mason Argent. As though I've forgotten I was ever told Santa wasn't real. It feels as though I'm in a dream, floating on a cloud, weightless and worry-free.
The fact he pretends to think about my offer makes me smile wider.
"Okay. I've come to a decision. I'm only accepting because it's like half three in the morning and I don't have the energy to think of another trade."
"You've chosen well, my dearest man."
With a sultry smile plastered on my lips, I stand up only to lower myself on top of him seconds later, both legs straddling his thick thighs. I'm careful not to lower my entire body weight onto him, even more so when I press forward to close the gap between us.
Then I kiss him and it takes my breath away.
“Mail on the counter for you, Veronica.”
Mason glances over his shoulder at me as I enter the living room. He’s sat on the sofa watching Good Morning Britain with a bowl of cereal on his lap.
I dip down to greet him with a kiss on his cheek, “Morning.”
It has been four days since he returned home from the hospital and though he looks perfectly healthy, the cough hasn’t subsided yet. I don’t want him hurting himself any further, so he isn’t allowed to return to work just yet and it isn’t just me who has set this rule. The chief at the station told him to stay home until he can run two miles without hacking up his lungs. Neither of us is sure if his boss was kidding or not and we’ve yet to test his athletic ability.
“Morning, darling,” he smiles softly when I wrap my arms around his shoulder, clasping my hands above his chest.
“How are you feeling today? I heard you get up again last night.”
In an attempt to take our relationship slowly in fear of ruining it, we haven’t shared a bed since the twins moved out. I doubt I could take the temptation and Mason needs his own space to heal too.
“Yeah, better and don’t worry about me sneaking around at night. It’s got nothing to do with my chest.”
“I’ve had a few bad dreams that’s all.”
I drop my chin to his shoulder, “Bad dreams? What kind of bad dreams?”
“The usual. There are fires and an injured casualty and I can’t get him or her out.” he shrugs, as though his dreams are the usual everyday ones.
“Mason, how long have you been having them?”
“A year or so.”
“A year!?” I repeat, “That’s a long time.”
“Veronica, I’m okay, I promise. There’s a psychiatrist at the station who helps us deal with this stuff.”
Frowning, I ask, “Do you talk to them?”
“I-” an extended sigh leaves his parted lips, “I haven’t.”
“Maybe you should?”
“Yeah, I might talk to him.”
I can tell that it’s about as much as I’m going to get out of him, so I give him a brief but gentle hug and stand up. If he ever wants to talk about it, he knows I’m here. For now, there’s not much else I can do.
The mail he spoke of is waiting for me on the counter. It’s a plain white envelope with my name and addresses typed out at the front and the return address is an office block in the centre of the city. The name of which sends a ripple of anxiety through me. It’s a letter that has also been typed out.
Dear Mrs Halloway,
My client, Mr J. Locke, and I wish to invite you and whatever legal team you wish to bring with you, to the office stated above, on July 10th at 1.30 pm. Mr Locke wishes to explore coming to a private agreement regarding the custody of your children Rowan Locke and James Locke. If you fail to arrive, this matter will be taken once again to the child custody department and things may not go the way you want them to. We hope to see you there.
Sincerely, Mr R. Saint-cloud Jr.
I put the letter down onto the counter. My entire body begins shaking as though I've been pushed into a tornado. I take a step back to try and catch my breath.
Of fucking course, Joel got a lawyer. I knew he was planning on doing so, but he's got one of the highest regarded ones in the city. There's not a doubt in my mind that he has Miss Nightingale's financial aid and it pisses me off more than the letter itself.
How dare she help him!
I jump at the sound of my name as Mason steadies me. He's standing in front of me now. I didn't even see him move.
I can't speak. Instead, I point to the letter with its threatening tone and fancy italic font.
"What... Dear Miss Halloway..." he reads on.
I can't lose my children to the man who walked out on them when they were barely a week old. My shoulders sink as I realise just how clever Joel has gone about it.
"Darling? Hey, look at me." Mason waves his hand in front of my face.
A sound leaves my lips. I'm not even sure it's a word.
"He's done this to get under your skin. You can't let that happen."
"What do I do?" I draw my hand to my heart.
"You have your lawyer right? You need to talk to him and plan what you're going to say in this meeting."
"Do I have to go?"
"Yes. It'll only make matters worse if you don't show up. You don't have to say anything if you don't want to. Just listen to what he has to say."
I press forward, my forehead falling against Mason's chest.
"It's alright. It will all be alright."
"How can you be sure?" I mumble.
"I can't." he sighs, "Whatever happens, I'm here for you."
I cling to his grey t-shirt and I swear I feel the letter that he holds in his fingers burn a hole through my back. Having been stabbed in it already by my ex, I can't say I'm surprised at what has to happen next.
I hope you guys enjoyed this one!
What do you think Joel has in store for our badass Veronica?
What do you think about Mason's nightmares?