The stress and the emotional storm that I had been through for the last week had drained me of all feelings. But I couldn't take my mind off Mason.
Mason, the man who was the answer to my problem, but was a huge problem himself. The man who took whatever he wanted. And he wanted to marry me. Me, Lauren Hart, the most average girl married to the billionaire Mason Campbell. Not just a billionaire, but the most desired man. No, I thought. The thought burned through my mind and body...it wasn't possible.
It is, insisted a voice deep inside my mind. Something about it sparked inside your head. You know it does. The thought took root and grew stronger with every beat of my heart. God, no.
I did try well to shake it off, go on about with what was important and leave the past behind. I tried that and I pushed it harder to the back of my head when I came to see dad. I was happy to see him after a few days.
Walking in with his favorite flowers in hand, I paused in the doorway. Tall, dark, and brooding like a dark storm, he had his broad back to me, and my mouth went dry at the sight of him. I would know him anywhere. Mason Campbell was the type of man who was hard to miss. Not just because he was big, but because he carried a powerful aura that draws you to him.
In simple, he stands out.
Dad was the first to spot me.
He turned around and I forgot to breathe.
His hair was sleek and almost shining in the light. His shoulders bunched and rippled from the movement, and his strong profile revealing how tightly he had clenched his jaw, how grim-set his handsome features were.
Did he know that a frown makes him look even hotter? More attractive?
I shivered, chills raising up and down my spine when his two set of silver orbs captivated me in its prison.
This was the man who bends others to his will. He closed the distance between us, reaching me before I could catch my breath or recover from seeing him.
I tried to stay calm...but damn, when he towered over me like he would swallow me whole...it was hard to.
I angled my chin to look up at him, my heart pounding a frantic beat, the wild-edged emotions whirling inside me. I gazed into his eyes, but I couldn't read what was lurking behind them. He had thrown up impenetrable shields, leaving no room for me to guess why he was here.
I sneaked a glance at dad, who was watching Mason in awe, smiling brightly like it had been announced he would survive after all, which raised up more questions.
My brow knitted.
Mason smiled . . . if the upward lift at the left corner of his lips could qualify as a smile.
"Hello, Lauren," he greeted, the richness of his voice weakening me to my knees.
He called me Lauren in a different way. It was more like he was trying to seduce me, to be honest. I never in a million years imagined Mason to have that kind of voice...the deep, seductive voice that was only reserved in the bedroom. And he was using it on me right now.
I cleared my throat, half afraid my own voice would fail me, but the words were stuck in my throat. Where do I even begin?
"I was just having a nice chat with your father about your childhood days," he ventured, throwing a quick glance at my dad. "You were a bit handful."
I blinked, then studied him, trying to see the truth behind his eyes. He had made that sound as if it was alright for him to know about my childhood.
But before I could demand answers, a slight change in his expression, something in the way he was looking at me took the words away. My heart responded, knocked wildly against my ribs.
"I'm really happy to know you're still the same girl." His voice flowed into and all around me, its smooth deepness swaying me again.
Happy to know I was the same girl? He knew nothing about me. I had to hand it to him for being a good liar, but why he was lying was a mystery to me.
"What are you doing here?" I managed to whisper.
There was a screaming rush of silence. And it was into that deepening void that his words fell.
"Didn't I clear that? If you're not going to introduce the man you're going to marry to your father, I thought, why shouldn't I do it?"
The only words ringing in my ears were the man you're going to marry. I closed my eyes and counted one to ten. Mason's face reflected utter calm, a calm I was far from feeling as he awaited my reaction.
My lips moved, but no sound came. It took several tries before I could find my voice. "What?" That was the best I could come up with. I was shocked. I didn't expect that from him at all. Going behind my back to meet my father and lie about being engaged to me, that was a dick move. But I was the one who had challenged him to begin with. Well, I never expected this to happen!
My choice of word provoked a faint smile. "Don't worry, love. I didn't take all the surprises away," he said lightly, then leaned forward to my left ear. "I didn't tell him it's in two weeks."
Two weeks? I was getting married in two weeks?
What the hell am I saying? I'm not getting married in two weeks!
"That's your game plan?" I asked as quiet as I could so that my dad couldn't hear what I was saying. "Come to my father?" It was a statement, not a question.
I rolled my eyes, moving past him to walk up to my dad on the bed. I was going to tell him Mason wasn't the man I was going to marry and there was no man, to begin with. But dad burst into tears before I could manage to get in a few words.
"Oh, honey, you've no idea how happy I am," he said, wiping his tears. "I thought I'd die before I get to see my beautiful baby girl in her wedding gown. Oh, Lauren, I'm overjoyed."
Something pricked my heart and I knew exactly what it was.
Dad continued, beaming at my boss. "Mason, you're lucky to have her. You will treat her right, right son?"
Mason nodded. "Of course, sir. I'd treat her exactly the way she deserves."
The way I deserve? Double meaning here? Of course, dad didn't get it, but Mason's words made him look happier than I had ever seen him.
"Come here, darling." He spread his arms wide and I welcomed myself into his safe, warm arms. "God, I'm happy, Lauren."
My eyes formed a pool of tears and I was unable to take away his happiness. I wanted to tell him it was not happening, and the marriage wasn't the way he imagined it to be. It was not a love marriage and it was not going to last forever. I wish I could tell him all these things.
Who on earth would agree to contract marriage?
"Okay, dad." I pulled away, smiling at him. "I'm going to talk to Mr. Campbell alone outside for a few minutes. Will you be okay?"
Dad raised a brow.
"She calls me that when she's upset with me," Mr. Campbell remarked behind me. "You know women and their tantrums."
My hand curled into a fist beside me. I really wanted to punch him.
Dad chuckled. "Exactly like her mother." Then he grinned at me. "Darling, don't be too hard on him."
I forced a fake smile before I nodded.
"Don't worry, dad, he will be back in one piece," I said, staring at Mr. Campbell. He was watching me closely, one dark brow casually lifted, something bold and oddly knowing glimmer in his eyes.
Without hesitation, he followed me out of the room. I didn't want eyes on us, so I opened a door to an empty room.
Mr. Campbell walked several steps to stand near the window. Strong hands linked behind his back, strong legs braced slightly apart, he stared outside. The silence thickened—along with my unease.
"What the hell are you doing?"
At last, he turned back, his expression unreadable. "I dug deeper into your life. Your father is dying from cancer. From the report I got, he's been here for a while, suffering."
"That has nothing to do with what I asked!"
"I'm afraid it does."
I approached him, pointing my finger. "I'm not marrying you."
"I'm afraid again, Ms. Hart, that is out of the question. I spoke to a few of my doctors, and your father just might survive."
A hopeful sound rang loud in my ears. "What?" I whispered in shock.
"You heard me correctly. With the best doctors in your father's hand, he will survive."
"Oh my god." I clapped a hand over my mouth.
"Don't sound too excited yet." His words made my breath caught. "He will need twenty million pounds, and that's where I come in. If you agree to marry me, I'll pay for your father's treatment and you will get a bonus yourself."
He raised a brow. "You'd rather let your father die? Is that it, Ms. Hart? You want the regret that will follow when he takes his last breath?"
I swallowed, closing my eyes before I opened them again. "There are other ways.."
My response seemed to amuse him. "In other words, you have no money."
"I will find another way," I whispered, tears threatening to escape from my eyes.
Mr. Campbell crossed his arms and studied me, his eyes full of mock. "And pray tell how you are going to do that? Are you going to beg for a loan?" he asked in amusement. "Who is going to take pity on you?"
"I will work," I added, bravely.
His brows went higher. "Oh? And for how long? Five years? Ten? Forever before you could arrange for that sum, or never? Is your father's cancer going to wait for you?"
"No, I'm trying to understand here, Ms. Hart. What are you going to do to arrange for that kind of money?"
"I'm not marrying you." He heaved a sigh. "It's blackmail."
"Blackmail or not, either way," He shrugged. "We end up being married."
I didn't know where his confidence was coming from. My mind told me there was no other way to get that kind of money. Would I let my father die? Because my ego got the best of me?
"There has to be another way. I'll work twenty-four hours for you if I have to. Just, something that isn't marriage."
"There will be no negotiating, Ms. Hart," he said at last. "You have a choice and you best make up your mind before it's too late. It is true that I can have any woman I want, but I don't want any woman. I want you, Lauren."
I want you. Even though his words were innocent, it sparked something dangerous in me. I drew a great shuddering breath but immediately regretted it because his exquisite, wildly distracting scent filled my lungs.
A myriad of emotions flickered across my face before I turned my back on him, putting a hand on my forehead before drawing it back to run my fingers through my hair. I gathered my scattered emotions and silently left the room to my dad's. I needed to see him before I make any decisions.
He didn't stop me.