I pushed the door open and walked inside. "Hey, dad."
He kept the magazine he was reading and glanced at me in question. "He's in one piece?"
I smiled and held his hands, sitting in the chair close to his bed. "Why are you so worried about him? You just met him." Anyone who met Mason Campbell would not get worried for him. They would cheer if he got run over by a car, and that was only if they met him for five minutes. Imagine knowing him for so long and I wouldn't put it past them to plot his murder. God knows how many times I wanted to kill that man.
"I know I just met him, darling, but I feel like I have known the man for years. You didn't tell me you were dating and that he proposed." He stared at me and asked gently, "You're happy, darling, aren't you?"
I thought they said parents knew exactly how their kids were feeling without them saying anything. Why was my dad not seeing how unhappy I was? How scared Mason's presence made me feel and how stressful I was.
"I'm happy, daddy. But I will be happier if I see you up and well again."
He smiled a sad defeated smile. "I had good incredible years." His hand touched my left cheek and I placed mine directly on top of his. "From being a good son, good husband..." He tilted his head with a beaming smile. "A great father to a great daughter. I'm happy with the life I had lived for fifty years, Lauren. If I die right now, I will die a happy man."
"Listen, it eases up my mind knowing that Mason will look after you after I'm gone."
If only you know what you wish to happen would never do. The man hated me.
"I don't want you to die," I said, choking up.
"All that lives must die, darling. That man out there," He pointed his finger at the door. "he will treat you right. I'm a very good judge of character."
I stared at my father, really stared at him and decided I didn't want him to die. I wanted him to live and enjoy another thirty years of his life. I didn't want to imagine life without him.
"What if there's another way?"
He looked at me in confusion. "Another way? What do you mean?" he prodded.
"What if I tell you there's a chance you will live, dad?"
His face displayed several emotions–shock, disbelief, happiness, and hope. I spotted hope in his eyes. He started to smile and sob at the same time, and I held him.
We were both crying from happiness, but at the same time, I was crying for the life I was going to start with Mason Campbell, for the truth I had hidden from my father. I knew when one year was up, I wouldn't be able to lie anymore. He might forgive me, he might not, but everything I did so far was to ensure he survived. At any cost.
When I found Mr. Campbell an hour later, I stood in front of him and blew out a breath. "If we are doing this, I think I ought to know why you suddenly want to get married."
He met my question with a well-meaning satisfying smirk. "Well," he began arrogantly, moving to take a few steps away from me, leaning his body against a table. "I owe you an explanation, don't I?"
Mr. Campbell moved to sit on the chair, crossing his legs. "My grandfather owns a fortune. You'd be shocked if I tell you how much. He has two sons–my father and my uncle. He gave each other of them twenty percent from it, and the remaining sixty percent goes to his eldest grandchild. It should have been Tom, but he had an accident six years ago and lost his sanity, and was deemed unrecoverable." His features, like his voice, reflected no hint of emotion.
Not knowing what to say, I kept silent. I thought saying sorry might be the wrong thing, or he could snap at me for interrupting him. Besides, I didn't think he expected me to say anything.
"After that, it was passed on to the next grandchild. That would be me," he went on. "Well, not me exactly, but to the woman I marry, my wife." The hardening of his tone did not go unnoticed by me.
My eyes early popped out of their sockets. "I'm getting all that money?" He looked at me sharply. Realizing what I had said, I smiled sheepishly, my cheeks burning in heat. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Then how did you mean it to be, Ms. Hart?"
I rolled my eyes. "Why to your wife? Why not you?" I asked slowly.
"Shall we go to the grave and ask him that? Perhaps he would respond to your question," he replied sarcastically.
"So you want to marry me and–"
"Acquire the property, yes."
"But isn't that cheat–"
He cut me off. "We aren't here to debate on it, Ms. Hart." Then, he chuckled harshly. "And quite frankly, you're the only woman I trust that won't run away with the money as soon as it hits her bank account."
I frowned. "Oh geez, lucky me then."
"My great grandfather's lawyer expects me to marry a woman within this month, or I lose the money to my wanker of a cousin. And if I don't choose a bride soon, it is stated in the will that I marry the woman my father approves of." A brief spasm of fury crossed his face. "Marrying someone of my father's chosing is not an option, Ms. Hart."
My mouth formed into a smirk. "So the great Mason Campbell bends to someone's will?"
He glared at me. "My father is a strong-willed man who takes what he wants."
Like father, like son.
"But I will not let him choose a wife for me. If I let him control me in this, he will be convinced he can control me in everything, and no one controls me." His voice hardened and I swallowed. "This is not the best suitable match..."
An unlikely match is more like it, I wanted to say. I managed to stop myself in time. He would take it as an insult. The thing about Mason was, he can insult you, but when you do that to him, he doesn't take it lightly.
When I offered no reply, he arched a dark brow. "You don't have anything to say? Not going to ask for more money? You really are different." He sounded surprised.
"So you keep saying."
"So what do you say, Ms. Hart, you ready to be mine?"
My eyes widened to an alarming degree. His.
So this was it, I was really agreeing to this. I was going to become the wife of this bold stranger. He might as well be a stranger since I knew nothing about him. For me, I had always dreamt about a lavish wedding and marrying someone I loved, owning a house together and living our lives in happiness.
How could I live in a house for a year with someone who doesn't even care about me? How could I live in a house where everything might be restricted and I couldn't be comfortable with it?
For a timeless instant, I swung helplessly between yes and no. If I agreed, it would be a lonely marriage and probably with an absentee husband, because something tells me Mr. Campbell wouldn't agree to live with me.
I'd be mad to say yes to this marriage, and just as daft to say no.
"You know you've yet to ask," I said, eyeing him. "All you did was take away my right and assume I'd say yes to you. You're an arrogant man."
He cocked his head to the side. "You wish me to get down on bended knee?"
"Somehow, I don't see that happening."
"Good, you're smart. You know what I can and cannot do," he replied, looking at the door as if he had grown bored of the conversation and had much more important matters to attend to.
I was doing him a good favor! Actually, you both would gain something out of it.
"That aside," I began, catching his eyes again. "I would like to negotiate the terms of this contract. It has to be to my own liking."
For a long moment, he stared at me as if he could barely comprehend what he'd just heard. A dark scowl passed across his face.
"To your own liking?" he repeated. "I hope you're aware we are in this together, right? Both of us, and you're not going to get married to yourself?"
"You can't expect me to enter into a marriage contract without stating my own rules. That would be crazy on my part."
A muscle clenched in his jaw, and any hint of amusement disappeared. It was obvious from the anger in his eyes that he was not used to hearing that from anyone, and certainly not from a woman. He was used to being feared and being obeyed.
Mason approached me, the smell of his cologne hitting my nose. He glared down at me. "I'll have my lawyer meet up with you and write the contract to our liking until we are both satisfied. When you go home, write down as many rules as you want, Ms. Hart, and I will see how many are worth keeping."
I nodded. Asshole.
He took a step forward. "And another thing, you're not to come to the office again." He met my gaze coolly. "You're going to be my wife, and I separate work from my personal life."
"Money got you to work for me, right? You will get that when our marriage expires."
He moved to the door and opened it. Inclining his head, he silently indicated I go through it. I moved through in a daze. My mind was whirling and I could barely gather all that had happened. It seemed so...surreal! Only a few weeks ago I had met this man...now it seemed I was about to be married to him.
Mrs. Lauren Mason Campbell.
That scared me to no end? How was I going to be a wife to someone like that? Someone whose world was different from mine? What does it take to be Mrs. Mason Campbell?
How should I begin to answer that? Only time will tell.