I didn't get it, why Mason wanted to marry me if he was just going to hide me away from everyone if his indication to secretly get me inside Campbell Industry without anyone knowing said otherwise.
There were two reasons for that. Either he didn't want them to know he was getting married to me, a nobody, or he didn't want the media to blow up on us when things weren't official yet. And I, for one, did not want to be there when that happens.
His security detail, whom I later found out was called Coop, was the one who had escorted me through a secret hidden entrance into Campbell Industry. No one would have guessed where that was. It was really genius of Mason. All the while we were heading towards the boardroom where I would meet his lawyer, I kept chanting a mantra that was giving me enough courage to move my legs.
I'm brave. I'm brave. I'm brave.
I was really going to do this, kiss my life goodbye for one year. It was really scary thinking about it. Not only would I get married to a powerful man, but the media would have their eyes on me. The thought was really scary, not able to have privacy and for your life to be out open all the time. I didn't know how I was going to cope with that.
A tiny sweat formed on my forehead when I stood just outside the boardroom. I counted to ten before Coop opened the door and stepped back, letting me walk in alone.
I spotted him at once. He stood before the window, his broad back greeted me insight. When he heard the sound of the door closing, he turned around and smiled at me.
"Hello, Ms. Hart," he greeted, crossing over to me and stuck his hand out. "It's nice to finally meet you. Max Wynward."
I shook his hard hand before letting mine fall beside me again. "Hello, please call me Lauren. You must be Mr. Campbell's lawyer."
"I think it would be wise to call him by his first name since you both are getting married, and you don't want to slip up in front of anyone."
Meaning anyone who didn't know about his marriage scam. That meant everyone except his lawyer, but he was right. I should get used to calling Mason by his first name. I blushed and sat down on the seat.
"Shall we go over the contract?" I nodded as he passed me a black folder. "Look at it and see if there's anything that needs to be changed."
I read the contract five times, and Mr. Wynward was patient enough to let me re-read it over and over again. Everything seemed to be in perfect order and well written. It was stated in the contract that the marriage would only last for one year and a large amount of money I would get after, to which my eyes had nearly popped out over the zeros.
I looked up so fast, nearly breaking my neck in the process. Mason was sitting across from me, next to Mr. Wynward in his perfectly well-tailored suit.
Where did this man come from? Had I been so engrossed in reading every sentence carefully so as to not miss out on any mistake that I wasn't aware when he came in or sat down?
Thankful that I was not going to lose my cool in front of both of them, I cleared my suddenly dry throat. "Yeah, everything seems to be fine so far," I answered, my eyes connecting with his. My heart was already pounding and the desire to get out of here proved to be almost overwhelming.
"And your conditions, have you stated them?" Mr. Wynward questioned.
"Just about." I wet my dry lips before starting. "I want to be allowed to go to wherever I want to go, and I don't want you to force me to go anywhere I don't want to. We don't want to force each other to do anything."
"Agreed," Mason replied.
"My dad," I said, trying not to show any emotion. "He is going to be taken care of, right?"
"Without a doubt."
I was so shocked by the swiftness and ease with which he accepted my second condition and almost showed it on my face, but nevertheless, I proceeded with caution. "And the sleeping arrangements," I paused, shifting in my seat when his gaze narrowed at me. "We sleep in different rooms."
"Agreed," he said. "Anything else?"
"I want to work. I can't be cooped up in the house all year doing nothing. I'm an independent woman, and I'd like to continue being that."
He thought about that one for a second before answering in a dry manner, "I'll see what I can do about that. Although, working here is definitely out of the question."
Well, I didn't expect to keep my job here.
I swallowed thickly and I had to swallow hard to keep my voice steady. "We won't share any physical relationship."
That one, not surprisingly, was the one that gave him a pause. I noticed how he was pushing down the urge to twitch his left eye. "You won't ever have to worry about it, Ms. Hart."
"Of course," I replied. A sudden image of his big, hard hand tracing a slow finger along the line of my jaw, down the center of my throat, then along my neckline from shoulder to shoulder crept up inside my mind.
Where the hell did that came from? Definitely from being in Beth's presence and her silly words got to my head. I shook the thought, or any other inappropriately thought of Mason out of my head.
"And uh..." I trailed off, keeping my lips shut.
"Speak now, Ms. Hart, or forever hold your peace."
I was really having a difficult time keeping air in and out of my lungs. "I know it's a marriage contract, but if you'd respect me and don't cheat on me until the year is up, that will be great."
His eyes narrowed with dark resolve. "Clearly you have missed the part where I said women are not in my agenda," he returned. "Moreover, I'm not the kind of man who cheats. When I love a woman, my heart will forever be bind to her."
Wow. I shivered, for no man's words had ever sounded as sincere as his words. My head swam in circles. The woman who ends up being loved by Mason Campbell was a true winner. He would love her hard, unconditionally.
Okay, Dr. Love, how could you possibly know that? Because the hardest men always ended up falling too hard and deep for the woman.
Mr. Wynward cleared his throat, looking rather uncomfortable by Mason's words. You're not the only one, I wanted to yell.
"Is that it? You got nothing else to add?"
I shook my head. "No, that's all it."
Mason's penetrating gaze lingered on my face, and my stomach twisted and melted into a big warm puddle of sensation. I put my hand over my face, trying to block him out. If I was feeling a bit attracted to him, it was a big red sign that stated I needed to get shagged and fast in order to stop having these thoughts.
Nothing good would ever come out of wanting a man that would never want you back.
"Are you listening, Lauren?" Mr. Wynward asked me, raising his eyebrows in question.
"It's her habit not to listen and zone out in a meeting."
"Yes, of course. I'm listening." I struggled to wipe away the color from my cheeks, ignoring Mason's little comment. "I'm sorry, continue."
"And also her habit to apologize when it's not needed."
"Mason," Mr. Wynward warned. "You'd do well to remember that Lauren is helping you and not the other way around. You should make an effort to be nice."
I was really amazed at how ballsy Mr. Wynward was. I admired his courage to say that to Mason's face. I had total respect for the man. Mason rolled his eyes but didn't look angry at him.
"Do you have a condition, Mason?"
"I know how you women talk a lot." I scoffed at his words, wanting to ask him what he had against women. "You shouldn't slip up about our marriage being a contract one. Not now, or after the year ended."
"My best friend knows," I admitted.
"You told your friend?" A flash of anger burned in his steely eyes. "The deal is off." He made a move to get up, but Mr. Wynward held him down.
"Don't do something you will regret."
"I'm sorry, but she's my best friend. I don't keep secrets from her. She won't tell anyone, I swear!"
His features were etched in mocking reproof. "And we're supposed to believe your word because?"
"Because I'm not lying!" I snapped with a glare. My eyes clung to his with a challenge.
"And you're not," Mr. Wynward said with a small smile, glancing at his client. "Do you have anything else to add?" One shake of his head was Mason's answer. "Lauren?"
"No," I said, consoling myself with the fact that I had at least got to set my conditions and that eased my worry a bit. I looked up and found myself again gazing into the unyielding gray depths of his eyes.
"Are we done now?" he asked with an almost growl. It was crystal clear that he wanted to be anywhere but here with me. "Did you get what you wanted?" His eyes darkened.
"We both got what we wanted," I corrected flatly, not missing the chance to remind him I wasn't the only one who set a condition.
"Then we seal the agreement."
After Mr. Wynward had put down the conditions, he passed a pen to me and pointed at where I was going to sign. My hands shaking, I signed in two places. A sacrifice was made.
Someone burst through the door uninvited and we all whipped our heads around to the door. It was Aaron. He was shocked to see me but quickly took his eyes off me and focused them on his employer.
"Sir," he said breathlessly. "We don't know who called them here, but they are out there—"
"They?" Mr. Campbell asked with a cocked brow.
"—It's chaos out there. We called the securities, but they won't leave, sir."
"Won't leave? Who are you talking about?"
"The media, sir," Aaron answered, swallowing in fear. "They got a hold of the news that you're getting married?"
Not just me, even Mason reacted. His nostrils flared and he abruptly got up from his chair, seething. And me on the other hand, I started to freak out. His raging gaze landed on me, a dark look on his cold eyes. He looked absolutely massive when he was mad. His chest puffed up and down, his rage evidently clear. His body was coiled and ready to spring.
"Still think we should trust her, Max?" He threw an accusing glare my way.
"What?" I asked, dumbfounded. "You think I had something to do with this?"
He raged, "I wouldn't be surprised."
I gritted my teeth and fury took over me. "I've been here with you. When did you see me calling the bloody media? You just want someone to blame it on."
"You could have called them on your way here."
I stared at his disbelief.
"Okay, that's enough. We all knew this was going to happen sooner or later," Mr. Wynward spoke up, then looked towards Aaron. "You handle the media before we get there."
Aaron nodded before he threw me one last curious glance and left.
"We have to handle the media now, Mason. You are going to have to introduce your fiancée to the world."
My heart beat in my chest. I was not ready yet. How was I going to act like I loved him in front of the whole country? Tension rolled through my frame, weakening me to my knees.
Mason muttered a few curses and ran his fingers through his hair. Looking at me, he said coldly, "Shall we?"
My hands were shaking and my heart thundered fast, but you wouldn't have guessed that. I desperately sought to recall precisely what Beth had told me if I ever faced the world.
"You're going to be Mason Campbell's wife, so you need to show the world that you are a strong woman. Always have your head high up and mask off your emotions. Don't show them you're nervous or scared."
Okay, don't show emotions. Head high up. Got it.
As we reached the reception area, all eyes were on us. I spotted Athena and Aaron having a hushed conversation, and the moment they looked my way, I looked away, unable to look them in the eye.
The double doors were opened and we stepped out, flashes immediately blinded my eyes. The reporters kept taking nonstop pictures and everything was just too much for me. I hated being in the spotlight. I found myself obsessed with the desire to bolt wildly into the street and run with all my might. But an arm slowly hooked itself through mine and the grip on my elbow tightened as if in warning. I decided almost bitterly that he had no trouble guessing my intention.
"Mr. Campbell, is it true you're getting married so sudden?"
"Mr. Campbell, what can you tell us about your marriage?"
"Mr. Campbell, what do you have to say?"
"When is the wedding?"
"Who is the bride? Is it Chloe West? The woman you were rumored to have dated?"
Questions kept being thrown at us in every angle. But I seemed to be the only petrified.
"Gentlemen, please." It was suddenly quiet from Mason's authoritative voice, but the camera flashes didn't stop. I thought by the end of this, I might turn blind. "Thank you. It is with my pleasure that I announce my marriage to my fiancée," He turned to look at me with a smile that was more blinding than the flashes of the camera. "Lauren Hart."
The cameras were turned to me as they all took my picture wearing the fakest smile I hoped seemed real enough for them.
"Ms. Hart, over here! Have you set the date of the wedding?" A reporter asked me.
My chest pounded.
"Yes, love, do you want to do the honors of sharing the news?"
I stared at the bunch of reporters that awaited my reply and I wondered if Beth was laughing her ass off right now. "It's in two weeks," I squeaked out, flashing a smile at the cameras. I wasn't sure if that was really the date. Mason kept saying the wedding was in two weeks, so I assumed he was keeping his word. Unless he had changed the date.
"Ms. Hart, being married to one of the most eligible bachelors must be fantastic and quite scary given his position and power, how do you feel about being Mrs. Mason Campbell? Is it something you can handle?"
His question was annoyingly similar to the one Beth had asked me once. I laughed nervously at the reporter, stealing a quick glance at Mason, whose eyes were twinkling with deviousness.
"I think it's a dream come true," I replied, my smile deepening. "To be able to marry the love of your life, and Mason is mine. So, I don't think I'm going to worry about being his wife." I was a natural born sweet talker, but probably the worst actress too?
Mason chose that time to lean his face close to my ears and brushed his lips over my flushed cheek. A tingling cascade of shivers rippled through my brain first and seductively delicious tingles prickled every inch of my body. He withdrew and smiled at me. My mouth almost dropped open in shock and my fingers almost reached the place he had kissed to stop the remaining tingles. I almost gave myself away.
Truth to be told, I was going to ignore the allure of his built body, the aura of his power simmering under his striking features, the intensity of his voice and those silver eyes of his. It wouldn't do me any good if I kept obsessing over him.
"Thank you so much for coming, but we have to go now. Wedding preparations to begin. Shall we, love?"
We turned away from the cameras to go back inside the company. Closing my eyes, I took a deep, cleansing breath of the cool, damp air and another until we were safely inside.
I took an excuse to go find Athena and Aaron. Looks were being thrown at me everywhere I went and they were not nice looks. I think I appreciated the looks I had gotten on my first day more. I knew what they were all thinking and saying. I was a gold digger who was after Mason's money. I blackmailed him into marrying me. I was pregnant with his child. All these kinds of thoughts and more would cross their minds.
I knew how gossip worked and how people's minds worked if they couldn't figure anything out. They would do anything to tarnish your name even if the truth was staring at them right in the face. They just wanted someone to blame.
Someone blocked my path and it turned out to be Jade. She looked absolutely furious because I could see the veins popping on her forehead.
"You're marrying Mr. Campbell?!"
I sighed. "Yes, I am." Her eyes bulged. Her lips worked, but no sound came out. "I'm sorry," I apologized. "I know how much you like him."
She straightened with a strangled cry. "How does a nobody like you gets to marry him?"
I really get what she was going through here. She was hurt and lashing out at me. It was totally understandable and I felt so bad. Even though I never liked Jade for obvious reasons, I could never wish for her to get hurt–physical or emotional.
"Jade, lower your voice. Everyone's listening," I said smoothly, trying to get her not to yell more and get herself fired, then blame it on me. It was as if she had forgotten where she was.
Her face was red. "I'm not keeping quiet! You think you're better than me," she burst out, angry tears blurring her eyes.
"Jade!" Athena snapped, forcing her back away from me. Her own face was a shade of red. "That's Mr. Campbell's fiancée, are you mad?"
"Yes, I'm mad!" she screamed, her hair going wild. "How can she marry him? She's nothing and she came from nothing! She's a plain woman who is out of his league! She—"
My hands flew to my mouth with a gasp. "Athena!"
"Ms. Walker!" Someone boomed from behind. We turned around to see Mason and the anger that was reflecting in his eyes.
Oh my god. Why did he have to show up now? Oh god.
"Ms. Walker," he repeated, looking over at Athena, who looked down at the floor. His voice sent chills up my spine. "You have broken one of the rules of Campbell Industry that stated no physical fight should ever happen in the building. Are you aware of what you did?"
I tensed up.
Athena's face was devoid of emotions when she answered, "Yes, Mr. Campbell, I'm well aware of the rules."
"And Ms. Willow, do you have anything to say for yourself?" His tone indicated that he had heard every word she had said about me.
Jade's muscles tensed up. "N..no, sir."
"I'm both going to let you off with a warning. You have one strike." My body relaxed and I could finally breathe well. Jade's muscles seemed to deflate at his words.
Mason leveled on her a look of such blackness that I shivered. "Who I marry is none of your business and it's not your job to state your opinion, Ms. Willow. Lauren is going to be my wife, and if you can't respect her like you respect me, you will be relieved from your job. I hope you understand that. Now, get back to work."
Jade nodded and scurried to obey.
Mason fixed a glare at Athena for longer moments, while she shuffled uncomfortably under his gaze. "You and I are going to have a long talk about your behavior, Athena," he said, sounding disappointed.
She smiled. "What? No Auntie?"
I stifled a laugh, watching him glare at her again.
Mr. Wynward stepped up to Mason, tapped him on the shoulder, and jerked his head toward a used office just further down below. "A word with you in private, if you please."
"Ladies," he said before turning around. I watched the two men leave with eyes full of trouble before moving my gaze to Athena.
"I have to talk to you."
I expected her to brush me off in anger, but she surprised me by pulling me into a hug. "I've loads of work right now. But I'll call you later and meet up somewhere."
"Sure, no problem." She hugged me again and then pulled away, walking off in another direction.
I sighed and walked off toward the elevator, hitting the first-floor button. I was ready to call it a day.