MASON

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Chapter 20

I didn't want to eat dinner with his family, but he said I shouldn't give them the satisfaction of seeing me hide from them, and he was right. Sometimes, I wondered how he could act nice to me and hate me the next.

I followed Mason to the table as he seated me beside him before he took his own seat at the head table. His mother and father were absent for some reasons. I haven't met his dad yet, but I wasn't excited to.

I could tell from the long faces that no one was happy I was here, especially Chloe, who was stabbing at her steak and probably imagining it to be my head. At that precise moment, she reminded me of Jade.

"Are you enjoying your stay, Lauren?" Sebastian threw the question at me, surprised that he was being nice. He gave me an encouraging smile to back his words up.

But before I could say something, Mason's sister, Rebecca spoke up. "How could she not enjoy? She's living in luxury for the first time, Seb." She sneered, lifting her glass of wine in such a way it would bring Cersei Lannister's wine drinking to shame. "Judging from everything about her, I can tell she's living in a dump and this is just paradise to her."

I met her gaze with a smile. "Living in a dump or not, I'm happy and that's what matters. Yes, you have money, but I'm guessing I live happier than you and I have real friends who would love me if I'm homeless or not. Can you say the same for yourself?"

Sebastian snorted a laugh and covered it up with cough while she threw daggers at me.

Mason placed his hand on top of mine. He was leaning back in his chair, watching me with a lazy expression that irked me suddenly. "Eat."

I looked down at my plate—so much food that I could barely hold in my stomach as I averted my gaze and met his. "All of it," he added.

"You're bossy," I retorted slowly. "And what if I don't?"

His jaw tightened for an instant before he leaned forward and grinned. "Unless you want a repeat of earlier right here." His voice was almost a purr and my eyes widened.

Sebastian was listening blatantly and he grinned as he caught my eye. "What happened earlier?" he asked.

Mason's eyes still hadn't left mine and I glared at him in a warning. He raised his brows in return. I sighed and picked up my fork, biting into my steak as he smirked in satisfaction.

"You two are going to keep the mystery, aren't you?"

"Do you ever shut up?" Chloe snapped at Sebastian, glaring at him. Clearly, she didn't see any amusement in this. "And Mason, how can you do this to me? How can you choose someone like her?!"

I rolled my eyes, looking down at my food.

"I chose someone like you," he replied icily as he watched her, gauging for her reaction. "Why can't I choose someone like her?" He only spoke a few words, and she stared at him disbelievingly, her face red and angry.

"I'm different! I grew up with your family and I'm supposed to get married into it! Everyone knows that."

"Well, it's a good thing the Campbells aren't short of men." Mason's voice was bored. "You can choose anyone you like. My distant uncle's wife died five years ago. Maybe you can fill his empty heart."

Sebastian chuckled loudly and I couldn't help the grin that appeared on my face. Chloe looked like she could burst into flames any second.

But, he wasn't done yet. "Or maybe, Sebastian here can take you up on your offer, right?" he asked his cousin who looked sick to his stomach at the thought.

"No, thank you. Even if she comes with gold skin, I wouldn't take her. Sorry, Chloe." His face and tone sounded unapologetic to me. Her hands clenched into fists on the table.

"What do we have here?" A new, welcoming voice asked softly. He was toweringly tall and slender, jeans and blazer that fitted him. What you see when you stare at him was the fiercely beautiful face, it's striking profile, and the shapely mouth under the cropped beard. His dark hair clustered in thick curls with gray eyes set in the face of a dark angel.

The room grew quiet and tense, and I was only left with more questions. He spotted me immediately and his eyelids dropped, and a faint, disquieting smile on his lips.

He moved deliberately around the table towards me, halting his steps in front of me. Drawing my chair back a little, he grabbed my hand from the table and drew it to his lips, placing a soft kiss at the back of my hand, watching me with hawk eyes. What the hell?

"What on earth do you think you're doing, Dom?" Rebecca demanded in outrage.

He ignored her. "Hello, I'm Dominic," he said, his lips quirked up with a smile. "You must be the fiancée."

I glared at him and pulled my hands back. "If you knew that, then you must know it's inappropriate to kiss someone's fiancée."

He chuckled lightly, stepping back a little, but his eyes didn't leave mine. "My apologies. I could never resist when I see a beautiful woman." Then, he looked at Mason. I didn't know what he saw there that made him chuckle, but he walked back to take a seat next to Sebastian, addressing the room, "It's nice to see everyone here."

"What are you doing here? I thought you were in Italy."

"Still keeping tabs on him?" Mason smiled at Chloe, but it was not pleasant.

"Why, cousin? I believe you almost sound jealous," Dominic replied, still ignoring Chloe.

Mason narrowed his eyes at him. "I was just telling Chloe here how we aren't short of Campbell men. Seeing as the two of you have history, it's only fit you rekindle that relationship."

He narrowed his eyes back, but it wasn't as chilling as Mason's. He let out a loud humorless chuckle that somehow increased the temperature in the room. I noticed how his jaw was set, and how he was trying to appear calm and relaxed. Dominic was failing miserably. "I do love the jokes you crack, Mason. Jokes like these make me miss you every day."

What the hell was going on between the three of them? I needed to know. I was curious. The tension between them was intense and I feared any minute now, we could blow up from it. I looked at Mason, whose jaw was clenched and shoulders tensed. There was a hidden fury in his eyes, ready to be unleashed, so I did what I thought was right. I leaned toward him and pecked his cheek.

He snapped his head back at me, and it was the moment I turned away from his gaze, shocked that I had done just that without thinking. And I wasn't the only one who was giving me a look.

"Mason..." Chloe started to say after the ten seconds of silence, blissful silence. "We can go talk about this in private. Sort things out between us."

He seemed to be deaf to her pleading words, only the deepening lines of bored petulance on his mouth showing that he heard her.

Then, he said indifferently. "Enough. Can someone remove her from my sight if she doesn't stop talking?" Before anyone could say anything, he had risen and his hand wrapping around my wrist, he pulled me up and gripped it tightly. He waited for an instant for silence and then spoke with an arrogant turn of his head to their faces.

"I have forgotten how much I don't like you people. Being in your presence does nothing but angers me, especially you, Chloe, who doesn't get it through to your thick skull that you and I are never going to happen. I have a fiancée who doesn't appreciate you talking about getting back with me. She's not doing anything out of courtesy, but the next time you do it again, I'd send you straight back to where you come from, strip you of your privileges and everything you hold dear until you're out in the streets begging for a piece of bread. Now, I hope for everyone's sake that you would think deeply and hard at the words that would come out of your mouth next time."

He looked at them with sheer annoyance before he was leading me back towards the double doors which we had walked through earlier. He still had his hold on my wrist, but all I could do was follow him closely behind.

We seemed to be heading outside, or at least looked like it. The balcony was bitterly cold at night, but beautiful with the stars twinkling in the sky and the setting in front of me. I shivered as the chill struck me hard. I was only wearing a strapless top and shorts. It wasn't exactly the best outfit to have dinner in with the in-laws, but one thing about me was that I wouldn't do anything for anyone. I didn't care how I looked like and I didn't care how anyone saw me.

Mason's hand tightened on mine; involuntarily I looked up at him and saw his eyes blazing behind the slight smirk which masked his hard face. I thought about being alone with him again, thought about what had transpired between us in the room and I jerked my hand, trying to pull away. But I couldn't get free; he only held on tighter, watching me struggle against his imprison hold without a change in his expression. Then, his hand fell away as he walked over to the edge, placing his hands on the rail.

"What's going on between you and Chloe?"

"Nothing worth mentioning." His answer came down like a hammer.

Recognizing the note of impatience in his voice, I scoffed and began again, "Please, I know something happened between you, her and Dominic? You can tell me, you know. I'm quite a good listener and I doubt that you have anyone close to share anything with. It's not good to bottle things up." I came to stand beside him, putting my gaze on him. "Is she the reason why you hate women?"

His hand twitched, but he said nothing for a long time, so I simply waited for him. I wanted him to open up to me. If we were going to get married, he needed to know he could talk to me anytime he wanted. I wasn't in it for the money only. We could come out of this marriage with friendship. I would like to think we would still be friends after this.

"You don't know what you're talking about," he said, at last, crushing my hope of him confiding in me. I had to continue remembering that he was a hard man and nothing came easy with him. "But that's some story you got there, Hart, but sadly only happens in movies."

"Yet," I added, not about to budge. "it did happen."

"And what? She hurt me and I was left broken and it changed me to the point that I started hating women?" he asked, staring at me before he barked out a laugh, more chilling than the cold night. "Funny, Lauren."

I searched his eyes. "It's not funny when it's true. Why else do you hate her?"

"For the same reason I hate women."

"And what's that? Oh, yeah? Because you think every woman is a gold digger."

"If I think that, would you be standing here with me?"

I grinned. "I'm special." And his answer came in an unpleasant snort. Wondering if it was even possible to have a conversation without him shutting me off all the time, I decided to pick another topic, one I was most excited about. "Where do you have your tattoo?"

He looked surprised. It wasn't every day I surprised him and I relished in that fact. "Who told you about that?" he demanded, noting the way his voice had risen a little.

An arrogant half-smile appeared on my lips. "That's for me to know."

He regarded me unsmilingly. "It's Athena. That bloody girl talks too much." I watched the way he tapped his fingers on the railing. I was both mildly amused and slightly startled that he looked uncomfortable that I knew he had a tattoo.

"Come on, it's nothing to be ashamed of. Just show it to me. I've wanted to see it since the moment I knew about it. How did you do it? I thought The Mason Campbell wouldn't ink himself even if death was staring at his face."

Raising a devilishly arched brow, he countered, "Right?"

"So, tell me!" I pressed on his hard arm. "Were you drunk when you got it?" I grinned. "What am I saying? You wouldn't get drunk in fear of losing control."

One corner of that hard mouth curled upward. "How do you know me in short of a little while, Lauren? I'm not that easy to read." I nodded my head with a giggle. He rolled his eyes. I got it during my secondary school graduation. I regret it now."

"What is it, then? I've thought about it all week. I'm dying to know," I asked in anticipation.

"That's not my problem." He stepped back from the railing and turned to leave.

"It's hard to like you, you know," I called at him, struggling to keep my emotions in check.

His approach was swift and unrepentant; the unyielding intent in his eyes promised nothing to me. "I don't need to be liked. I'd prefer someone to hate me than to like me. You included."

Strangely, his words didn't upset me nearly as much as it should have. No, it really wasn't what was on my mind right now. The scent of him cling to his clothes–freshly mint, and I could feel the heat from his body, for he was standing so close to me.

"Good night, Lauren," he added.

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