MASON

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Chapter 25

"Where were you?" asked a deep, unperturbed voice as soon as I walked inside the house.

I snapped my head up in surprise, releasing a relieved breath. Mason was standing at the foot of the stairs, the sheer arrogance and powerful of his pose made me feel a little intimidated. But not enough to scare me away.

"I didn't ask you where you went this morning," I replied, closing the door behind me and jamming in the security code. I made my way to the kitchen and he followed behind me, his footsteps making a little noise in the dead silence.

"You could have called or texted, Lauren. I tried your phone so many times."

I opened a cabinet and grabbed a glass, making my way to the sink to fill it with water. "Yeah, I'm sorry. My phone died." I turned around to smile apologetically, then drew myself up and added in mild amusement, "Don't tell me you were worried about me." I drank from the glass, fighting off a smile.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and regarded me with annoyance and frustration. "I was more worried about you damaging my name." I laughed, shaking my head in amusement. "Next time, call or text. It wouldn't be so hard to do one of those, Lauren. I don't want anything to happen to you while you're married to me. You can do whatever you want when you're released from my marriage."

"Anything else?"

"Dinner is ready."

I nearly collapsed from shock.

Grinding, I tilted my head to the side. "You cooked for me?" I asked, mildly surprised. "I already ate, but I don't want your hard work to go to waste. I'd take a few bites." I leaned away from the sink and strode out of the kitchen to get to the dining area.

His deep voice echoed, stopping me in my tracks. I shut my eyes, took a breath, then turned around to face him.

He looked irritated, but said, "You won't impress me by doing this. If you've eaten, I won't be hurt if you don't eat the food. I made a lot without you in mind, but I don't want it to go to waste. That's just it."

My stomach clenched tight as he walked over the few feet that separated us and I backed away, making me feel like I, a prey and he, a predator. I attempted to relax and stopped moving to straighten my posture.

"Tell me, Lauren," he said, as he reached me with brooding curiosity. "What are you up to? This morning, you watched me sleep like a creep, made me breakfast, and now you want to eat dinner with me after already having yours?"

My eyebrows flew up and I shot him a dirty look. "I didn't watch you sleep like a creep. I was just–" I stopped mid-sentence, knowing the next thing to come out my mouth would actually make me look like the creep he was causing me to be. Plus, I couldn't come right out and say I was fascinated by him, that he was quite a different person when he wasn't glaring or saying anything rude to me.

"You were saying?" he taunted, cupping my chin in his hand and lifted my face to slightly examine it in different angles. "You're blushing. It's something then."

I slapped his hand away. "There's nothing," I bit out. "I just don't like you being up in my personal space."

He pondered over it before he moved closer until his feet were touching mine and his chest brushing against my chest. "How's that now?" His hot breath hit me in the face and I fought the urge to close my eyes. "Okay for you?"

"Stop it."

"Sure?"

I glared at him and willed my heart to stop beating so hard and fast. "Yes," I gritted my teeth. "Stay away from me."

Mason stepped back, looking dangerous and serious again. "You haven't told me where you went today. Who you met and what you talked about."

"Are you bloody serious?" I studied his grey eyes. I was suddenly taken back to what Athena had said about him and how he didn't trust any woman. "I went out to lunch with Beth and Athena, and we talked about getting me a job. If you don't believe me, you can call your auntie and confirm," I snapped, whirling around to get as far away from him as possible.

"Wait."

I paused and faced him. I knew he wanted to clarify. I could see him battling with himself over it, but I could also sense that he didn't want to because that would make him look like he cared what I thought about him and he didn't want to care about me.

We stared at each other for a tensed moment that seemed to go on forever as if we had peered into each other's soul and had heard every thought and emotions.

"Weren't you going to eat with me?"

"You still want me to?"

"Is there a reason not to?"

Several reasons. But I didn't say that. "Of course not," I replied, my heart slapping uncontrollably against my rib cage. "Let me just go change and take off my make up. And could you get me a glass of juice, please?" Woah, Lauren. You're pushing it.

His eyes narrowed, then he took a step closer. "Are you ordering me?"

I thought carefully about how to answer, but then decided I didn't want to get into another argument with him. "Never mind. I would get it myself." I turned around and headed for the stairs.

I was aware that he remained where he stood, watching me walk upstairs and it failed to ease my mind, only left me with more questions than answers.

This was the most silent dinner I had ever had. I was sitting across him, playing with my food and sighing every now and then. The only sound you could hear was the sound of our utensils. Every time I wanted to say something, I found myself not knowing what to say altogether.

Until I said, fuck it.

"My mother left us when I was child," I found myself saying out of nowhere. "She just left us like that and it had just been me and my dad." Mason stopped eating but didn't say anything. Stiffening my spine and ignoring the sharp stab of pain, I added with calm, "I'm angry. I don't understand how a mother can abandon her child like that, how she could easily abandon her family. I grew up hating her and I still do. My dad raised me and I can't imagine losing him."

His eyebrows drew together over his eyes. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I want you to know me and to trust me, even though you find it hard to."

He almost looked like he wanted to snort at the idea of trusting a woman. "I can't ever trust a woman."

I huffed and leaned back against my chair, crossing my arms in my chest. "You know everyone is different, right? We are not all the same. You can't punish us for something someone did to you."

His gaze hardened and his features sharpened as he calmly replied, "I never said anyone did anything to me."

My heart hammered in my chest and I fought to stay calm. He was good at reading people. "I got that vibe from you," I quickly returned, hoping he wouldn't catch onto my lies. I almost let it slipped that I knew the reason why he hated women, the reason for the haunted look on his face and the harshness that sat on his face.

"Whatever, but at the end of the day, you're all the same. I trusted someone and I'm not about to do it again. I appreciate you trying to make me get to know you, but I don't want to know you," he said with great force. "I don't want you to know me. This marriage isn't real. You don't owe me anything. The best thing we can do is to get along without burying our noses into each other's business, and when the year is up, we can go our separate ways. Everyone would be happy," he ended in a detached, impersonal voice.

I stared at him blindly, only half hearing his words. "Right," I replied blankly.

"Unless that's not what you want?"

"It's what I want. I don't want anything more from you."

"Good, because you would only get hurt in the end." I looked down at my plate before a short laugh escaped my lips. "Something funny?"

I looked up at Mason to access his reaction. It was not the natively cold and suspicious face that I had expected. His eyes held curiosity. Several things came into me but recalled that I was going to try and be polite, I decided to tell him my truth.

"What do you like?"

"Why? So you could try and seduce me?"

"Is that what you think?" I asked with a chuckle and shook my head, sending my curly hair into disarray. "You're crazy, Mr. Campbell. You should have been a detective. You have the craziest theories."

He did snort this time around. "I'm above it."

"No, but it would be easier to hide the evidence of your crimes. But I guess you don't need to be one for that to happen. Do you have like an insider in the police?"

"My crimes."

I waved my hand in the air to emphasize. "Yes, you know...blackmail, threats and making people disappear. The daily normal activities that you so love to casually throw at people. From the short time I've known you, you've threatened me zillion times."

He pointed his fork at my plate. "Eat your damn food, Ms. Hart," he said sternly.

I grinned. "You mean Mrs. Campbell."

"You haven't earned my last name."

I batted my lashes. "You think I will?" I teased, my eyes glowing mockery of his fixation with me not being good enough for his name.

His mocking eyes rested on my face. "Not in a million years. You simply can not uphold the Campbell name, Lauren," he interjected softly. "You don't have it in you."

"And I don't want to. You Campbells are a bunch of uptight assholes that drive people crazy."

He was annoyed. Probably so annoyed that he wasn't aware of the words that came out of his mouth next. "Aren't you a Campbell?"

I squelched my shout of laughter, as well as the reply that automatically sprang to my lips. "Thought you said I wasn't?" I smirked, and I watched him open and close his mouth. "Hah! Made you speechless."

The beeping sound on my phone alerted me that I had gotten a text and I let out a tiny squeal when I read it.

"What is it?" he demanded.

"It's Athena. She got me an interview with a company," I explained, sending a quick gratitude text back to her.

"And why would she do that?"

I thought his surprise sprang from the lack of knowledge about how friends worked and what they did to each other. "It's what friends do." I shrugged.

"What company is it?" he asked in curiosity.

"Like I'm telling you," I replied, tipping my head to the side and wondering about his tone. "I won't have you mess it up for me."

"How do you suppose I will mess it up?"

"I don't know, Mason. You'd probably end up buying the company just so I wouldn't have to work."

"What would I gain by doing that?"

Mesmerized by the husky sound of his voice and the strange intensity in his eyes, I gulped. "What you've been gaining, I guess. Stop asking me something I don't know."

"You did say I would gain something, Lauren." There was a smile in his voice, but I could be imagining it.

I shifted in my seat and pinched the bridge of my nose. "Yes, I did."

A slow, reluctant smile tugged at his lips and he slowly shook his head. "I've no interest in doing what you're accusing me that I would do. I did promise to let you work, didn't I? I just asked because I was curious."

"Um, I can't tell you unless I get the job."

"If you do get the job, try to be a good employee to your boss. I've heard complaints from your last boss."

"My last boss was an asshole. Did he forget to mention that to you?" I uttered with narrowed eyes.

For a moment, he simply stared at me, his wineglass paused partway to his mouth, then he shook his head as if trying to clear it. "He was merely doing what he thought was right, but he did say he made a terrible decision when he hired you with your weak qualifications."

I stared blankly at him. "Oh? Did he also tell you that she's now doing a huge favor for him? Did he?" I demanded with arched brows.

His eyes were on a level with mine, gray and steady; his mouth just faintly quizzical. "Hmm. That sounded like it's one-sided. Are you sure you haven't left anything out?"

I stuffed my mouth with food so I wouldn't have to answer him. He smirked a little and raised his eyebrows, saying nothing.

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