It's been three months since I've been married to Mason Campbell, and in those three months, there were good and bad days. And I could proudly say I had gotten to this hard man and made him soft. Okay, maybe that's a lie. He was still as hard as a goddamn rock. But I made him my friend. Something I never thought would actually happen.
The house wasn't quiet anymore. Mason and I would both go to work, I would come back earlier than him and make dinner, then play with Prince. It seemed like the dog was loosening up to me, much like his owner. When Mason returns from work, we would have dinner and talk about everything. Sometimes, I would drag him to my room and we would watch a movie together. Now, it became like a tradition for us.
I was happy.
Everything was going perfectly. And my dad was getting better too. I had only gone to see him five times in three months because I was so busy with work.
It was the first week of December, and Mason was a lot busier than ever. I barely see him. When he comes home late, I would be sleeping and I really just wanted to spend time with him. I had gotten so closer to him and told him pretty much everything about me, although he barely opened up to me. It would take a lot for him to completely trust me.
Tonight, I was finishing up some work with Prince sleeping on the carpet when he walked in, looking so tired but still managed to look hot. His launch was in a month and he had been so busy and sleeping less every day.
"Hey," he greeted back.
"Do you want dinner?"
"I ate something at the office." He glanced at the stack of papers in front of me. "Working?"
I closed a file in front of me. "Yeah, but I'm almost done."
His expression was cool when he nodded. "It slipped my mind to tell you this, but we have a charity event tomorrow. We have to be there." He must have seen the look on my face, because he added, "Questions will be asked if I turned up alone, Lauren. And I can't miss it because this is my foundation. It's a big event."
A big event which meant all the snobs would be there. The socialites who thought they were better than everyone and whose only language was money. I was never going to fit there. God only knew what they would say about me. I really didn't want to go.
One glance from him robbed me of the inclination. "Okay."
When I told Beth about Mason's charity event, she had screamed in my ear. She was so excited about it because she couldn't wait to dress me up. I was capable of doing it myself, but she complained about my lack of fashion sense. Pfft.
Despite my disapproval, Mason was dead set on making me take his card when we went shopping. I kept reminding him he owed me nothing and he couldn't spend so much on me, but he had said it was a gift for putting up with him for three months. It was enough for Beth.
We went shopping and bought three dresses for myself and one for Beth for helping out, then went to the salon to get my hair done. By the time we were back, we still had four hours until the event.
Beth did my hair and makeup before she got an important call, stepping out to let me change. I didn't know which dress I was going to wear, so I laid out the three dresses on the bed, thinking of trying them all.
I tried on the green dress first. It wasn't really my favorite choice, but Beth had said it was a gorgeous dress, but when it was on my body, I looked so bad. I turned around to zip up when I screamed in fright, seeing Mason up against the wall, watching me.
A slow smile crept his lips. "That doesn't look good on you," he said, looking at me from head to toe. "I hope you have another choice."
I sighed and glared at him, taking the blue dress before marching to the bathroom to change into it. When I walked out three minutes later, I silently awaited his reaction.
"I think not," he drawled. "Either you're awfully bad at shopping or you picked it up in the dark. I can very well say I'm more talented than you in this area." He snorted. "And I don't even shop for women clothes."
My lips tightly compressed, I thrust the blue dress his way and grabbed the last one from the bed. This had to be the dress, or I wouldn't know what to do with my life. Not a second after I walked out in it, he disdained the choice as too girlish. My annoyance began to stir.
He walked deeper into my room and grab Beth's shopping bag, drawing out her silver dress and throwing it to my arms.
"That's Beth's," I said, throwing it back at him. No way was I going to wear Beth's dress. Our choices were slightly different. It was made for her, not me. Mason had no idea that women didn't choose their dresses, the dresses choose the women.
He threw it right back. "Doesn't matter. Go try it on."
A devilish brow rose. "That's alright. I can do it myself. I have two working hands."
"You wouldn't!" He arched his brows as if to say 'do you want to try me?'. I groaned and stalked to change into Beth's dress. She would be pissed if she finds me in it. She had been elated when she first saw it.
I emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later. He didn't have to tell me that I looked amazing, because I did. Silver was such a good color on me, I have known that for years. But the bedroom was empty when I walked out. I scratched my head, wondering if I had actually imagined seeing him in my room, or if he had been actually there. Then, where was he?
I stared at myself in the mirror. The dress was made up of tulle and rhinestones. The neckline formed a deep low V both front and back, and a split in the front, showing off my right long leg. I was a bit heavier than Beth, so it hugged my body so tightly. My hair was already flattened and I tucked it behind my ears, not a strand of hair out of place and let it fall down my back.
Adding the final touches, I grabbed my purse and walked out of the room. I descended down the stairs, and when I reached the last step, Mason walked in.
Our eyes locked.
My heart thumping wildly, I stood still like a statue. His gaze raked me from head to toe and back again. His inspection was so long and so thorough I wondered if I looked as bad as I thought I didn't. I would actually have a breakdown if he criticized it.
When his eyes settled on my face, he held my stare for what felt like an eternity. I really had no concept of how long it was because my senses had begun to betray me. Mouth dry, vision tunneled, I felt every nerve in my body reacting to his presence.
And Mason...hot damn.
I had seen him wear suits before, but I had never seen him in a tux. He looked sharp. He looked like a billion dollar man. But he actually was. He looked so absolutely attractive that there was no doubt that he would be the center of attention tonight.
I didn't realize I had sighed dreamily just looking at him, his eyes that were sparkling brighter and his hair that was pushed back. He was so hot.
I didn't realize when he had walked up to me until he offered me his arm. "You will do," he announced.
Snorting, I took his arm and retorted sarcastically, "Sure I shouldn't turn around for you to see more?"
He smirked. "I think it will be fine."
The Royal Rosewood was ablaze with lights, both inside and out. I watched as long line of cars waiting to drop off guests slowly inched forward and realized our car was next. Now that the time drew near, I was freaking out to death.
I will be fine.
I inhaled and exhaled a few deep breaths to calm myself down. Our car stopped, and a heavy knot of apprehension weighted my stomach. Mason stepped out of the car before I followed after, suddenly blinded by the flashes of camera everywhere.
My chest closed off and I felt like I was going to faint any time soon before he appeared in front of me, taking my cold hand in his.
"Smile and relax," he whispered in my ear. To onlookers, they would think he was giving me a kiss on the cheek.
"Oh, as if that's going to do the job," I whispered back as he chuckled, squeezing me slightly without hurting me. "Remind me never to come to you for a pep talk."
His lips turned up at the corners, unable to help himself. I was glad he was finding humor in this.
"Shall we go, or do you intend to stay here all night?"
He took my sigh as a response, helping me walk down the long red carpet. The flashes of cameras didn't hurt like last time, because I wasn't looking directly at them. I could hear the paparazzi yelling our names, asking us to stop to take a picture and answer a few questions.
But we never did.
All too soon we stopped before the wide doors. A heavy knot of apprehension weighted my stomach, but Mason squeezed my hand in support and led us inside the ballroom. The scent of perfumes and colognes mingled with the scent of flowers. Laughter and voices floated everywhere.
Panic swept over me at the number of people, all dressed elegantly and screaming money. I began to quake, both inside and out. And for the first time, I realized what I was about to do; play the part of a loving wife, convinced these smart people that we were anything but in love.
I looked out across the strangers, but none were familiar and I was totally unaware that I pressed close to Mason's side, needing some sort of protection. I was being ridiculous, I knew that, but these people were not my people. They hunt and they liked to bite. If you're not careful, you'd be caught up in their net. And when you do get caught, they play with you before they go in for the kill.
"You're freaking out, aren't you?" He tucked my hand gingerly into his elbow. "Smile, love," he said under his breath.
"Easy for you to say. I feel like I'm a mouse caught in a trap, and for some reason, I feel so uneasy."
"You will be fine, Lauren." Even as he spoke, he stepped forward and it was the sheer force of his will that kept me upright.
So many introductions quickly followed. I realized how respected Mason was and how much these people looked up to him, adored him, and how he commanded their attention. They looked up to him as a leader, which was weird as hell, because some of them were older and wiser than him.
I had never doubted that he was powerful, but experiencing it first hand, seeing a lot of people eager to please him, sang his praises, and him commanding men with more authority, it was overwhelming. Suddenly, him being arrogant and demanding was excused. These people shaped him to be just that.
When you've too much power, you believe yourself to be God.
And Mason believed himself to be God.
I grew tired of the introductions and began to feel dizzy as one face blurred into another. If Beth could see me right now, could hear the appropriate responses from me, she would burst into tears and then demand to know why I was wearing her best friend's face.
A handsome man, not older than my dad clapped Mason on the back. "Mason, I believe you haven't introduced me to your wife. I felt quite betrayed when I didn't receive an invitation. She is quite the beauty."
Mason's smile was cool. "Love, this is Jameson Thomas, one of my oldest clients and his wife, Rosemary." He pulled me close to him. "And this is my wife, Lauren."
I inclined my head in greeting, smiling at the man and woman. They seemed like a nice couple. "It's lovely to meet you," I said, then apologized, "I'm sorry you weren't invited to the wedding, but I would make sure to invite you to dinner sometime."
Jameson nodded in approval, his smile devilishly handsome. He spared Mason a glance, teasing, "How on earth did you get so lucky? I always thought you'd die alone, Campbell."
I laughed, but none of them knew why I was truly laughing. "He still can," I muttered under my breath and Mason must have heard what I said because he glared at me. Tilting my chin up, I graced him with a pleasant smile.
"Can I steal your husband for a minute, Lauren? Rosemary will keep you company in the meantime."
Throwing a panicked look at Mason, who ignored me and walked away with Jameson, I turned to Rosemary, feeling so awkward and out of place. What do I say? What do we have in common? I hoped my mouth wouldn't blurt out anything stupid.
Rosemary guided us to a table, not an empty one, but only three women were sitting on it and they were engrossed in their conversation to care about us. From where we sat, I could see Mason talking with six other men, his posture stiff and guarded, ushering the waiters away every time they offered a drink to him.
But every so often, he would look around the ballroom, as if he was looking for something and he ended up finding my eyes instead like he was pulled to me. The butterflies were there. Strong as ever.
And when I wasn't looking at him, I would feel his eyes on me, stripping me bare. I hated being under his scrutiny, one so intense and dark, one so cold and dangerous.
The way he was standing in the group of men, he sticks out. The way he carried himself. Intensely. Sometimes, he would be just silent and watching. All brooding and bored. He really looked good in the tux. His shoulders looked massive and his entire body seemed to be bursting out of his clothes. No wonder all the women kept giving him more than two glances.
I didn't blame them.
It was not long before I heard Rosemary's voice, "You two make a fine couple. I hope it lasts. Nowadays, not a lot of marriages work out, dear." She tipped her glass and sipped on it. "You either fall out of love, or the extramarital affair." She placed her other hand on my own. "I hope you have trust. Trust is the most important aspect of marriage."
"We do," I assured blankly. "And I don't think I have to worry about any other woman." Because we are not in love with each other. Because our marriage is fake. Our vows meant nothing.
"Of course not, dear. He's got eyes on you and you alone," she ended while glancing at where Mason stood with a chuckle as if she had seen the few exchanges I had with him. Which made me blush for no absolute reason.
For a split second, all thought deserted me and I could not think what to do or say. How do I begin to respond to that?
"Do you plan to have children?"
Her question made me choke on my spit and I shot her an alarming look. "Um..I..." I stammered, not knowing what to say. Maybe I should be honest. It wouldn't hurt to be honest. "Mason and I have not talked about it." See, truth. A truth that wouldn't get me in trouble.
Rosemary nodded in understanding. "James and I don't really like kids, so we never planned to have any. We are both lucky to marry each other. I can tell you would want to have kids someday. Does Mason want them?"
One, if I was going to have kids, it wouldn't be with him. And two, I wasn't sure kids were in Mason's life goals. He wasn't the sort of man who would want to have his life ruined by having little him running around the house. He barely knew how to control his anger, and kids were a bit handful. So, Mason and kids didn't go in the same sentence.
But I didn't tell her that.
"Who wouldn't want kids?" I cajoled, laughing a little.
"Definitely not the man you're married to," a female voice from behind spoke up. Rosemary and I turned our heads around to the women that were talking with each other earlier, who were now interested in our conversation.
The woman who had spoken was watching me. Well, more like assessing me. She looked like one of those girls who belonged in the cover of Vogue. The lot of them did. They were beautiful and classy, a no match for me. Not that I cared. But I cared enough to know why she thought she could make that comment. As if she knew something I didn't.
"And what do you mean by that?" I challenged, knowing damn well that her words were true, but there was no way I was going to let her know that. For all I knew, she could have just guessed.
Her face screamed challenge accepted. She used her manicured hand to move her dark hair out of her face, revealing nothing but more sharp cheekbones. Her lashes were long, her blues eyes bright and shiny.
"I know him," she stated firmly, not giving up more but commanding me to accept it.
"You know him because you've seen him around, or you know him because you've worked for him or read about him in the papers?" If I didn't know Mason hated women, I would have said this woman was his ex-girlfriend. She was certainly acting like an ex, all boasting about him in order to make the wife feel threatened.
"No, silly. I know him because I'm friends with his sister. We all are." Her other friends nodded their heads as if she controlled the remote that operated them.
She was annoyed by my response and her eyebrows drew together. "So, I know the kind of man he is, and he doesn't scream fatherly type."
"Oh, and because you're friends with his sister you think you know him?" I snapped in defense of him. "I know him enough to know he won't give you a second glance. Or a first one. Don't assume anything from afar. Unless he has a tattoo on his forehead that says everything about him, don't run your mouth."
She glared darkly at me. "Do you even know who you're speaking to?" she asked with malice.
Her tone was so imperious. It prodded my temper, just as it had from her first comment. She needed a good slap to bring her down a peg, and every instinct cried out for me to deliver it. I didn't. Instead, I turned my head with parting words, "Unless you sign my paycheck, I don't care who you are, lady."
"You may not care right now, but you will."
Apparently, she won't let me have the last word.
But what really made my stomach knot was her tone that danced with a hidden message. I felt that same unease I had felt before, clawing through me and making root. I turned around to demand what she meant by that because she had me scared, and it had nothing to do with Mason. But she was already up on her feet and walking away from the table.
All I could think about were her words, and how delighted she had sounded. In a bad kind of a way. In a way that made me want to crawl to a corner and hide.
And something tells me that the night was not going to end well for me.