I woke up with a throbbing headache and found that I couldn't move at all. I couldn't get my hands to rub my forehead, because they were bound. And that was the moment my vision cleared and I realized that I was in a chair, my hands and legs were tied together, and my mouth was covered with duct tape.
Panic seized me in a hold. Fright consumed every cell in my body, swelling them with terror. I tried to wiggle around, but I couldn't move. I looked around the empty warehouse, seeing nothing but the single chair I was in and no one in sight. My heart started to beat harder and faster, adrenaline levels rising and the fear sat on me, cutting off my breathing.
I didn't understand. I didn't know what was happening.
All I could remember was trying to enter a taxi and that was it. But I had to be hit in the head and that could only be the reason why I woke up with a throbbing headache.
I didn't dare let panic hold me. I tried to breathe through my nose, tried to calm myself down. I knew Mason would find me, and that assurance was the only thing not letting me have a panic attack.
Soft shoes clicked and echoed in the warehouse, and I didn't have to wonder for long when she came into view as she started walking closer to me. My eyes widened in shock and breathlessly, I watched my mother approached me in a red suit and heels, wearing a big smile. But there was something different about this smile. Something sinister. It didn't sit well with me.
She didn't speak but tore off the duct tape from my mouth. I licked my lips before I stared into her eyes, confusion, anger, and pain all laced into one look. She moved back up a bit, crossing her arms and stared at me like she was seeing me for the first time.
"Mum, why?" I didn't register how it came out as a whisper, because everything inside me had gone cold. It felt like the moment I found out that she had left us and wasn't coming back. Every part of me went into pause while my thought caught up. I had been wrapped up in confusion, struggling to know the reason why I was here.
The reason why my mother had kidnapped me, her own child. I knew she was capable of anything, but I never thought she would stoop down this low. I never thought she would spit on the relationship we shared, a bond that was supposed to be strong with love. Mothers were supposed to protect, not harm.
Her face twisted into a harsh look, the smile on her face finally cracked as she narrowed her eyes at me. "I'm not your mother," she spat out with venom, her tone burning with hatred.
"I'm not your mother, Lauren," she answered, full of disdain. "and neither was Vincent your father. We are not your parents." I didn't miss the contempt in her voice when she said "Parents", and for the second time I found myself paralyzed in the chair, as I tried to remember how to breathe, how to speak, and when I was able to get myself out of the shock, my eyes glistened and my face contorted into a pained look.
"That's not true." And yet, there was no reason why she would lie to me, even though I shouldn't believe her, but a part of knew it was true.
I took in the sight of Ginny's sympathetic look that only lasted for a few seconds. "There is no reason why I have to keep pretending to be your mother, Lauren."
"You haven't been my mother for a long time! But you don't get to say that dad isn't my father." My voice choked up and tension-filled my entire body.
"But it is the truth, sweetheart. The truth we have never revealed to you," she said lowly, moving closer to me, as she lifted a finger and brushed it across my cheek. "You're not our daughter, and that's the reason why you're here. So you can finally know. I'm only waiting for the one who pulled all the strings." A smile pulled off at the corner of her lips before Ginny took a step back and turned when several footsteps began to echo in the warehouse. "Ah, speak of the devil and he shall appear."
I turned my head around so fast, and suddenly walking toward me, every inch of him beautiful, fierce and striking was Mason. He looked mad. His body raged. He looked like the devil you wouldn't mind being entangled with. It looked like a dark cloud of shadow had loomed over his face, almost as if it compliments his sharp, murderous gaze, clenched jaw and harsh lines.
Sitting here, I felt like the dangerous one was more Mason than Ginny.
I didn't know why, but I was suddenly scared. Maybe of him, or the truth that I was about to know. The truth Mason had hidden from me, and suddenly, it didn't seem like it was something I wanted to hear.
His mean eyes left mine to Ginny, and they shared a heated gaze that was full of animosity, and it took me completely off guard by the hostility. Mason's head bounced back to mine as he searched my face, my eyes, and my body. His face didn't change. His body language was stiff. He was trying to control his anger. He knew that it wouldn't help us both. He knew I would want him calm.
"Lauren, are you okay? You're not–"
"She's fine," Ginny cut off abruptly with a snort, then a smirk found its way to her face. Keeping his gaze, she added firmly, "You know I wouldn't hurt your asset, Mason."
A frown appeared on my face and I struggled to keep myself from panicking. From letting fear control over me. "His asset? What are you talking about?" I looked away from her smiling face and back at him. "What is she talking about, Mason?" There was a mix of confusion and unease in my tone.
But he didn't look at me, didn't acknowledge me. He grounded his teeth, his jaw was clenched as he focused all his hatred on Ginny alone. "You don't have any idea what you're doing," he warned.
"Me? I'm only doing the right thing here. I think you're the one not doing the right thing. How can you keep hiding the reason why she's here? The reason why you married her?" she flings the words like stones at him, then glanced derisively at me. "Or the reason you kidnapped her from her real father."
My head sharply turned to him.
"You, what?" My organs halted in pure shock and horror, clenching my lips to keep myself steady. I met his gaze and despise ran through me at the blank look in his eyes.
It didn't take more than three seconds to look away when I started to breathe heavily, when my heart started to clench and hurt like someone had a tight grip on my heart. It was then I knew Ginny was telling the truth. She was not my mother. Vincent was not my dad. And Mason, the man I loved was the one who had kidnapped me from my real parents.
Tears brimmed in my eyes and I closed my eyes shut to prevent them from escaping. It was the only thing stopping me from screaming.
"Oh, don't be so angry with him, sweetheart. He did you a solid. Your father is not the kind of man you would want to have in your life. Picture this: if Satan had a child, it would be your father."
I shook my head as tears spilled down my eyes. "No...it's not true. I don't believe you. Mason, tell me it isn't true." He didn't look at me, but I knew he was listening. It could be guilt that was stopping him from looking at me, even though he heard me choking and pleading, he didn't look my way or answered me.
One of Ginny's men brought another chair and set it beside me. He backed up and flashed the gun for me to see as if he was itching to put a bullet into skull. I didn't squirm in my chair. I didn't feel fear.
"No, I think what he should do is sit down and let me narrate you a good story, Lauren, and then you can figure out what to do next–if you have the guts to stay with your kidnapper." She jabbed her finger at the empty chair, raising her eyebrows suggestively at Mason.
"Ginny, don't have to do this. You know what you'd be getting into if you do this."
She didn't blink, didn't waver at his threat. She was well determined to do this, and nothing he said was going to stop her. "Sit down," she ordered, and Mason closed the distance and sat down on the chair, and when he did, our arms brushed against one another and I sucked in a breath.
Ginny began to pace around us, each step she took steady and firm. "You know, Lauren, before you came to live with Vincent and me, I was pregnant. It was a baby boy. Even though I wasn't happy with Vincent, I was happy to have a child. But at the same time, I didn't want to bring it into the world when I had nothing. I wanted Archie to have everything I didn't have." She paused on her feet and a haunted look crossed her face. It was pain that was written, and I never thought something was capable of hurting her.
A lone tear falls down her eyes and she wiped it away, turning to us. "And that was when I met your husband. He was just seventeen years old, but he was more wicked and smart than any adult I knew then. I wanted money, and a friend of mine hooked me up with Mason. Do you know what your dear husband did then? He worked for your father–your real father." Her laughter was deep, dark, and awful.
My jaw went slack and my eyes widened. Nausea roiled up my chest. Beside me, Mason stiffened, but he still wouldn't look at me. I wanted to scream 'Look at me', but even my vocal cords were not ready for that. There were so many things I wanted to ask. Why? But I knew no amount of why, no amount of screaming and crying would stop the pain I was feeling. Like someone had shoved a knife in my heart and twisted it.
Ginny didn't care that she was hurting me as she continued, spitting out words contemptuously, "Of course, I thought my friend played a joke on me because there was no way a teenager would be part of Omens, a network that is run by your father, Anthony Brown." She faced me and questioned, "Do you know what they do?"
"Ginny...." Mason trailed off, his voice hard and malicious.
She waved him off with a cackle. "Oh, don't stop me from telling her. We're almost getting to the good parts." Her intent gaze was focused on me when she dug the knife even deeper, "Omens is one of the most wanted groups in the country, and there are best known for human trafficking and kidnapping children."
The breath was knocked out of me. The colour drained from my face as terror flashed in my eyes, and I pinned Mason with a frosty look. "You are part of them?" I questioned in disbelief, my lower lips trembling and sweat beaded my forehead.
A vein almost popped out in his neck and he glowered at nothing. "Was. And I didn't know what they were doing, Lauren. I didn't ask them who those kids were when I was being asked to give them food and made sure no one attempted to run away." He lowered his head, and his chest rose and fell with rapid breaths, blowing out his cheeks. "I was a stupid, neglected kid who wanted to feel something, so I thought joining Omens was exciting and my life would have meaning–"
"Hey!" Ginny thundered in our faces, and I flinched back while he glared at her. "I'm telling the story here. Unless you don't want me to start breaking her fingers, you'd let me continue." She moved to touch me to rile Mason up, and riled him did she, because his lips drew back in a snarl and his eyes flashed.
"If you lay a hand on her, I'll kill you."
A muscle twitched in her jaw before she plastered a robotic smile. "You should save that energy for later when you try to convince Lauren to stay with you."
A line etched between my brow before I cast Mason a glance, and he looked back at me. His eyes were just the same. His warmth was familiar, and I didn't feel like I didn't know him. There was no way to still my erratic pulse, or my mind from spinning. Mason didn't break the stare and he wasn't putting up a wall over him. He was looking at me as if to say 'See me' and not Ginny's words.
I sat motionless for a moment, blank, wavering, and very baffled. Shock ran through me at the intensity of his stare. Looking away, I tried to breathe calmly, and Ginny didn't stop there, though, not allowing me any time to recover before she was spewing more malice through gritted teeth.
"As I was saying, I met with Mason, one of your father's most trusted, and laid it out to him that I wanted to join Omens, but it wasn't easy to join them, but since I gave them no reason to doubt me, I was officiated into the network and I got a partner. We were only meant to play house with the kidnapped children until they get taken from us, and before you knew it, I got greedy. The money was coming in, but I wanted more. So, I got my own side job–I started to kidnap children and asked their parents for ransom, but Omens found out about it and were angry. I still think you did that, Mason."
"I don't care what you believe or what you don't believe. You got into your mess alone and you paid for it." His voice simmered with anger.
"Oh, yes I did. I was lucky enough not to be killed, but I was also removed and kicked out of the network. The stress took a lot from me and I ended up losing my baby. I lost Archie." She gripped her blazer and her lips thinned. "It was so hard, but I was still able to move past it. I came to your husband for help. Begged him to help me get back into the network and he said he would, but in return, I help him with a small thing. He wanted to get out of Omens, but the problem was, you don't get into it and get out of it alive unless they let you go, and Mason was determined to leave. He confronted Anthony first, who told him that if he left them, the only ones who would suffer would be him, his family, and anyone that had ever talked with him. Your husband may be powerful, Lauren, but your birth father is more powerful than him."
"And of course, your smart, devious husband thought the best way to get away from your father was if he took his daughter away from him. He knew Anthony would not want to put you in harm's way because you were his only child and your mother died in childbirth. And you were just eight years old; you were so traumatized that you didn't remember anything."
Bitterness filled my mouth and a wave of nausea hit me again. My pulse slammed in my neck and my brain exploded with fury. How could Mason have done that? How could he steal me from my birth father? I wanted to hate him. I desperately wanted to, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't find it in my heart to hate someone who gave me Vincent Hart, the man that I considered my father. And without Mason, I wouldn't have met Beth.
I couldn't hate him, because I was tired. I was tired of feeling like this. I was tired of all this anger, this pain and hate, I was tired of it all. Ginny did this so she could break what Mason and I had, but I wasn't going to let her. I had already been a fool once, I wasn't going to fall down that path again. Whatever Mason did, that was in the past.
"After taking you, he needed my help. He wanted me to keep you for a little while and he promised to pay me for it—a spot back into Omens and a lot of money, but mind you, I hadn't considered how a teenager could get that amount."
"So you went behind me and talked to my brother. Tom had nothing to do with it and you told him about Omens and Lauren. If it hadn't been for you, we wouldn't have had an argument and he wouldn't have met with an accident."
I gasped and the pit of my stomach fell. Mason's brother, Tom met with an accident because of Ginny? Mason had lived with guilt over his brother for years because of her. Every muscle in my body tensed as it locked up with rage.
"And if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't have kept Lauren and pretended to be her mother," Ginny returned icily. "I had to lie to Vincent and told him she was my sister's daughter who had passed away, and he took her in, brought her up as his daughter." A finger pointed at him, she accused, "You were the one who had not come through with your promises, Mason. You didn't help me get back into Omens and you didn't give me money for keeping Lauren with me."
Evil lurked in her eyes as she studied me with shining eyes. "Do you know what I did, sweet Lauren? I took you and hid you from him. I thought, If he wouldn't keep his promises to me, why would I keep mine?" She had the nerve to laugh at that, her eyes vicious and alight with fiendish amusement. I wanted her to choke because I hated her. Now that I knew she wasn't my mother, not that she had ever been, I could hate her without the guilt.
"I refused to give up your location and I guess it took him years before he found you. I would take responsibility for that. If I hadn't left you and Vincent, he wouldn't have found you, and there was no way he would have saved himself. But he didn't marry you to acquire any property from his grandfather."
I struggled to keep my expression blank and showed her how unconcerned I was, but it was so hard to keep still. I felt like slow poison was running through my veins as I squeezed my eyes shut, loathing and rage seizing my insides. No money. He lied to me. He had only ever lied to me.
"He married you to save himself. Anthony would have gotten you back if Mason hadn't married you, and if your father had hurt the people Mason cared about, your husband would have done anything to prove that you are part of your father's network and you would be in prison for it. But your father can't touch him or anyone he loves now, because Mason has you in his permanent hold."
Ginny arched a brow. "Clever your husband is, right? I'm so sorry that you thought everything he did was for you, and even if Vincent hadn't fallen sick, he would still have found a way to marry you. Mason Campbell only cares about himself."
And I could see that she trying to get into my head; I realized that it was all she had left at this point, but that didn't mean her words weren't reaching something buried deep insides and squeezing at it until it was difficult to breathe.
I rebuild my resolve, slotting the bricks of my wall that she had knocked loose back into place and steadied my voice before I ground out, "Stop."
Deciding to intervene, Mason was up on his feet as he loomed over her, his height and muscled body like a blanket over Ginny's frame. My mouth went dry. I thought he was going to do something stupid, like harm her, but he didn't do anything and I applauded his self-control.
There was a world of bitterness in his voice when he said, "Are you done, or do you need another few minutes? Perhaps you should let Lauren go, now that you got what you wanted. You wanted to expose me in front of her, didn't you? Now you let her walk away unharmed."
"Think about what will happen if you hurt her. I'm not the only one that will come after you." A tense silence lengthened between them. "Untie her right now." An indecipherable emotion flickered across Mason's expression before he was making two swift strides in order to close the distance between us, standing protectively beside me, and she must have wordlessly given him a go-ahead because he started to untie the ropes in my legs before he moved to my hands.
When I was free, I didn't have time to rub my throbbing wrist before I was hurled into his broad chest and arms wrapped around my neck. His scent engulfed me, soothing me, and instead of the disgust and hate that I thought I would find, I found myself relieved. It didn't make any sense, but nothing had ever made sense. I squeezed my eyes shut, the tears I had been restraining threatening to spill over.
But then, Mason was wiping the tears from my cheeks and his gaze was flickering across my features as his eyebrows pinched together in concern and hell if that didn't make the knot in my chest tightened even further. I clung helplessly to those dark-lashed, achingly familiar gray eyes.
"I won't let anything happen to you, Lauren," he promised in a whisper, rubbing my cheek with his thumb. My pulse spun with confused disbelief. A war of emotions raged within me as strange and disquieting thoughts raced through my mind, clenching around my heart. How could he be so gentle and caring when he had done all of that to me? To himself? Worked with people that caused families pain?
"Mason," I choked up, wanting to say 'I forgive you', that none of it mattered. Not even if he had used me to save himself. In the end, love conquered. We were married, we loved each other. It would have been brutal if I didn't know he loved me.
He grabbed the sides of my head with his hands and pulled me to him, with my forehead against his as he shut his eyes. "I'm sorry. Don't leave me. Please." A ball of pain gathered at my throat and I could barely stand it. A powerful emotion zipped through my body, settling like a burning bolt of light in my brain.
He opened his eyes, and he was just so beautiful, even with the pain that was reflecting in his eyes, and I wanted to kiss him senselessly and tell him that I loved him, but at this moment, I didn't think he would trust my words. Not when every secret he had ever hidden from me was bared to me. I didn't think he was sure I would hold onto his hand.
And so I did. I pulled one of his hands to his sides and interlaced my fingers with his, licking my lower lip as I looked at the ground for a second, and when I looked up, I smiled through my tears, hoping he would get the message that it was okay. We were fine.
Mason wrapped his arm around my neck while his other hand was laced with my fingers, pulling me into his sides protectively; we both turned around to face Ginny and she looked livid. This wasn't what she wanted. She wanted me to hate Mason. She wanted me to push him away, but I was done letting my emotions rule me. I was done letting it control me. I was going to do what my heart wanted, and it loved Mason. It wanted to be with him.
"That was such a cute display of affection, I was moved by it. But I'm sorry to say that you're not leaving so soon, Mason."
A shadow of alarm touched my expression. With a sinking gut, I moved my gaze to him, and I couldn't shake the feeling of complete and utter fear in my heart for Mason.
"What do you want from him?" I looked meaningfully at her face.
"I want to take away his kingdom," she answered simply.
My stomach clenched and a frown pinched into my face. "You can't do that." I felt a wave of nauseous coming on; she wanted to take away everything Mason had? Was that it?
One of her men shifted and walked over to Ginny, handing her some papers. "I had my lawyer pulled this up for you, Mason. You know what this is?" She waved the papers in the air. "You're going to give me everything you have. Every single thing or you stand to lose Lauren, forever this time. What do you say, Mason Campbell? Your wife, or your kingdom?" she spat at him, her voice full of resentment, and it was enough to make me falter at the familiarity of her words. I am here to collect a debt that I'm owed.
My stomach dropped and I blanched.
Hi, I think at some point I might have mentioned Mason and Lauren's ages? Ignore that. Here's the accurate one:
Lauren: Age 24
Mason: Age 33