"Oh my god!" Beth screamed, dropping the cup she was holding and the contents in it spilled to the ground. "Lauren! You're alive!" She launched herself at me, hugging me so tightly I could barely breathe. When she pulled back, I didn't expect her to start assaulting me with her hands. "You fucking bitch!"
"Ow, Beth! Stop hitting me!" I tried to slap her hands away, but she kept coming at me with no mercy. I think by the time I leave her, I would be sore.
"I'm going to kill you for scaring me!" she seemed to choke on her scream.
"I'm sorry!" I rushed out. "I really am sorry!"
She finally stopped hitting me and relaxed, wiping the tears away from her cheeks. I've missed her so damn much.
"I thought something happened to you. Where have you been?!"
"It's a long story." My voice was soft now, almost gentle as if I had to put some distance between myself and my memories.
"I bet it is! I saw your mum got arrested. How the fuck did that happen, and how long would she be in jail for?"
"You mean prison? And for a long time."
"Tell me everything." Beth sucked in a quiet breath, shocked at what I had just told her about being kidnapped by Mason, my parents not being my parents and Omens. "What? That's so messed up. How did you handle that?"
My face was pulled into a grimace of pain. "Honestly, I don't even know."
She glanced back at me and gave me a wry look that held a curious overtone of pain and guilt. When several moments had passed, she prompted me. "Are you sure you're okay? Emotionally? This is a big thing, Laurie. Everything you knew about your life and your husband was a lie."
Warily, I wondered if I was ever going to forget what had happened, or if I would still be able to talk about it without feeling sheer pain in my heart.
"I'm trying not to think about that. What would I gain by holding on to the past? I'm trying to move forward."
"It's good that you're trying to move forward, but seeing someone might help a bit."
"You mean a therapist?"
"Yeah, but I'm not saying you should go. It's just a suggestion. If you really want to move forward completely, you might want to talk about everything with a therapist."
My voice was strained when I retorted, "I'm not sure I want to expose Mason like that."
"You can always leave out a few minor details." I could see that Beth was still trying to grasp everything. "I can't believe all that happened with Ginny. It's like she's a completely different person from the one we knew before. How could she have done that to you?"
"I want to see her." I made up my mind.
"I want to visit her in prison. Beth, I know that's a bad idea–"
"Bloody yeah, it is!"
Stunned, she stared at me, almost as if she wasn't quite able to believe what I was saying, what she automatically assumed would be the last thing on my mind. "Mason would never let you do that."
I knew that. Without a doubt, he would fight me on this, and he would probably succeed. If he had me banned from seeing her, I would never be able to move on.
"He doesn't have to know. It's important that I see her if I want to forget about everything. I don't want anything to hold me back, especially her." It wasn't like me to give in to defeat, and the hold Ginny still had on me gave me a dull cast to my eyes, dulled my voice. "She still holds a piece of me. If I don't confront her one last time...." She had hurt me in more ways than one, and my mental and physical fatigue muted my voice.
Beth strived for an even tone.
"Okay." Briskly, she nodded without sounding pleased, but fiercely added, "But I will have to go with you and you can't change my mind."
"Fine." I watched her move around the kitchen nervously, pouring herself a cup of tea before she came back to sit on the stool next to me, blowing the steam as she tried to avoid looking at me.
She looked up, feigning innocence.
I rolled my eyes.
"Beth, I've known you for years and I know when you have something on your mind. Say it," I encouraged, getting a sinking feeling in my stomach.
"I'm not sure how you will take it."
"I've taken a lot of things concerning you well."
She gave me a tight-lipped smile. "I got promoted at work." My eyes widened. Feeling happy and proud, I went in to hug her when she added, "I'm going to manage the company in America. Laurie, I would have to move."
If I had been less shocked, I would have laughed aloud, but as it was, I sat frozen, staring at Beth as if this was the first moment I was seeing her. I sat very straight, very still, my expression calm, my eyes quiet and level.
"What do you mean you have to move to the US?"
"Yeah, I got the letter of promotion two days ago, but I haven't said anything yet. I wanted to wait until I talk to you first."
A hard knot of pain formed in my chest as my shoulders slumped. Breath was knocked out of me. I searched Beth's face for amusement, anything to convince me that it was all a big joke she wanted to play on me for worrying her. Her eyes were filled with nervousness, but I could not see any traces of amusement.
"Are you bluffing?"
"I'm not. It's just so unexpected–"
"And you want it?"
Sadness clung to her eyes.
"I don't want to leave you."
I hugged my arms to my chest.
"It's a good offer, Lauren. One of a kind. I can't guarantee that I would have this chance again in the future."
I half expected the ground to shake or collapse at her words, or the decision she had already seemed to have made. "Why would you need to leave London? If you want a good job, Mason can get you a job. He can give you any position you want. I will ask him. He will do it."
"Lauren," she quickly interrupted. And when she tried to add a smile to her words, her voice wobbled, "Thank you, but I can't take any job from him."
"I don't understand how you can just decide to leave me out of nowhere. Is this because I didn't tell you what was happening?"
"Of course, it's not that!" she cried.
"Well, you can't just leave your best friend and go to another country." I was breathing deeply, almost desperately, but my hands had unknotted, and now my fingers were twined with hers, holding her so tightly. "I need you here. I need you with me."
She grinned at that, then examined me with assessing green eyes. "Lauren." She grabbed both of my hands to her lap, peering down at me. "We have been friends for over ten years. Our places have always been beside each other. But you don't need me anymore. You have Mason. Your place is beside him. I need to find my own place too."
It hit me in my gut, but I couldn't be selfish to hold her back from finding her place in life. No matter how much I was going to miss her, I had to put her own happiness before mine. "And you're sure it's not here?" I already knew it wasn't, but it wouldn't hurt to try again.
"You will be fine. You've got Mason, Athena, and even Aaron."
I sighed, staring at my best friend. The only one who ever really got me until Mason. The only one who liked me in any form I came. "None of them are you," I admitted, solemnly.
"You're right." She shouldered me with a grin. "There's only one Beth Wallace in Lauren Hart's life."
A smile tipped my lips. "When are you leaving?" I asked the most dreaded question.
"You're okay with it?"
The light had already faded out of my eyes, and it was only the painful truth when I replied, "Well, I have to let you go, don't I? Let you find your own place or whatever since I have found mine. I'm going to bloody miss you."
Her features softened.
"We still have one week together. We have to make every second count."
Prince was happy to see me. He barked at me as he wagged his tail, and I patted him on the head before I removed my coat and trudged upstairs. The first thing I did was peeked my head inside Mason's room, finding it empty. I knew he was home because his car was outside and he wouldn't leave Prince alone at home.
My room was also empty, so I walked back downstairs, moving down the hall to check room after room. I finally found him in another living room that wasn't as big as the rest of the rooms were. I shook my head, unable to suppress a smile. Looking at him as he slept so peacefully on the sofa with his right arm placed over his eyes, a blanket draped over him and a pillow under his head made me confused as to why he would be sleeping here and not in his room.
I walked into the room and approached the sofa, putting my hand on his blanket-covered shoulder, feeling the warmth of his flesh even through the fabric. "Mason, wake up."
I didn't have to shake him. At my touch, my voice, he turned and dropped his arm down, tangling himself in the blanket, and his eyelids lifted to reveal pale, glittering irises. His soft smile greeted me. "Hey," he said with a raspy voice.
I ran my hand through his soft hair. "Have you been sleeping long?"
"Hmm." He heaved himself into a sitting position, raking his fingers through his hair before he rubbed his eyes. "Why do you smell like smoked Salmon?"
"Oh, yeah. Beth made it."
He arched a brow.
"And you didn't bring some for me?"
"I didn't know you would want to eat."
Mason didn't hesitate to give me a not so nice look.
"Why? Because you're the only one who eats?" he asked, sarcastically.
I couldn't help the chuckle that bubbled out. "You're even grumpier after a nap."
He reached out and caught my hand, his gaze on my radiant, laughing face. "It depends on the company. I can be cheery if I want to be." He slid back into a reclining position, closing his eyes, my hand still held loosely in his.
I shook his shoulder with my free hand. "Hey, you're not going back to sleep."
Without opening his eyes, he tugged on my hand, and I found myself on the couch with him, sprawled over him in a very intimate position. My eyes went big, and I began squirming in an effort to push my skirt down that had drawn all the way up, but my efforts were hampered because my feet had somehow became tangled in the blanket and I couldn't get my legs straight.
Mason sucked in his breath sharply, and his hand caught in my hair, holding me still. "Stay still," he muttered huskily, his fingers exerting just enough pressure to ease my head forward slowly, an inch at a time until he could put his mouth to mine. I quivered, my lips opening to his as his tongue entered lazily and explored the softness of my lips, the sensual curling of my tongue as it met his. His hand left my hair and moved down my back, searching out the slender curve of my spine.
I wound my arms around his neck, my hands clenching in his hair, meeting the open hunger of his kiss with my own. It was so sweet and good, and it was all I could ask of life, to be in his arms. I felt his hands on my body, experienced, calm hands, as they sleeked down my sides to the curve of my waist, then down to my hips. It left me reeling with pleasure, unable to rein in the hot sparks of desire that were shooting through my body.
I moaned aloud, and the sound was taken into his mouth. He began nibbling at my flesh, his teeth catching my lower lip, the curve of my jaw and the back of my ear. My breath was rushing in and out of my lungs, my heart racing out of control. The feel of him was driving me mad, and I wanted to sink down on him. Now, he was biting at my neck, his teeth stinging my skin; then he soothed it with tiny licks of his tongue. My hands had made fists in his hair, pulling at the thick, mane mindlessly. I wanted to give him everything, every part of me, blend the softness of my body with the hardness of his.
He groaned, and his hands tightened on my bum; then, he reluctantly withdrew his touch from my curves and pulled away from the kiss. "What? You won't let me sleep and you won't let me kiss you," he grumbled, easing me to one side.
"Are you really complaining?"
His teeth grazed my neck and then he rasped, into my ear, "I do have the right to complain, don't I?"
"I don't think you would even have the guts to complain about anything."
Mason had that gleam in his eyes when he tipped my head back to him. "I like to express myself when I feel a certain way, Lauren. When did it become a crime?" He stared into my eyes with a look that blazed through me.
"Um, excuse me? Since when?"
"I'm going back to sleep." With that, he closed his eyes and put his arm behind his head for support, and that only made his muscle bulged.
I stared at his face. "Mason, get up." I poked his side, but he was unresponsive. I propped my elbow and touched his eyes, then brushed my finger over his long lashes. "Are your lashes fake? Can you tell me where you got them? I'd like to buy some." Still, he chose to ignore me, and there was no way he was sleeping.
My finger skidded down his face, traced every angle and touched every crook and nook. He was so devastatingly beautiful. "Did you have plastic surgery? Were you an ugly child? Is that why there are no pictures of you as a child?" I joked, pouting when he refused to acknowledge me. Leaning down, I brushed my lips over his cheek and whispered, "Love you."
He snorted without opening his eyes.
"Is that suppose to shock me?"
"It was supposed to make you talk and it did."
His gray eyes were warm, and I could see dozens of brilliant lights shining in his irises. He squeezed me as he stared down at me, surveying the dazed smile on my lips. "You should have spent the night with Beth."
A dark cloud formed over my face when I remembered I only had one more week with Beth before she leaves. I was struggling to be okay with it, I really was, but this would be the first time since we have known each other that we would be a thousand miles away from each other.
I looked down at Mason's shirt to avoid looking into his eyes. "Yeah, I think I should have. We won't be seeing each other after a week," I mentioned, a little too choked up for my liking.
His grin turned into the best kind of sinister. "Is one of you dying? How very sad."
I hit him in the chest, but it felt like I hit a brick wall. "Don't be an asshole. She got promoted as a manager, but the company is in America."
His eyes were hooded and unreadable as he watched me, but his hand smoothed over my shoulder as if he couldn't prevent himself from touching me, his fingers heating my skin before sliding upward over my throat to cup my chin and lift my face. "Good for her," he told me, his breath deep and slow. "You must be feeling sad."
"Are you kidding? She's my best friend. I'm devastated."
"Are you sure? You don't actually sound like someone who is devastated."
I glared deeply at him, my hand going up to lie along his jawline, where his scruff tickled against my palm. "I hate you."
He chuckled, a husky, male sound that rippled over me like warm water. "Good. Can you remember that and let me sleep?"
"How can you sleep when your wife is sad?"
Not expecting him to sit up, his face turned serious. "Lauren, do you want to go live with her?" he asked, his voice taking an edge to it. I sat up and let the blanket fall to the ground. We were still sitting too close, but there was a sudden tension that I was the reason it existed. "I can visit you every weekend. I'm okay with that and it will work."
"Shut up," I said.
"Is that a no?" he asked, amusement rich in his deep voice.
"Go fuck yours–" He kissed me so long and deeply that I almost melted right there. Gripping my waist, he slides his lips to my neck as he nibbled on my neck before he pulled back to stare into my eyes.
"I'm serious about what I said, Lauren. We can make a long-distance relationship work. I won't be happy with you living so far away from me, but if it makes you happy, I'm willing to do it."
"Do you really think I'd leave you?" He didn't say anything to defend himself. "I'm just sad because Beth and I have never been apart, but it doesn't mean I would want to leave you alone and follow her. How many times do I have to say I'm not leaving you for you to get it?"
"I don't know," he replied, honestly. "Probably when the fear of you abandoning me leaves me?"
I didn't know what to say, and I didn't think he expected me to answer. Instead, I moved and settled my head on his chest, closing my arm over him. Mason wrapped his arm around my waist and placed his free hand on my head, tucking me into him. His heart was beating so fast, and so was mine.
I loved him so much. And he was mine. I wasn't leaving him. Not by a chance. Someday, I hoped he would get that.
I was sitting on a chair in front of a glass wall that looked like a booth, my legs shaking and my hands running loosely over my lap. There was a phone on the wall right next to me, and I couldn't really wait to get out of here. I didn't want to be here, but I had to. I was only able to come because Mason was at work and I had lied to him, telling him Beth and I were going out. It wasn't exactly a lie; I just left out quite a bit.
But if he knew I was here to meet Ginny, hell would break loose, but I would never let him know. I hated myself for doing this, for keeping this from him. Mason and I were trying to be honest with one another, yet I blatantly lied to him just so I could go meet Ginny in prison.
Walking into the prison entrance with Beth had made me felt anxious and scared, but I had been to hell and back, so this shouldn't have to scare me. None the less, I could not deny the sense of trouble twisting behind my eyes, the stinging sensation I felt prickling at my soul.
And there she was, being escorted in handcuffs to my booth, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Her blonde hair wasn't as shiny as it had been before and there were dark circles under her eyes. If she was surprised to see me, she didn't show it. She sat down and picked up the phone in front of her, raising a brow when I didn't move to pick mine. I just stared at her with conflicted emotions. When I got the courage to pick up the phone, I placed it in my ear.
"Lauren," she greeted with a small tilt in her mouth. "I would have thought Mason would have kept a tighter leash on you. Does he know you're here?"
I gripped the phone in my hand. "I didn't come here to talk about him."
"Of course, you didn't. You came here to see your mother."
"You're not my mother," I tried not to hiss but failed miserably. I knew all she would try to do was push my buttons. Maybe this was starting to be the worst thing I had ever thought of doing. "I came here to talk to you, so you would listen to me."
This time, her face lit up with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Are you here to tell me how much you hate me again, Lauren? I think I got that well when you chose him over me."
I chuckled humorlessly. "He didn't abandon me. He didn't try to hurt me. Mason didn't–"
"Kidnap you?" she offered in amusement. "What's the difference between what I did and what he did?"
"You're a murderer," I snarled ferociously. "And I'm glad dad isn't alive to see where you ended up. He only ever talked good about you." I chuckled and looked down at my lap briefly, looking back up at her. She wasn't smiling anymore, not that I expected her to. "Bloody hell, I've been lying to myself all along. I don't hate you. I'm not capable of hating you at all."
"It's because I'm your mother. I held you when you cried. I tucked you in bed. I made you lunch and helped you with your homework. You don't have it in yourself to hate me completely."
I did not recall ever doing it, but before I could stop myself, water began dripping from my eyes. "No." I shook my head, leaning towards her. The glass was the only thing that separated the two of us. "It's because you're nothing to me. You aren't even worth my hatred, Ginny, and as soon as I leave here, you would be nothing but ashes," I continued darkly, watching her face paled. "I won't think about you. I won't visit you while you rot here. When I leave here, I'm going to leave you with all the memories."
"You can't do that to me."
I ignored her pained and petrified voice. "I'm going to start a life with Mason, and you will not be part of it. My kids won't know your name and their kids won't know it either. I would completely erase you from my life, Ginny because that's what you deserve."
I got up because I didn't want to listen to her anymore. "I don't wish you peace. I wish you nothing but pain and terror. When you close your eyes, you would think about nothing, but what you've lost. And when you're on your death bed, you would feel nothing but the pain you've caused a lot of people."
Tears started to gather in her eyes that meant nothing to me. She was no one to me anymore. Just a memory that was fading. A past that no longer had any place in my future.
"This is the last time you would ever see me again. Goodbye, Ginny." She started to open her mouth to speak when I dropped the phone and turned around, not wishing to see her face again. I didn't wish to stay for any more second.
When I finally walked out of the prison and breathed in the clean air, I was surprised at what I was feeling. My heart didn't hurt anymore. My chest didn't feel heavy. It felt like this was the first time I was tasting freedom. It felt good. I almost wanted to cry.
I got inside the car and Beth watched my face for something. Probably waiting for me to have a breakdown. A bubble of laughter escaped my lips and I found myself breaking into hysterics.
"Eh, the fuck happened to you in there?" she asked, her voice laced with shock. "You're laughing. You shouldn't be laughing. Are you okay? Do we need to take you to see a doctor?"
"I...I'm fine. Actually, I feel more than fine," I admitted with a wide smile. "I'm elated." Looking away from her, I turned on the radio. "Can you start driving? I'm in the mood for a donut."
"You've gone mad," Beth said, as she started the engine.
I haven't gone mad. I was free.