Chapter One: Homecoming Revelations
Kelsey’s heart twisted at the sight of her mother in the hospital bed. A month ago, Eve Holland was full of life and had always seemed impervious to harm or illness.
Kelsey inhaled sharply and lifted a hand to brush sweat-soaked strands of hair out of her eyes, while she listened to the nurse explain her mother’s treatment plan.
The prognosis was dim. She had to prepare herself for the chance that her mother might be permanently brain damaged and need full-time care.
Kelsey nodded as the nurse spoke. She was lost in thought for a moment, before smiling back at the nurse who had finally stopped speaking and watched Kelsey expectantly.
“Thank you, that’s really well planned out,” she murmured awkwardly, as she looked down as a tiny hand grabbed hers.
Her daughter, Emilie, looked up at her mother with bright, wide hazel eyes sparkled brightly.
“I’m trying to get our home ready for her return. Your home care service has been very helpful with making the bathroom modifications.”
“Yes, well that is all part of the treatment plan, as I mentioned.”
The nurse was ready to launch into another detailed explanation.
Kelsey swiftly cut him off. “And I’m really grateful. Thanks again.”
She quickly bent down to pick up Emilie, and shouldered her sling bag. Kelsey glanced back at her mother, before leaving.
“What’s wrong with Mama?” Emilie asked, her head in the crook of Kelsey’s neck as they walked into the elevator.
“She’s sick, baby,” Kelsey whispered as she rested a soothing hand on the back of Emilie’s head. “We brought her here, so the clever doctors can make her better.”
As the elevator closed, someone in the corridor threw a muscled arm between the closing doors.
The second the owner of the arm stepped into the elevator, and towered above her, Kelsey stopped breathing.
Mason Flint, the eldest son of Carina and Alexander Flint, stood in front of her.
The population of White Hallows was a little over eight thousand people, and everyone knew one another. Kelsey wasn’t entirely sure why she thought she could avoid running into Mason.
She heard Mason’s sharp intake of breath, his eyes widening. “Kelsey.”
She still shivered when he said her name, even five years later. Mason swallowed almost convulsively as he examined her face, before stepping into the elevator.
Mason’s eyes had fallen to Emilie, and Kelsey watched the color drain from his face and went white. His eyes widened with shock. The sight of Kelsey with the little girl hit Mason right in the gut, and made his head spin.
It meant that, in the time that Kelsey had been living away from White Hallows, she had fallen in love and had a baby with someone else.
Mason would never admit it, but he had always dreamt he would’ve had that life with Kelsey. And, seeing that she had found love with someone else made him ill.
Seeing Kelsey after six years shocked him, but knowing that she had a family, a husband waiting for her, took his breath away.
Kelsey had done a very good job of hiding her daughter, and even though her mother had objected to the idea of keeping her granddaughter a secret.
She didn’t need anyone in White Hallows, and especially not anyone in the Flint family, to know she had a child.
A woman followed Mason into the elevator and stood possessively at his side.
“What are you doing here?” His voice was familiar, but slightly huskier.
“Well, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but my mom is ill. I’ve come back into town to take care of her.”
“Yeah, Izzy told me Ms. Holland was sick. I haven’t had any time to come around. Things have been pretty busy the past few years.”
“I’m sure they have,” she murmured.
Her heart thudded heavily and her stomach twisted. Kelsey was terrified.
She instinctively shifted Emilie to her other hip as far away from Mason as humanly possible in the small space.
“I heard about your dad. I’m sorry for your loss.”
She offered her condolences as sincerely as she could, but she was completely focused on getting out of the lift as quickly as she could.
“Thank you. It has been hard, but I managed.” Mason spoke quickly, the words tumbled off his tongue as he looked at Emilie and then back at Kelsey. “You have a daughter? Izzy never mentioned it.”
Kelsey exhaled, and tried to loosen her shoulders. “I never told Isobel. And I didn’t think it was important for anyone in White Hallows to know I had a daughter, especially since this isn’t really home for me anymore.”
Mason winced, and briefly looked down.
If Kelsey hadn’t known better she would have thought that her words had hurt him.
Emilie kicked her legs, she wanted her mother to put her down.
“But this is Emilie. She is five years old.”
Emilie smiled broadly at Mason. Her bright smile revealed the gap in her front teeth, from losing her baby teeth.
She bit down hard on her lower lip as she watched their interaction.
‘Something about Kelsey’s daughter was unsettling,’ was the only thought that came to mind when he saw the little girl.
She was beautiful and sweet, of course. She had inherited her mother’s honey blonde hair and delicate round face. But her eyes were hazel instead of brown and she had shockingly dark lashes and brows, with a charming little cleft chin.
When Mason looked down at the innocent, questioning face, he felt as though he was looking at someone he had known years ago, but couldn’t recall her name. The child was surrounded by the sweetest fragrance that Mason had ever detected, and he knew immediately it was the scent of his mate.
Kelsey and Emilie could only have been in White Hallows for a few days- how could they have come across his mate? As the lift stopped on each floor, the thought that Kelsey might be his mate did not leave his mind.
The beautiful woman with cyan blue eyes and a sharp, hard gaze next to Mason looked Kelsey up and down. Her hair was a light shade of blonde, almost silver under the fluorescent hospital lights, and was plaited elegantly away from her angular face.
“I’m Carletta, by the way,” she smirked, sticking out her hand.
Kelsey reluctantly took her hand. “Kelsey Holland.”
Kelsey shook Carletta’s hand quickly before pulling away to hold onto Emilie’s shoulder, using her daughter to anchor herself in the moment.
“It’s nice to meet you, Kelsey.” The sincerity in the woman’s words didn’t match the stinging acerbity in Carletta’s voice.
Kelsey wondered if she felt the tension between herself and Mason, and whether she noticed the resemblance between Mason and Emilie.
“Mason and I have just come from our obstetrician’s rooms. I’m almost four months along, although you wouldn’t notice it! Sorry, I’m babbling. I guess it’s the pregnancy- and I can’t help telling everyone.”
Kelsey forced herself to smile as she processed Carletta’s words.
Mason pulled away from Emilie when his girlfriend started speaking and placed his arm protectively around her waist.
He smiled broadly. “I’m going to be a dad! I’m hoping for a girl, although pretty much everyone else thinks it’s going to be a boy.”
Kelsey shook Mason’s hand, hoping her smile was sincere, and her eyes didn’t look glassy, as tears welled up.
“I’m really happy for you. You’re going to be a great dad!”
The lift finally reached the ground floor with a loud ding, and the doors slid open smoothly.
Kelsey hastily lifted Emilie onto her hip and went to the reception area.
Carletta stalked wordlessly out of the lift, while Mason lingered behind, before he walked over to the reception desk, not waiting for their encounter to end.
Kelsey’s bag fell as she tried to balance carrying Emilie and get her phone.
Mason bent to pick it up.
“Thank you,” she smiled at him.
“Uhm, could you look in there for a bag of Squeeze Fruit? I need to give her something to eat because we’ve already missed lunch.”
Mason handed her the small bag, which Emilie promptly took and opened.
“Let me take her. Then you go get what you need from the desk.”
Emilie leaned toward Mason and allowed him to take her from Kelsey’s arms without protest.
Kelsey reluctantly allowed Mason to take Emilie before she talked to the nurse.
The nurse at the desk smiled at the three of them. “Your little girl is so gorgeous! Well, I suppose that’s what happens since you both have amazing genes.” The nurse chuckled, glancing at Mason and Kelsey.
Mason smiled at the thought that they looked like a family, and didn’t correct the nurse. “You are too kind.”
Kelsey took an uncertain step back, feeling her cheeks burn.
“Kelsey, why don’t you get the information you need?” he prompted, as he saw her blush, uncertain how to react.
Carletta seethed as she watched their interaction. It didn’t take long before she stormed off and went to the car, not wanting to lose her temper in public.
After getting the updated visiting times from the nurse, Kelsey fumbled in her bags for her phone, hoping the taxi service would be available.
“Do you need a lift home?” he asked.
Startled, she took a quick step away from him.
In the six years that she had been gone, Mason had not changed much. His hair was still dark and curly, and he had let it grow out. His eyes seemed greener and were rimmed with thick black eyelashes. His tanned face was stronger, his jawline sharp and square, with the small cleft in his chin.
“Ahhh, I’m good, I’ll just wait for a taxi.”
“No, I insist. You must be exhausted, and this little one looks bushed. Besides, it’s rush hour now, so every taxi will be booked.”
Kelsey knew the combination of her exhaustion, the shock of her mother’s illness, and the stress of looking after Emilie had caused frustration, and grief to well up inside her.
But she also knew being around Mason, after years of avoiding him, of shielding Emilie from him had an impact on her current state.
She nodded reluctantly, adjusted Emilie on her hip, and followed him to his SUV.
Carletta was already inside by the time they got to the car.
On the drive to her mother’s house, Kelsey’s mind wandered back in time.
She remembered how the fateful evening was the best night of her life. She had memorized every detail of it and could conjure up an entire sensory experience of that night if she wanted to.
Kelsey had been in love with Mason for as long as she could remember. He was her best friend, Isobel’s, older brother, and she spent almost all her time at their house.
He was a year older than her, and they had gotten along as well as she did with Isobel. So when they fell into bed together, her heart had almost exploded with exhilaration, even though Mason was blackout drunk.
But, everything had changed a few hours later.
After they slept together, Kelsey had fallen asleep, but woke when she heard Mason moving around in the dark. Mason stumbled as she walked into the corner of the bed, and Kelsey sat up.
“Are you okay?” Her voice was soft in the darkness as she reached for Mason.
But he pulled away from her, and wrenched his hand from her touch.
“What the hell do you want from me?” His voice was raspy.
He glared at her with bloodshot, angry eyes.
“Who are you?” he continued, almost shouting. “Get out! Who do you think you are? Get out!”
She remembered the disgust on Mason’s face that night, her confusion about his response, and the heartbreak of his rejection.
Kelsey looked down at her daughter, hugged Emilie closer to her body, and vowed to make sure Mason never discovered that Emilie was his daughter.
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