Mason gestured towards my office with wry smile. “Perhaps we should discuss.”
I glowered but accepted his invitation, stomping all the way to my office and throwing the door open with heroic force. Is Zoe just feigning innocence? Is he stalking me? Maybe Connor tipped him off?
The only answers I could dig up would lead him to a cold, hard rejection and me to a stag fundraiser. I walked to the middle of the office, turned around, and crossed my arms over my chest. Mason stopped a few feet from me and raised his eyebrows.
“Well?” I asked.
“Well…what?” Mason responded.
I threw my hands up in frustration. “Aren’t you going to explain?”
He looked at me curiously. “I thought you were going to explain.”
“Explain what, exactly?”
“Well, for one, why you’re so pissed off. It appears all I have to do is enter the room to send smoke out your ears.”
“That tends to happen when people stalk me.”
He laughed heartily. “Stalk you? Sorry, sweetheart, that’s not my game. I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t invited me.”
I stared blankly. What on earth is he talking about? I hadn’t so much as sent a telepathic message to him since…Then it hit me. Shit. Is this for real?
I bowed my head. “You work for Cultivated Connections…”
He stepped forward, pulling my hand off my face. “Is that really such a disappointment?”
I pulled my arm away. “Did you rig this? You knew it was me who needed an escort, didn’t you? You gamed the system.”
A look of insult shadowed his eyes. “Honey, you’re beautiful, but you’re not on the list of women I’d risk a felony for.” He watched me closely. “I had another date tonight – someone far more famous than you, I daresay – but she canceled. So here I am. It’s as simple as that.”
I walked over to the window and stared down at the city, my hands spreading across the heating vents.
“I’m not sure I understand what the problem is,” he said, approaching me from behind. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a woman be disappointed about being escorted by me.”
I whipped around and folded my arms. “I told you. Relationships don’t work for me.”
He cocked his head to the side. “Last time I checked, you called an escort service. There’s nothing in the paperwork stipulating a relationship.” He gestured flippantly around the room. “If there was, I sure as hell wouldn’t be here right now.”
My eyes widened at his insult. “Well maybe you should go home and have a date with your dick.”
His eyes narrowed. He stepped in closer. “Let’s say I did. What would you do about your date tonight?” He stepped in again. “You’d show up by yourself? Or maybe as the third member of a threesome with your bitchy friend and my brother out there?” He stepped in again, his face just inches from mine. “And let’s not forget that your deposit is non-refundable.”
He stepped in as far as he could, leaning over me and positioning his hands forcefully on the window behind me. I couldn’t move. Electricity was running up and down my body and my ass was constricting. I had to bite my lip to keep from letting a moan escape my throat. My feelings pissed me off. “Oh, and one more thing.” He leaned down to whisper in my ear. “I think you like my dick.”
I shoved him back, turned around and slammed my fists against the windows with a grunt. I suddenly wished I had a fire escape to flee down, away from this menacingly seductive man. I huffed for a moment, letting the dark shadowed skyline calm my nerves, then turned around. He was smiling.
“Fine, you win,” I seethed. “I’m too late to get another date and I hate wasting money.”
I stalked towards the door to give in to my fate. He stopped me as I brushed past him and regarded me with a wicked grin. “And my dick?”
I wrenched my hand away and plowed through the office door, Mason chuckling behind me.
Zoe grinned as I approached the elevator. The doors began to open. “You guys get it all worked out?”
I blew right past her and shoved myself into the back corner. Zoe and Connor exchanged concerned glances. Mason was still smiling. Zoe looked over at me as the doors whirred to a close. “So…are we all going together? What’s the deal?”
“It turns out,” I grunted, “that your boyfriend’s brother works for the escort service I called.”
Connor’s face brightened. “No way! Way to go, man!” He raised his hand up for a high five, but Mason glared. “Okay, okay, we can celebrate later…”
“Clay is a little underwhelmed with the service of the agency this evening,” Mason said mockingly, “but I believe we’ve found one perk she’s looking forward to taking advantage of.” He winked at me.
My chin dropped. Of all the…
I stayed silent all the way to the bottom floor, then to the limo, then to the fundraiser. I knew I’d have to cheer up eventually, but I could not figure out how on earth I was going to do it. I was so blindsided by this unexpected arrangement…and I hated surprises.
We finally pulled up in front of the Sydney Center and Mason was kind enough to help me out of the limo. As we approached the entrance, his teasing and overbearing demeanor started to melt away with cool night air, the giggling of approaching guests, and the flowing, sparkling dresses. By the time we walked in I began to think maybe the evening wouldn’t be a total disaster after all. After all, it was always nice to have a date that wasn’t so hard on the eyes.
Connor and Mason took our coats and Zoe and I headed to the ballroom.
“Don’t say anything,” I warned, “not a damn thing.”
She held up her hands defensively. “I wasn’t gonna say a word.”
I relaxed a little.
“So what’s his ‘perk’?”
“Zoe!” I hissed, but I didn’t have time to scold her; we were entering the busy and decorative ballroom. I was immediately overtaken by the beauty of the place; they had pulled all the stops. White silk cloth was draped elegantly across the walls and thick curtains of bright gold hung to the sides of the tall, gaping windows. The vaulted ceiling had an amazing mural of shimmering stars in a deep blue sky with trails of dust swirling around in hypnotizing fashion. Down from the middle of the roof hung the most amazing chandelier I’d ever seen. It was easily ten feet wide with the most intricate crystalline beads cascading over each other before coming together at the bottom around a silver-plated sheath of mirrors.
I was still admiring the beauty when a pessimistic voice piped in beside me. “Well, it looks like you made it after all, Ms. Felix. I see you’ve made a solo trip tonight – or is Ms. Pittman your date?”
I turned to find Leon Dietrick – the President of Dietrick Turbines and our biggest competitor – standing smugly before me. His wife was daintily poised next to him with the same braggart look on her face. I dug up a smile and ignored his snide commentary. “It’s good to see you too, Leon. Tell me, was this place built yet when you were born?”
He grimaced. “Very funny, Ms. Felix.” He emphasized the “Ms”, wrapping his arm tighter around his wife’s waist. “I heard you’re still struggling with the Icon account. That’s a rough road – those turbines aren’t cheap. Not that we’re complaining, of course.” He released a sickly chuckle. Zoe rolled her eyes and excused herself to find Connor. She was great at confrontation but preferred to be choosy about her battles. I, however, tended to take it on as sport.
I squared my shoulders; I was ready for this battle. “I see you’ve been keeping your eye on us.” I looked up at him innocently. “Why is that, exactly?”
“Oh, well I don’t know about that – it’s hard to miss it when your company is all over the news.”
“Yes, I suppose publicity is a new concept for you, isn’t it?”
I was about to excuse myself to get a drink when Mason arrived at my side. “Sorry, baby, the line was a bit long.” He handed me a rum and diet – how did he know that was my favorite drink? He pecked me on the cheek and pulled me close.
I appreciated the opportunity to prove Leon wrong so I played along. “Is everything okay at the house? The cat didn’t get out again, did she?”
“No, everything is fine sweetheart. You worry too much.” He turned to Leon. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your little friend?”
I had to smile. Mason must’ve smelled the competitive tension from a mile away. “Oh, how rude of me!” I gasped, placing my hand over my mouth dramatically. “Leon, this is Mason Thacket. Mason, this is Leon Dietrick. He’s the President of Dietrick Turbines.”
Leon stared in wonderment as he shook Mason’s hand. “Dietrick Turbines?” Mason feigned deep thought. “I believe I’ve heard of that company before. Small organization, outside Seattle, right?”
Leon blushed. “I’m sorry, did you say your name is Mason Thacket?”
Mason nodded proudly.
“THE Mason Thacket? Of Thacket Enterprise Dynamics?”
“The one and only.”
“Wow, you are a legend around here. It completely blew my mind when they shut you guys down – you didn’t deserve that. The company was brilliantly run.”
Mason’s face stiffened and he shifted uncomfortably. “Thank you. It was unfortunate.”
Leon admired him another moment, then patted his wife’s arm. “Well, we have some more schmoozing to do. Good luck at the auction later.”
They finally sauntered away and I looked up at Mason with expectation. “Thacket Enterprise Dynamics? A brilliantly run company? What was that all about?”
Mason avoided my eyes, glancing over at the dance floor where a few older couples were waltzing to a slow tune. “Come dance with me.”