The deep guttural roar in Mason’s voice immediately made me weak in the knees. His hand gripped me tightly and ripped me from the room. He shut the door behind me and tossed me against the opposing wall, approaching me menacingly. I stifled a laugh as I imagined him bossing a horse around in that room. He didn’t share my joviality.
“That door was locked. What the fuck were you doing nosing around in my private affairs?”
His eyes blazed and I realized he was dead serious. My face fell as he pushed his body up against mine and sneered. “You’ve been here one night. That does not give you license to go sneaking around.”
I struggled against him, but he had me pinned tight. “Let me go!” I cried. “I don’t care about your stupid horse room – what’s your problem?”
“What did you see?” he seethed, his efforts to keep me in place frustratingly effective.
“What do you mean? There were some horse whips.” I pinched his nipple hard causing him to falter and cry out. I stepped around him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
His face suddenly seemed relieved as he leaned his shoulder against the wall, his hand massaging his nipple and his breath heaving. He shook his head and walked across the hall to the door, locking it tight. “I should take you back in there and run you up by your ankles for that…” he mumbled.
He didn’t respond but turned to face me, the irritation in his face still pungent. I suddenly became suspicious. “Why are you so protective of that room, Mason?”
His eyes narrowed. “Clay, don’t.”
“What’s in there? What have you done?” An image from the news a few nights earlier flashed through my mind and I imagined a poor woman chained up in there against her will, tortured and beaten as his sex toy. “Oh my God, you’ve got a kidnapped woman in there, don’t you? Am I next? Are you just waiting for your chance to slip a drug in my drink?”
I knew I was exaggerating, but the adrenaline pumping through my veins had me dreaming up all sorts of crazy scenarios. What if he’d hurt someone? Had he enslaved them? Was he holding them for ransom?
“You watch too much TV,” he scoffed patronizingly. He brushed passed me, heading back to the kitchen.
“Mason, tell me what’s in that room this instant,” I demanded.
He turned around and stomped towards me. “What the fuck kind of person do you think I am?”
The shadows playing in his eyes told me it was time to cut this conversation off. I set aside my curiosities about the room and stormed past him. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed my jacket and purse. I wasn’t going to stand for being spoken to like that. He would fess up or we could call this whole strange affair – or friendship or whatever it was – off.
When I turned around towards the living room to make my brilliant exit, he was sitting on the couch solemnly, his head in his hands. The image completely disarmed me. I walked up behind him cautiously and my nerves finally began to find reality. He didn’t appear angry anymore. He almost seemed dejected. Lost.
“You should go.”
“You want me to leave?” I walked to the side of the couch to get a closer sense of his state of mind.
He looked up at me earnestly. “No. How could you think that? I’ve been all over this city trying to run into you again since we met at your office.”
I was taken aback yet again. This guy seemed to have a gift for throwing off my guard. I decided to let his stalker comment slide for the moment. It’s not like I could ask for a cuter stalker anyways. My shoulders sagged. “As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t really want to leave.”
He patted the spot next to him. “Sit.”
I obeyed and a small smile crept across his face. “You like being bossy, don’t you?” I challenged.
I shrugged. “I like to protect my territory.”
He leaned in. “So do I.”
I closed my eyes and breathed in his hypnotic scent, hoping he’d lean in just a bit further…but he pulled away, his fingers massaging the bridge of his nose.
“I’m sorry I freaked out back there,” I murmured. “There’s just…it’s been a crazy weekend and I let my imagination get away from me.”
He smirked. “I can’t say I didn’t like where you were headed…” I whipped my head around and stared at him incredulously. He spoke apologetically. “I just mean that I can appreciate a girl with a creative mind.” I relaxed. “But it appears you’re not entirely convinced of my good intentions.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not that. I’ve just never met anyone like you before.”
His eyes seemed to wander elsewhere, unfocused and weary. “It would probably be better if you hadn’t.” He seemed lost in thought for a moment and I waited for him to clarify. A few moments later, he seemed to come to a decision. He reached for my face, pulling me close and planting a soft kiss on my lips. His fingers lingered on my cheek, caressing the smooth skin of my jaw. He pulled away and looked me in the eye.
“You’re right. I’m not like anyone else you’ve met.” He sighed. “You weren’t wrong to assume I’m fucked up – I’m not the person I seem.”
I glared sardonically. “You mean you’re not an indelibly stubborn douchenozzle with a penchant for lavatory sex?”
He laughed. “Never mind. Apparently I’m exactly the person I seem.”
I liked seeing that smile on his face. It was so calm and innocent – a side of him I sensed he didn’t let out too often.
“Look,” I pulled his hand in mine. “It’s been a crazy weekend for both of us. I told you I don’t date, and I’m going to stick to that, but let’s just take it easy this morning. There’s always live music at the café down the street Sunday mornings. Let’s go sit back and enjoy some good music with a little gourmet coffee.”
His eyes lit up. “How did you know that I love that place?”
I stood and pulled my jacket on. “And then you can explain to me your little comment earlier about how you’ve been stalking me since the day we met.”
“I knew you weren’t going to let that go,” he gruffed.
We took the elevator down to the parking garage and wound through his many cars to an Audi. “I love Audis!” I cried, “I have three of them. They’re all fantastic, but the A3 is my favorite.”
He opened the door for me and grinned. “Isn’t that fortunate?”
We pulled out from the garage and, much to my astonishment, Zoe came running up to my door before we could pull into the street. Her face dripped with urgency and she pounded on my window. I rolled it down.
“Hey, Zoe, what’s shakin’?”
She glared at my casualty. “Not now, Clay. You have to come with me.” She tossed a glare in Mason’s direction.
I looked back and forth between them both. “Uh, what’s going on, Zoe?”
“You can’t go with him. If you haven’t found out already, you’ll find out soon.”
“Zoe, it’s okay, I already vetted him – he’s not a murderer.” I had meant it to be a joke but it only seemed to fuel her rage.
“I talked to Connor, Clay.” She pulled the door open and tried to drag me out. “He found something out about Mason. Trust me, you need to come with me.”
She clearly had forgotten my stubborn nature. I glanced at Mason who was glowering, his teeth grinding. “Get out of here, Zoe,” he warned.
“No way, fucker. I’m not going to let you do this to her.”
“Okay, you know what, you two?” I finally freed myself from Zoe’s grasp, crouched back in the passenger’s seat, and shut the door. “That’s enough. I don’t know what’s going on between you, but Zoe: I’m going to get coffee with Mason. It’s just coffee. Trust me, I’m fine. Nothing horrible is going to happen.”
“Goddamnit, Clay, will you listen to me just once? He wants to beat you, for God’s sake!”
I laughed raucously. “Beat me at what – air hockey? Jesus, wasn’t I listening to you when I went out with him in the first place?”
Zoe huffed. She had no argument. “Clay, please…”
“You know what, Zoe, that’s enough.” I shook my head. “You’re worse than me.” I started rolling up the window. “I’ll catch you later. Business meeting tomorrow at 7am, don’t be late.” The window closed in her irate face. I stared forward, ignoring the yelling and threats that slowly died down as we traveled further and further away.
I looked over at Mason, his eyes steely and determined, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. “Don’t let her get to you, Mason. She does this all the time; she thinks she’s my mom,” I scoffed.
He didn’t answer at first, but kept his eyes on the road. The tires screeched as we pulled into the coffee shop and he finally turned to face me. “When we get back from coffee, we have some talking to do.”
The alarm in his face made my heart race. Clearly, Zoe had struck a nerve.
What have I gotten myself into?