Authors: Willa Thorne
“I’m tired of playing these games.” He repeated in a low voice. The sexual current between us was crackling. It was suffocating.
“It’s not a game, Mason. You’re trying to control me because I won’t give in to your demands. You just want to order me around.”
The darkness faded from his eyes and he looked at me in all seriousness. “No more games, Jillian. I’m determined to have you, and not for the sake of winning, but because I’m still in love with you.”
I shook my head, putting distance between us. I slumped to my feet. “No, I already have a date.”
“Jill, give me another chance-”
“How many chances do I have to give you? Do you think I’m an idiot? That I’m just going to run back to you after you pushed me away countless times? After you positioned
so that you’d have leverage on me to use against my brother?” I gave him one cock-eyed look.
“Jillian, I swear it’s-” his tone was adamant but I didn’t care. After seeing his public display at the bar, I was in no mood to hear his bullshit excuses.
“Don’t.” I stormed away from the hall, completely forgetting my trip to the restroom. I was exhausted.
4. Mason Woodward
One week passed since Jillian refused me in the hall outside the restrooms. It was another Wednesday evening. The only company I had was my laptop and a bottle of MaCallan… and Piper, on the other end of the line.
“How was Vegas?” Piper’s calm voice filtered through the speaker as I poured a bit of whiskey into a tumbler.
“Everything is on point. It should be opening in June as expected.”
I didn’t care to talk about my hotel’s expansion to Vegas. I was angry with myself for trying to simmer jealousy within Jillian at the pub the week before. What the hell was I thinking?
There was a pause of silence between Piper and myself as I balanced the mobile on my shoulder and sat at the desk in my study to get some work done.
“What are your plans tonight?” Piper asked.
I glanced up at the ceiling, inwardly annoyed. I wish she’d just get to the point of this call.
“I’m sitting in my study, attempting to get some work done. You seem idle this evening. Don’t you have some case studies to review?”
“I’m going to ignore that comment.” Piper quipped. “For your information, I’m sitting at the apartment with a carton of takeout. Jill is out this evening so it’s just me and the TV.”
My lip twitched and I felt that knot in my jaw tighten.
“She must be enjoying the fact that she is finally feeling better. Is she out with Elyse?” Of course, I was digging for information. She better not be out with that fucker…
“She has a date this evening,” Piper responded calmly, as though that statement would not at all bother me. My entire frame went rigid with pure venomous jealousy.
“With who?” I demanded, but I corrected myself. “I hope he’s a nicer bloke than I am.”
“Is she with that friend of Jackson’s?” I asked, my tone sounding much more furious.
“She may or may not be at Finley’s. You didn’t hear that from me.”
I swear smoke escaped my nostrils. I ended the call. My knuckles were knotted white as I debated what to do. Finley’s? He took her to Finley’s? I’d never been there, but I knew of that place. It was a dive bar just off Lexington Avenue. He took her to a dive bar as a first date? I was stewing. I knew that man had one intention, and one intention only.
With nothing more than tunnel vision, I left my penthouse.
I couldn’t handle it if another man had her, if another man ever used her and broke her.
I’ll never get over her
, I knew that much.
I will show her. Enough is fucking enough. This is not over.
I stormed into Finley’s and looked around. My entrance was so abrupt, I startled the bartender behind the counter. I didn’t wait long enough to let him acknowledge me. The place was cramped, and smelled musty- like old wood and bad beer. Tacky lights were hanging along the walls like a damned holiday display. I looked around long enough to see that Jillian was not in the front room. She was not at the bar. I looked around, thankful that I was tall enough to see over most heads.
My pulse was thrumming in my head. A mixture of emotions flooding me at the realization that the bastard might have taken her back to his place.
In those few seconds, I vowed to myself that if I did find her before it was too late- I’d be brutally honest with her. I had to make her give me one more chance.
Imagine the sensation of relief that washed over me when I overheard Jillian’s laugh coming from the billiards room. I let out a breath, realizing I’d been holding it in. I veered a sharp right toward the direction of the game hall. I charged, nearly knocking people over as they stepped in my way. Yet, I stopped dead in my tracks when I witnessed that wanker with his hands all over my Jillian. My whole body trembled.
He stood there, positioned over her at the edge of the pool table. He was using such an amateur method of seduction as he tried to school her in the rules of the game. Jillian was sandwiched in between the game table and that schmuck’s groin.
She bit her lower lip as he positioned her hands around the cue. He was whispering in her ear, tactfully positioning himself in such a way that caused her to visibly flush. He guided her arms as she knocked the ball, three into separate holes. I stopped paying attention.
“I got it!” Jill beamed and turned to face Ian. He had that arrogant smirk on his face. He grabbed a shot of whiskey off a nearby wooden table and knocked it back, before offering a shot to Jillian. She shook her head, refusing.
“You’re no fun,” Ian continued his smirk as he knocked that shot back as well.
My brow furrowed. She was absolutely
And you are?
I rebuked myself internally.
I readied myself to storm in there and talk some sense into Jillian. I took one step… and then stopped myself.
What the fuck am I doing?
I swallowed hard, feeling my pulse hammer in my throat.
Jillian’s laughter escaped her again, from a distance, as she watched Ian take aim with the cue. I couldn’t bring myself to crash their date. It would be obnoxious, and push her away further. I could only hope that she’d know what was best for herself and go straight home after this date.
Mustering every ounce of willpower I owned, I turned away from the scene and left the bar. I had one last resort, and she was sitting in her apartment with a carton of take-out, in front of the television.
“Have you ever asked her how she’s feeling?” Piper asked.
I had no words immediately. We were sitting on the plush white sofa in her main room, with some television sitcom on as background noise.
There was no judgement in Piper’s voice, but she asked this question to trigger my thinking.
Piper adjusted her frames and repeated the question. “When you see her, do you actually ask her how she is feeling?”
I already knew how Jillian was feeling. Piper had given me updates on a weekly basis as I requested.
“I don’t see how that solves the immediate problem.” I responded smoothly. I knew my tone was as impatient as I felt. I could not stop thinking about Jillian possibly going home with that man.
“That, my cousin, is exactly part of your problem.”
My jaw tensed grimly.
“Evaluate your actions around Jillian, and develop a plan based on what needs to be changed.” She piqued a thin eyebrow in my direction.
I need a drink.
“So, have you ever asked her how she is feeling?”
“No.” My answer was begrudging.
“Perhaps you should.”
Now I see where this is going..
My cousin cast me a wry smirk, something she never used with other clients.
“Drop the ‘
Me Tarzan, you Jane
’ act. She’s obviously not buying it anymore. Just drop the bullshit.”
I wanted to sneer at what she said, but she had a point. My time with Jillian was spent while she was a teenage kid, then again under the terms of a contract- my terms. Even now that she was well again, I still tried to force my will upon her because it worked with everyone else, including her- for a time. I have never taken the time to appreciate the strong and intelligent woman she has become.
The epiphany hit me like a punch to the gut. I sat there, allowing it all to sink in.
“I know that you have been sick with worry about her for the last two months, but she doesn’t know this. Try to step out of your shoes for one minute and evaluate things from her perspective.”
“Yes, I get the point.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose in thought.
“You’re beginning to get the point,” my cousin agreed partially.
“What do you suggest I do?” I finally asked, sounding irritated, but I was actually angry with myself for acting like such a damned fool.
Piper’s lips curled into a soft smile. “Just be yourself. You’ve hidden yourself away from us for years. It’s time you returned.”
I cast her a dry look.
“... And ask her how she is feeling. You’ll know what to do from there.”
This session reminded me of an after school program special. I was still on-edge, waiting and hoping that she would return soon. The hours seemed like years. Just as the knot in my chest began to tighten more, I heard a set of keys jingle from the outside hall. The knob turned and the door opened.
Jillian was quiet as she entered, seemingly tired. I was watching her before she even noticed my presence.
Jillian hung her jacket on the hook, and then turned toward the kitchen before she froze. Her brow furrowed as our eyes locked. Her expression was confused and accusing.
“Well, I’m going to bed,” Piper said casually as she stood.
Jillian looked at Piper for the briefest moment, in slight disbelief, then her eyes turned back to me. The door to Piper’s bedroom clicked when it closed.
It was just the two of us. Time to put Piper’s advice into practice…
“How are you feeling?” I asked tentatively.
Jill blinked, completely distracted from the glare she had been giving me. My question clearly caught her by surprise.
5. Jillian Pryor
I swallowed hard, feeling a lump in my throat. He doesn’t understand how much it hurts to see him right now. I bit my lip hard, trying to keep myself cool and collected. Thoughts whirled around in my mind as I gave him a poisonous glare.
My date with Ian was fun. He taught me how to play pool and offered me whiskey. I had a cosmo instead, once our game of pool was over. Ian was very charming and he made me laugh a lot. We could probably be friends, but there was no spark between us. There was still a dull ache in my heart from seeing Mason the week before, but I think I did a good job of keeping him out of my thoughts during the date… until now.
“How are you feeling?” Mason asked, his voice laced with concern.
I felt myself blink. I didn’t know what to think of this. This is not what I was expecting…
“How are you feeling?” He repeated the question.
“I am fine,” my answer was short. I glanced up, and our eyes met. Even while I was still angry, heat washed over my body at the sight of him. A part of me wanted to forgive him, to let him embrace me, and forget the last five years...
I could see from the twitch in his brow that he wanted me to elaborate on how I was feeling, but he was not pushing it. He seemed tense, and nervous.
“I don’t have the pain in my ribs anymore. I got banged up pretty bad, but nothing was broken.” It felt awkward standing here. He was still standing on the other side of the living room, and I was just in the doorway to the room. Despite our distance, the electric current was undeniable. We stood there, staring at one another for quite a while.
Finally, he made his way over to me, and I backed up until my back touched the wall. His presence was strong, but he was not demanding. His demeanor and body language, the look in his eyes as he gazed down at me… it was all too much. I was off my guard.
“I would really like to talk to you, Jillian,” he said softly, and then he added, “please.”
“What do you want to say, Mason?” I felt my brow crease as I looked up at him.
“Everything. I want to say everything…” I watched him pause, unsure of what to say, and how to say it. I found myself captivated in seeing him like this. It was raw. Genuine. His eyes held mine for a long moment before he finally spoke again.
“I just want to say that I’m sorry. You gave everything to me, and I took you for granted. I’m sorry that I treated you like property… and,” he breathed deeply and then held my gaze again. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that I love you when I had the chance.”
My lower lip quivered, and tears pooled in my eyes. My throat constricted.
Damnit. I couldn’t let him see me like this.
My eyes were beginning to sting and I needed to switch out my contact lenses.
“I have to wash my face,” I blurted stupidly. I turned to hide my face and hopefully make it to the bathroom, but he caught my arm.
“Let me take you out for your birthday. One date, Jillian, just one date.”
I took a gulp of air in an attempt to steady my thinking. A conflict of emotions were whirring about at a dizzying rate. My heart was at war with my sense of reasoning.
This is what I wanted. I’ve fantasized about this for years, since I was eighteen.
When I looked into his eyes, I could see everything he was trying to say to me. It’s not something I can easily describe. I’ve never seen Mason so nervous, searching… vulnerable.
I still love him.
The thought was invading, and my heart clenched.
“I haven’t forgotten the display you gave me last week,” I answered emphatically. Bitterness edged my tone.
Mason’s jaw clenched, although it was not in anger. He was pained and distraught.
“I was a fool to think I could make you jealous.” His palms flattened on the wall, on either side of my head. “You have to believe that I have been miserable without you.”
Here he was before me, presenting me with the real Mason. It was unreal.
I nodded. “One date,” I agreed. The words were out before I realized I’d said them.
I guess my heart won this battle...
After my unexpected encounter with Mason on Wednesday night, I could hardly focus on the two exams I had the next day. I passed my economics exam and wasn’t so sure about my statistics exam. Graduation was a grueling three weeks away. I had senior fever at its finest, and I couldn’t get Mason out of my mind.
My Fridays were spent working in Piper’s office from nine to five, since I don’t have classes. For lunch, Piper and I stepped out to a little corner cafe that was just down the street from the building where her practice is located.
When we returned, I was greeted with a large bouquet of pink roses, purple daisies and green poms. The bouquet was exquisite and arranged perfectly in a rippled glass vase that sat on the receptionist desk. I gasped as I read the crisp white card that was tucked neatly within the bouquet. The note was scrawled in his own handwriting.
I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. -Mason
“He’s determined,” Piper gave a small smile.
My heart fluttered all over the place within my rib cage. We had five minutes before Piper’s first afternoon appointment.
“Am I making the right decision to meet with him tomorrow?” I asked her tentatively. I never went to her for advice about her own cousin. We never talked about Mason, actually. She seemed surprised that I asked her this question. She adjusted the thin frames on her face.
“Only you can decide that for certain,” She answered. “But I will give you a few things to consider.”
Piper had my full attention as she stepped behind the desk.
“For one, he has never had to chase a woman. He could have any woman- quite easily, and yet, he’s determined to have you.” She smiled. “He made some big mistakes. He didn’t appreciate you- at first. But how much was he there for you when you were younger? I never intended to tell you this, but he refused to leave the hospital after your fall. He paid your medical bills, and contacted the University to give you leniency while you recovered. He has called me every other day, for the last two months, asking about you. Weigh the odds.”
My mind was reeling as I processed what Piper said.
I had no idea…
“It sounds like you’re convincing me to give him a chance.”
“No, I’m not. I’m giving you facts to consider, food for thought.”
“Where has he been the past two months? Why is he choosing
?” I asked Piper.
She was very quiet, and her face paled. “That’s not for me to say, but it will be a good question to ask him tomorrow.”
I opened my mouth to ask another question, but Piper’s first afternoon appointment walked through the door. She returned to her office, and I made sure the young, twenty-something woman was checked in and that all of her information was up-to-date. The woman patted her straight, jet-black hair. She removed her Gucci jacket as she sat in the chair to wait for Dr. Rochester.
“Those are beautiful flowers,” she complimented.
“Thank you.” I gave a polite smile.
“You must be very lucky to have such a sender.”
I only smiled stiffly.
If she only knew…
I woke early the next morning after about three hours of sleep. I just couldn’t relax my restless mind. Piper’s words replayed over and over in my mind. I was consumed with things I wanted to say to Mason, and questions that whirled around in my brain. I thought about Piper’s words to me after lunch the day before. It was all true. As far as I knew, Mason has never had to chase a girl. I showered, and used a curling iron to tame my dark auburn waves. I was so nervous.
I stopped in front of my closet and stared at the clothes which hung on hangers. Everything Mason bought for me was left in the spare room at his penthouse I took nothing that didn’t already belong to me. I was back to wearing the old jeans and blouses I’d found on sale or in thrift stores. I still remember the look of disdain Mason gave me that first night he took me into his home. My faded jeans and worn sweater was an embarrassment to him and he didn’t want my status to be associated with his hotels or with him.
Impulsively, I picked up my phone and punched in a text to him.
Me: I just realized I have nothing to wear that you’d approve of. I guess I can’t go.
Five minutes later, my phone chimed.
Mason: Nice try. Dress comfortably and bring a jacket.
It was a simple enough answer with no sexual innuendo. I shrugged. He said to dress comfortably, so that’s what I was going to do. I picked out my faded blue jeans, and an old black Pink Floyd T-shirt with the pink logo. I decided on my pink polkadot boy shorts. Those were
, too, and he wouldn’t be seeing my underwear today.
As always, Rick was punctual. I grabbed my bag and went outside to meet him.
“Good evening, Ms. Pryor. It is so nice to see you again,” Rick said politely as he opened the door for me.
“Hi Rick. It’s been a while. How have you been?”
“Hectic,” came his short reply. I thought Mason was going to be in the car when Rick arrived at Piper’s apartment, but the back seat was empty.
“Where is Mason?”
“He will meet us there, Ms. Pryor.”
“Where’s ‘there’?” I asked suspiciously. I looked outside. The sun was shining and on this beautiful April day, there was a soft breeze in the air. The air was slightly crisp.
“Oh, I’ve been instructed to keep that a surprise. Please don’t make me jeopardize my job, Ms. Pryor.” He chuckled.
“Just call me Jill. Ms. Pryor sounds too formal.” I smiled and I could see Rick grin slightly from the rearview mirror.
My eyes widened as Rick pulled to a stop at a small port in the Upper New York Bay. It seemed like a private dock which was lined with fancy boats, mainly yachts and sailboats. I looked around as Rick opened the passenger side for me. The breezes coming from the harbor whipped my hair around. Oh dear.
I didn’t want to be alone with Mason in his penthouse… and it looked like I was going to be alone with him on a boat instead…
I followed Rick a bit down the port until we arrived at the boarding dock of a particularly large yacht. It was so grand in scale, about two floors. My eyes nearly bugged out of my head as I followed Rick.
Mason leaned against the railing on the boat.
Can I call this thing a boat? It’s a house on water
. He gave me a charming smile, and I could see the relief in his eyes because I hadn’t backed out of this date. He wore Khakis and a crisp white polo that hugged his arms deliciously. The white against his olive tone and black hair was so… yummy. A strong breeze suddenly whipped my hair into my face, briefly blinding me. I was anything but graceful like the leading ladies in those romance films. Mason seemed entertained by this.
“Thank you, Rick.” Mason continued to grin.
“Did you rent this thing or is this yours?” I blurted.
Mason laughed. “It’s not rented. It’s new.” He guided me by the small of my back toward the entrance of the interior. He opened the door for me and I entered.
“I planned on an outdoor picnic, but the winds are higher today than forecasted so we’ll settle for an indoor picnic.” He followed me inside. I sucked in a sharp breath.
The lush interior was spacious, with an oversized white leather sofa and matching arm chairs. Brown and white throw pillows were situated appropriately. A large round glass table was situated in the center of the seating and a large plasma flat screen was mounted on the chocolate brown wall. To the far side was a small kitchen with a marble breakfast bar. The appliances were top of the line, all stainless steel.
A large floor-to-ceiling window lined the other side of the room. A small glass table was neatly situated beside the window and was set for two.
“I hope you’re hungry,” Mason said as he ushered me over to the table.
“Are you trying to impress me?” I asked.
Mason’s expression was charming yet serious. “Am I not supposed to try? Bloody Hell, this romance shit should come with an instruction manual.” He was joking nervously.
Romance 101 for Dummies
?” I laughed, and he smirked.
“Something like that, yes.”
He pulled out the chair for me at the small round table and once I was seated, he took his own seat. A waiter arrived and poured our champagne.
. All of this posh treatment felt uncomfortable, considering the history between us, and the unanswered questions that still hovered over us.
I sucked on my lower lip and I felt his gaze on me.