In my reality in my drea.., p.13
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       In My Reality (In My Dreams Book 2), p.13

           Cameo Renae
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  “Oh, don’t worry your little head,” the guide spoke in his thick southern accent. “These mules are sure-footed. A few of ‘em like to walk close to the edge, but it ain’t nothin’ to be alarmed about. Just try not to lean in the opposite direction if you do get one of those. We’ve had a few riders fall right off their doggone saddles tryin’ to lean away from the edge.”

  I raised my hand. “Could I please get one that likes to stay away from the edge?”

  “Sure. I’ll partner you up with our mellowest mule,” he said, his hand gesturing to a cream-colored one. “Name’s Buttercup.”

  “Well, well,” Emily giggled. “It’s a match made in heaven.”

  The guide smacked his hands together, then stood directly in front of all of us, wearing a full smile, and worn chaps. My mind briefly pictured Mason wearing chaps, shocking me at where my brain had wandered. Nevertheless, it would be something to see.

  “Now, I want happy riders who aren’t going to whine the entire trip down,” the guide said. “If you’re having second thoughts, there are other options and a great souvenir shop that sells T-shirts which say I hiked the Grand Canyon.”

  I was just about to say something when he added…

  “But there are no refunds.” A big belly laugh followed. “Also, your bum will be sore by the end of the trip, but it will be a ride you’ll never forget. Look, we’ve been doing this tour for a very long time, and have not had one fatality. None of you are gonna be the first. Am I right?”

  “Right,” we all repeated. Emily even thrust her arm upward. She was super excited about this trip, and I was starting to believe she’d mixed up our childhood wishes.

  As the guide continued his safety speech, I tried to contain my heart, which was threatening to escape my chest. I was terrified, pure and simple.

  Mason stood to my side and handed me a black baseball cap.

  “Here,” he said. “It’s good luck.”

  I took it from him and looked at the brand new material. “How do you know if it’s good luck or not? You just bought it.”

  “Because you’ll be the first one to wear it.” He took it back and put it on my head, snapping it in place to make sure it fit like a glove.

  “Thanks, again,” I said.

  It felt like I’d thanked him more than a dozen times this morning.

  “I’ll ride behind you if you want,” he offered.

  “So you can notify the others when my body plummets to the bottom of the canyon?”

  “You’ll be okay. Just sit straight and hold on.”

  “What if I fall off?”

  “Then make sure you do it away from the edge,” he said candidly.

  “You give the best advice.” I laughed.

  He seemed to have a way of calming my nerves. Maybe it was how calm and collected he was. Maybe it was his smile. No matter what it was, I believed him when he said I’d be okay.

  The guide helped us on our mules, and I took photos of everyone with my phone before we embarked on our tour. Mason asked the guide if he could ride behind me, and he agreed. Emily was first, then Tyler, then Mason and I brought up the rear.

  I looked back a few times and waved, and he waved back. He looked like a pro, like he’d ridden all his life. It made me wonder what kind of childhood he’d had. Did he have any brothers or sisters? What were his parents like? Where did he live before he came to college?

  Then it hit me. Why am I so interested?

  For the past three years of my life, I never gave a damn about anyone. My entire world revolved around Michael and seeing him in the next life. Mason was the first person I’d been remotely interested in, and I guess I was using that word loosely. I’d still have to decipher what was going on inside my head and heart. It had been a long time since I’d had these kinds of feelings for another person.

  Buttercup stayed true to the trail guide’s word; she was mellow, and she stayed away from the edge, which made me love her and give her extra pats on the neck. Emily and Tyler were in their own world. They were laughing and having a grand old time with the guide. Meanwhile, I was focused on not dying, leaving Mason to his own devices. We stopped a few times for photo ops, and I got some great shots, far away from the edge.

  When it was all over, and we returned to the shuttle, I was exhausted.

  “My ass aches,” Tyler grumbled, walking bow-legged.

  “We all have a sore ass, babe,” Emily said, rubbing hers.

  Mine hurt like hell, but I decided not to whine about it.

  “Hey, guys,” I said, as we were finding our seats. “I just wanted to say I had a great time. This adventure will go down in the books as one of the greatest surprise gifts. I’ll never forget it. Thank you.”

  Tears filled Emily’s eyes, and she turned and hugged my neck. “You know I love you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

  “I’m still alive. It’s all good.” I laughed.

  The shuttle was filling up with people from another tour, and as I glanced around, I saw Mason sitting in the back by himself.

  I made my way back to him. “Have room for one more?”

  He grinned and scooted toward the window. I took the seat, and asked, “How are you feeling?”

  “Sore as hell,” he replied. “What about you?”

  “Double that, and add a triple shot to my margarita tonight.”

  “Deal.” He laughed.

  Seeing Mason smile, for some odd reason, made me happy. I realized it was a goal of mine to keep him smiling, ever since I’d seen that sadness and anger in him before. Over the past three days, I’d slowly seen whatever was there, fade away.

  The bus was getting loud with all the extra people, and I just wanted to get off and hide somewhere quiet.

  I yawned, and Mason whispered in my ear.

  “I’m available if you need something to lean on.” He twisted to the side and propped his arm on the back of the seat.

  My insides were about to burst, but I kept my cool. I mimicked his twist and slowly leaned back into him, my back molding itself against his deliciously sculpted chest. I breathed in quickly as his arm came around me and pulled me closer; his spicy, sweaty scent swirled around me, sending tingles through my entire body.

  I relaxed into him, my body fitting perfectly with his. His arm fell into my lap, and because I had no place to put mine, I laid my palm on his wrist. He didn’t move away.

  It felt so natural being close to Mason, and it scared me. I never intended to meet anyone on this trip. But no matter how much I fought it, I couldn’t deny there was something about him that was magnetic. Something that made me curious. I wanted to know more. His past, his goals, his future.

  But did he feel the same?

  I felt like he did, yet like me, he was holding back. He’d put up a wall around himself for a reason, and I wanted to know what the reason was.

  His warm breath settled over the top of my head, and I didn’t want to move. I didn’t care how loud the people were, or how long the ride would be. Right now, I just wanted to be here, with him. Turning my face into his arm, I breathed him in and focused on being in the moment.

  The plan had been to ride back that evening, but Tyler was sore and exhausted. He’d taken pain medicine and couldn’t drive while on it.

  Emily folded her arms and addressed the group. “How about we stay one more night and head back first thing in the morning? It’ll give us a chance to rest and stretch out, instead of being squished uncomfortably in a car for another eight hours.”

  “I can get my own room,” Mason said, reaching for his wallet.

  “That’s not going to happen,” Emily said, stopping him. “I already had the hotel put a hold on our rooms since they were almost booked solid. The guide advised us not drive home tonight, so I called ahead. I hope you don’t mind sharing the room for one more night?”

  “Are you good with that?” Mason asked, glancing at me.

  “I’m good if you are.” I shrugged.

e good,” he said.

  “I’m going to crash early and will be ready in the morning,” Tyler said.

  “I think we’re going to order room service,” Emily said. “But the front desk clerk said their restaurant opens at five for dinner, or they have a bar with live music. And charge everything to the room. I’ll be pissed if you don’t. Daddy has done well, and said he needs write-offs.”

  I rolled my eyes and gave her a hug. “Go rest, and have fun,” I said.

  “Do you want me to hang out with you? Because if you want me to, I will,” she said, grabbing my shoulders.

  I shook my head. “Nope, I’ll be fine. Go take care of your man. Besides, Mason owes me a margarita.”

  “Well, Mason,” she said, pointing to his chest. “Take care of my bestie. I’m leaving her in your hands because I trust you.”

  “She’ll be in good hands,” he said. “And hopefully she won’t be bored to death with my company.”

  “No, that won’t happen. I’ve noticed you and Lizzy have a similar personality. You’re compatible. And—”

  Tyler grabbed her arm and gently pulled her back. “Babe, let them go.”

  “Yeah, okay,” she said, crinkling her nose. “I think I’m going to go take a hot shower and a long nap.” She blew me an air kiss. “Love you.”

  “Love you too.”

  “Meet us in the lobby at eleven. Check out is at twelve, but I’d like to leave before then.”

  “Got it,” I said, giving her a thumbs up.

  “Call me if you need anything.”

  “Will do.”

  Mason and I watched them disappear down the hall, and then he turned to me.

  “So, what do you want to do?” he asked.

  “First, I’d like to wash the smell of mule off me.”

  “Yeah, me too,” he said, leading the way back to our room. He opened the door and stepped aside.

  “You can shower first,” he said. “I’ll be on the balcony.”

  “Wait,” I said, pulling the baseball cap off my head. “Here you go. Thanks.”

  “You’re welcome,” he said, throwing it on top of his backpack.

  I pulled out the last of my clean clothes, some jean shorts, a white cami, and a pink button-up blouse, then headed into the shower.

  The hot water on my sore limbs felt amazing. I stood there and could have fallen asleep standing up. Before I got too tired, I scrubbed my entire body and my hair. It felt good to be clean. I wrapped my hair in my towel and took the blow dryer out of the bathroom.

  Walking out to the balcony, I found Mason lounging with shades on, shirtless. He looked like a sculpture, the muscles in his abs and arms were highlighted by the sun. Before I got caught staring, I cleared my throat, and he lifted his shades.

  “It’s all yours,” I said, slipping back inside. I found a plug for the hairdryer and started it up.

  He came in and paused. “Did you want to go out or stay in?”

  “I’d like to go to the bar and get a drink. But room service sounds excellent for dinner.” He nodded and carried his backpack with him into the bathroom.

  I dried my hair and kept it down, applied a little make-up, and sprayed on some perfume.

  Mason was out a few minutes after I finished, dressed in black jeans and a white T-shirt. Casual yet polished. He brushed his hair back, then messed it up with his fingers. Exactly like Michael used to do.

  “Ready?” he asked, holding out his arm.

  “Ready,” I said, linking my arm in his.

  He led me to the bar, and from time to time, I could feel his eyes on me. Typically, that amount of attention from a guy would’ve turned me off, but with Mason, it made me lean toward him and smile. I felt like I’d known him for years.

  He’d chosen a spot in the corner of the bar, where the least amount of people were. It was busy, and there were a lot of individuals who were loud and singing along with the band on the small stage. There were even a few dancing.

  An older waitress walked over, looking haggard. Strands of hair fell from her messy bun.

  “What can I getcha, darlings?” she asked with a southern drawl.

  Mason ordered a beer, then said, “And a margarita, triple shot, for the lady.”

  “Triple shot?” she asked.

  “We rode mules today,” I noted.

  “Oh, honey. I’ll get your drinks stat.” She winked and walked away.

  In a few minutes, she was back with our drinks. I took a sip and nearly choked it was so strong. Mason guzzled his beer and ordered another before I’d put a dent in mine.

  We stayed about a half hour, listening to the music. It was so loud, it made it impossible to chat. I leaned over to him and said, “I have to powder my nose.”

  He nodded, and I slid off the chair.

  As I made my way to the bathroom, I noticed a table of guys staring at me. They were creepy, and I hated the bathroom was past them. I heard a cat call but continued to the bathroom at the end of the hall. I tried the door but it was locked. After waiting a while, a lady finally stumbled out.

  She reeked of alcohol, and her eyes were droopy.

  “Good luck,” she slurred, pushing past me.

  I went into the bathroom, and it smelled like cat piss. Pieces of toilet paper were scattered all over the floor. I could only imagine what the men’s bathroom was like. Gag. I held my breath and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible.

  When I stepped outside, two guys around my age were blocking the way back to the main room. They were having a drunken conversation.

  “Excuse me,” I said, trying to push past, but the one put out his arm and stopped me.

  “What’s up, beautiful? We were trying to get your attention earlier,” the guy said, eye’s bloodshot. “Are you taken? Or are you just a stuck up bitch?”

  These drunk-ass bastards were starting to piss me off. I needed to get back to Mason because the triple shot was making my head spin. “It’s none of your business why I ignored you. Now get the hell out of my way,” I spat.

  “Not until you apologize,” the other dude said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He stepped forward, and I felt like I was being blocked in.

  Panicking, I thrust my knee into his groin.

  It was a solid hit. He dropped to the ground, grabbing his balls and swearing like a sailor.

  I gave the second guy another knee, but he blocked it.

  Grabbing me by both arms, he pushed me against a wall. “I don’t know what your problem is, we’re just trying to talk to you.”

  “Help!” I screamed, but the band was playing so loud, I doubted anyone could hear me.

  Where in the hell were all the drunks needing to use the bathroom?

  “Rude bitch,” the guy said, holding me tighter. “Just stay still. I want to talk to you, that’s all.”

  I struggled against his hold, but he used his considerable body mass and pressed it into me, making it impossible to kick or knee him.

  “I only wanna taste.” The bastard groaned as he leaned down and licked up my neck, putting his tongue in my ear.

  I shook my head, pushing his face away from me. As soon as he pulled back to look at me, I knocked my forehead into him as hard as I could. Startled, he leaned back, and I head butted him again, this time getting more leverage. The second collision made my head spin, and my skin felt as if it had split open.

  “What the fuck was that for?” he yelled, regaining his grip on me and pushing me back into the wall with force. Blood dripped from his chin. I couldn’t tell if it was his or mine.

  Then, a figure came up behind the guy, and my attacker was soon pinned up against the back wall.

  It was Mason. He punched the guy in the face a couple of times and knocked him out cold. The asshole hit the floor, his buddy ran out of the hallway.

  “Shit,” Mason swore, gathering me into his arms.

  An older couple entered the hall. They looked sober and their faces twisted with concern as they looked
at me and then the guy on the floor.

  The guy who ran away popped up behind them.

  “Paul, what the hell have you done?” the older man growled, walking over to Mason and me.

  “Is she all right?” he asked. “I’m so sorry. These are my stupid sons, and they just turned twenty-one.” He turned and gave his son, still clutching his sore balls, an evil stare. “I’m in law enforcement, and believe me, they will pay for any harm they’ve caused you. And if you want to press charges,” he emphasized, looking at the son slouched on the ground, “Then I’m all for it.”

  The mom fretted over me. “I’m so sorry. What’s your name?”

  “Elizabeth Hayes,” I answered.

  She handed me a card. “If you have any medical bills, I’ll take care of them. Please, please call.”

  I took the card and decided on the spot that I didn’t want to deal with the police or statements or paperwork. I just wanted to go back to the room. “I won’t press charges,” I said.

  “Are you sure?” the dad asked. And when I nodded, he tried to hand me money, but I refused.

  “Lizzy,” Mason said. “You’re going to let this go?”

  I didn’t want to argue. I wrapped my arms around his neck and rested my head on his chest. “I just want to go back to the room. Could you please take me?”

  “Of course.” He breathed, sweeping me up into his arms and carrying me out of the bar.

  When we made it to the hallway, I whispered against his chest, “You can put me down.” My head was throbbing.

  He didn’t respond, and continued to hold me tight all the way to the room. He then set me gently on my feet and took out his key. Once inside, he clicked on all the lights, then locked the door behind us and assisted me to the bed.

  “Sit,” he ordered, looking at my face. He cursed under his breath.

  “I’m fine, honestly.”

  “No, your forehead has a goose egg forming.” He sighed. “I should have been there earlier. Something told me to follow you to the bathroom, but the waitress came with another beer. I’m sorry.”

  “It’s not your problem,” I said. “It seems that whenever I use a public bathroom, I’m a magnet for drunk guys. And you’ve been there both times to save me.” I gaped at him with realization. “You’re my guardian angel.”

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