In my reality in my drea.., p.6
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       In My Reality (In My Dreams Book 2), p.6

           Cameo Renae
 
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  But I couldn’t let that bother me. Mason wasn’t Michael. Not even close.

  I examined his left cheek; it was red and starting to bruise. Scratches from the asphalt had broken the skin and were bleeding in a few areas. That’s where I concentrated first.

  “Looks like you might have a shiner,” I noted, watching his skin take a purplish undertone.

  He gave me a side-eyed glance. “You should’ve seen the other guy.”

  “Mmm,” I giggled. “You must have got it good. I bet you left skin all over that asphalt. Showed it who’s boss.”

  Mason laughed out loud, and it made me happy to know he thought I was funny.

  As I pressed the cotton ball to his cheek, he jerked and sucked in air, making me squeal.

  “Oh my God. I’m so sorry,” I apologized, shooting my hands in the air.

  He barked out a laugh and leaned back on the couch. “I’m kidding. It wasn’t that bad.”

  I exhaled a deep breath and growled under my breath. “Asshole.”

  “Did you just call me an asshole?”

  “As a matter of fact, I did. I thought I hurt you.”

  His eyes narrowed. “Hey, do I know you? I feel like we’ve met before.”

  “No,” I said, continuing to tend to his wounds. He sucked in air but remained still. “Unless you’ve visited Alaska.”

  He shook his head. “I’ve never been that far north. Is that where you’re from?”

  “Yes, and this is the first time I’ve ever traveled outside of Alaska. So, there’s no way we could have met.”

  He shrugged, his eyes still roaming my face. “I swear we’ve met somewhere. You seem familiar to me.”

  “I don’t think I would forget someone like you,” I said without thinking.

  When I glanced up, he looked amused.

  “I hope that’s a good thing.”

  Shrugging, I said, “It’s not a bad thing.”

  “Then I guess there might be hope for me after all.”

  His words made me blush.

  Making eye contact, I nodded. “There’s always hope.”

  The air zapped with a buzz between us. There was a moment, a split second of silence when our eyes met, and I could almost see a hint of emotion behind his eyes. The type of emotion? I couldn’t tell. Mason was complicated.

  After cleaning the scratches, I gently rubbed antibiotic ointment over them. He stayed still until I peeled the Band-Aid back, then he stopped me, his hand covering mine. I jolted with shock, my skin tingling where he touched me.

  “I’d rather not have a Band-Aid on my face,” he said releasing his hand.

  “I don’t blame you.”

  I nonchalantly placed the bandage back in the box and scooted backward a foot, putting distance between us.

  He rubbed his hands on his jeans, then asked a question to fill the awkward silence.

  “What brought you to California?”

  “Them.” I thumbed over my shoulder toward the kitchen. “Actually, I really didn’t have a choice. Emily has been my best friend since we were kids. She gave me one of two options. Come down for spring break, of my own volition, or be kidnapped.”

  Mason grinned, and it was so damned cute. “I can see why you came, she’s a bossy one. How do you like it so far?”

  “It’s—” I completely went blank looking into his big brown eyes.

  “Not what you expected?”

  “No,” I said, shaking myself from the haze settling over my brain. “I’m still trying to figure out exactly why I’m here. I just arrived today.”

  “You believe in destiny?”

  “I guess you could say that.”

  “Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked, pointing to the ring I was fidgeting with.

  He was certainly full of questions.

  I looked at the butterfly ring Michael had given me. Emotions swelled, and I thought I’d lose it, but I held myself together. “I did…”

  Mason was watching me carefully. “Did he cheat on you?”

  “What?” I gasped. “He—he didn’t cheat. He would never. No. He was murdered.” My words exited a bit harsh, my eyes burning with tears.

  “Shit. I’m sorry. I had no idea,” he apologized.

  “He was my best friend,” I breathed. “He saved my life, and theirs.”

  Mason was quiet for a bit. “Hey, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to dredge up something obviously painful to you. I just saw how emotional you were when I asked, so I assumed something bad happened. I didn’t think it would be that bad. He must have been pretty special.”

  “He was.” I sniffled, wiping a stray tear from my cheek.

  Mason held out his hand to me, and I paused, looking at it.

  “I’m offering a do-over. And I haven’t formally introduced myself yet. My name is Mason West. I’m attending college to fulfill a twisted bucket list of mine. I don’t like fine dining, or long walks on the beach, or most people…as you can tell.”

  I looked into his eyes and saw a sadness. Something I knew all too well.

  “Are you going to leave me hanging?” he asked, inching his hand closer to me.

  I placed my hand in his, and it was warm and strong.

  “My name is Lizzy Hayes.” I played along. “I’m from Alaska. I like throwing myself long pity parties and spending time by myself, and am not looking for a relationship.”

  His eyes narrowed, mouth scrunching up in one corner. “It seemed to me that the Pierce brothers thought otherwise. Be careful with them, especially Logan. He’s a player.”

  I studied his face. “How would you know?”

  “I live with them. I see and hear everything that goes on behind thin walls. I would hate for you to be a victim.”

  I raised my brow and crossed my arms over my chest. “And why would you care? You don’t even know me.”

  He shrugged. “I don’t really care, but you did me a solid with my face, so I’m trying to pay you back and give you free, possibly helpful, advice. You can take it or ditch it. It doesn’t matter to me.”

  God, he was an asshole. A good-looking asshole. But still an asshole.

  As he raked his fingers through is hair, I noticed his knuckles on his right hand were red and swollen.

  “Does it hurt?” I asked, taking his hand and examining it.

  “Only when you touch it,” he noted.

  I gasped, letting go. He shook his head and laughed. “Kidding.”

  “Stop doing that,” I scolded.

  “Doing what?”

  “Teasing me.”

  “You’re too easy.”

  “I’m just a little off my game. Give me a few days.” He shot me a quizzical look. “What?” I asked. “Are you one of those guys who can dish it out but can’t take it?”

  “Oh, I can take it all right,” he whispered. Resting his hand on the back of the couch, he leaned closer. “But I much prefer giving it.”

  He was inches from my face, his masculine scent causing my breath to cease and my hands to clasp tightly to the couch cushion. My mind became numb as I imagined his full lips pressed against mine.

  No.

  I slowly inched away from him.

  “Hey, guys,” Emily chimed, entering the room with a tray of sandwiches, chips, and a plate of veggies with dip. Setting them on the coffee table in front of us, she offered me a look and said, “Dig in.”

  I knew her look all too well; she’d make me spill every detail the next time we were alone.

  I gathered the first aid supplies. “Where do you want me to put these?” I asked.

  “Just leave it there. I’ll get it later,” she answered, dismissing me with a wave of her hand.

  “I need to wash up. I’ll be right back.” I carried everything to the kitchen.

  Nodding to Tyler, who was bringing the drinks to the living room, I set everything on the counter. My anxiety was rising, and I wasn’t completely sure why.

  I headed to the sink and turned on the water, pumping s
oap into the palm of my hand.

  “Just relax,” I breathed, watching the suds form.

  “I am relaxed,” a smug voice answered over my right shoulder, making me jump.

  I turned to see Mason standing a few feet behind me. Even with the scratches and a bruised left side of his face, he was still attractive, about six-one, and had the same build as Michael. Except Mason’s body was slightly more muscled, and his eyes had flecks of yellow running through them, and were mildly bloodshot.

  He took a step forward, and I found myself leaning away, pressing my back into the sink.

  “What are you doing here?” I asked, holding soapy hands in front of me.

  He held up his dirty palms. “I touched the road and would like to wash it off.”

  “Oh.” I spun back to the sink, my cheeks flushed with heat. “I’ll just be a second.”

  “Take your time.”

  I wondered if he knew he was having an effect on me. He probably did, the asshole. He was just teasing me.

  Finishing up, I grabbed a hand towel on the counter and moved away. Mason stepped forward and soaped his hands, wincing as he scrubbed his knuckles.

  “Hey,” I breathed. “Thanks again. For what you did tonight…with that guy Pete.”

  With a tilt of his head and another crooked smile, he melted my insides.

  “Like I said, it was nothing.” He then turned back and rinsed his hands. “I would have done it for anyone.”

  “So, you are a hero,” I admitted.

  “Hardly.” He turned off the water and took the towel. Drying his hands, he stepped directly in front of me.

  “Is he going to be trouble for you?” I exhaled.

  “Pete is a stupid-ass drunk, but he’s a decent, sober guy. He shouldn’t have touched you, and he’ll feel bad in the morning—if he remembers. If he does, he’ll probably be over to apologize.”

  “You know him that well?” I asked.

  “Not really. I’m a people watcher, which makes me a pretty good judge of character.”

  “And what do you think of my character?”

  His head tilted, eyes piercing through me as if he could see right down to my soul. As he leaned forward, his closeness was like a vacuum, sucking the air from my lungs.

  “I think you’ve been through a great deal. Your recent loss has caused you to guard your heart. I see sadness and loneliness, but I also see strength and a good heart.”

  I took a step back, wondering how he could come up with such a good conclusion in the short time we’d met. But I guess I also saw some things in him, and it didn’t make me a psychic.

  “It’s funny,” I said. “Because what I see in you is almost identical.”

  “Oh yeah? And what do you see?” he asked.

  “You’re an asshole on the outside, but only as a front to others. Something has caused you to build up walls, and you’d prefer to keep people at a distance. You don’t trust others easily, and it’s made you sad and lonely.”

  He cleared his throat, his eyes faltered and his smile disappeared. “That’s a pretty broad generalization.”

  I crossed my arms over my chest. “Was it close?”

  He shrugged. “Sure. Goodnight, Lizzy,” he said, taking a few steps back. “Thanks for fixing me up.”

  “Are you leaving?” I asked, slightly panicked he was leaving already. What was up with me?

  “Yeah, I’m tired and want to be alone.”

  I nodded, wondering what happened. Was it something I’d said? It had to have been. Maybe I hit the nail on the head. “Are you going to be okay?”

  He nodded. “I’m fine. Two Tylenol and lots of sleep will do wonders.”

  Without another word, he pivoted and walked out of the room.

  Damn, he was different.

  “It’s been an eventful night, huh?” Emily sighed.

  “Yeah, it has,” I said, plopping down on the couch, grabbing a few finger sandwiches.

  Mason had left after a short goodbye with Emily and Tyler, not bothering to make eye contact with me before he exited through the front door.

  “What happened in there?” Em asked. “He went in to wash his hands and came out looking perturbed.”

  “I don’t know. He’s kind of…perplexing,” I replied, still whirling from our conversation.

  “I’m sorry I stuck you with him,” Emily said, crunching on a carrot.

  I rolled my eyes. “No, you’re not. You totally set me up on purpose.”

  “I did not!” she gasped, then leaned forward. “So? What happened while we were in the kitchen?”

  Tyler stood up and grabbed a paper plate. “I’m going to take some food to the room. The bed is calling, and I recorded a new movie.”

  “Wow, two guys ditching us in less than a few minutes. Are we really that lame?” Emily laughed.

  “Naw, they just can’t take our awesomeness.” I winked.

  “Yeah, that’s totally it,” Tyler said, filling his plate before leaning over to give Emily a kiss. “I’ll leave you two to catch up.”

  Emily smacked his rear. “I’ll see you later. And no crumbs in the sheets!”

  He winked at her and smiled guiltily at me before heading up the stairs. “Night, ladies. Have fun gossiping.”

  “Oh, we will,” Emily returned.

  And once he left, she sunk back into her seat.

  “So, what did you really think about the Pierce twins?”

  The interrogation had begun.

  “They seem like really nice guys.”

  Emily popped an olive in her mouth, grabbed a bottle of beer, and laid back on the loveseat. “Liam was totally into you. Well, they both were, but Liam seems more like a keeper to me. He reminds me a lot of Michael. They have similar mannerisms. Even Tyler thinks so.”

  I nodded, knowing she was just getting started.

  I missed Emily, our sleepovers, and our talks. We had a lot of catching up to do in six days, and I refused to be the downer. I’d play along, but my heart wasn’t up for grabs. It still belonged to Michael, even if he wasn’t here.

  She took a swig of beer and set it on the table. “They also come from an affluent family who had hoped they’d attend Ivy League colleges before helping with the family business. Liam was accepted to Princeton, but Logan had different plans. He wanted to get far away from the corporate world to have a bit of normalcy in his life before becoming an adult. So Liam gave up his plans and followed Logan. I don’t think he wanted to, but I believe he felt it was his personal duty. I also believe that’s pretty honorable.”

  “Wow, pulling out of Princeton? I bet his parents were upset,” I said.

  “I think upset is an understatement. According to Logan, they almost severed them from the family inheritance. But, Liam made some kind of pact with them. One that kept them in good standings.”

  “What kind of business are they in?”

  “I overheard Logan mentioning to Tyler something about real estate.”

  “What about Liam?” I questioned.

  “I think he’s been groomed to take over the family business. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He’s very smart. And he’s taking you out to breakfast tomorrow.” She said the last part with too much enthusiasm.

  “Yeah, about that…”

  “Don’t you dare try and pull out of it, Debbie Downer. Let the man take you to a friendly breakfast for an hour or so. He probably needs the company as much as you do.”

  “Fine,” I said rolling my eyes. “You know, there’s a distinction between allowing destiny to run its course, and pushing your directive.”

  Emily huffed. “I know. But I’m your best friend. It’s my job to intervene when I see fit. I care about you, Lizzy. We’ve been through hell together. We’ve cried and laughed, and fought, and made up. You’ve always been there for me, and I just want what’s best for you, because you deserve it. And I mean that.”

  I hopped off the couch and tackle hugged her. We both laughed and rolled off th
e couch and tumbled onto the ground.

  “I love you too, Em. Thanks for being the best friend any girl could ever have.”

  “You’ve given my life more suspense and excitement than most people could ever experience in a lifetime. But could you do me a solid?” When I looked at her with confusion, she continued, “Just keep the damn ghosts away. I’ve watched too many paranormal shows where the investigators went home with spirit attachments. They weren’t nice either. The last thing I need is for some freaking ghost to yank off my covers at night. I would die.” She dramatically shivered, and I laughed.

  Her plea reminded me to not tell her about the wandering spirit on her street and how terrifying it was. It was earthbound because it chose to be, and I was just fine leaving it alone.

  “Have you had any contact with Michael at all?” she asked.

  “No,” I sighed. “Not since the cemetery.”

  “I’m sorry, babe. You two were so perfect for each other. I can only pray you find love again.”

  “I believe that if it’s part of destiny’s plan for me to find love again, I won’t have to go looking for it. It’ll come to me.”

  “What if destiny shows up tomorrow at eight A.M.?” She wiggled her brows.

  I laughed at her persistence. “You’d love that, wouldn’t you?”

  “Only if he makes you happy. And if he is the one, he has six days to prove it.”

  “Not with your schedule.” I giggled.

  “Schedules can and will be adjusted as necessary.” She winked. “We could always add one more to the plans.”

  I propped up on my elbows and looked her dead in the eyes. “Don’t be adding anyone without my approval. I came to California to spend quality time with my bestie, not to be hooked up with other guys.”

  “Done and done. Believe me, we’ll have fun.”

  “Oh, I have no doubt.”

  The rest of the night was spent reminiscing about the past, laughing and crying, and eating everything that remained on the snack tray. Emily had one too many beers, and I was mentally and emotionally spent.

 
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