Authors: Laura Day
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental
Mason copyright @ 2015 by Laura Day. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
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He arrives on his screaming machine, but it's his body that ends up screaming for more - of her
Jessica Mallet is about to leave her florist's when Eric Burns' bike trundles into her parking lot with every intention of parking there all night.
When Eric takes a flaming rose and hands it to Jessica, it's enough to make her forget her responsibilities, enough to forget where she is and what's appropriate.
The thorns prick her goose bumped skin but that's nothing compared to what her body aches for--that moment when Eric removes petal after petal and lets the real flower inside her blossom...
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Caroline glanced at the clock on her computer monitor as she stretched. 4:23. Almost time to head out, thank God. It had been a long week. The new tax laws in the state had thrown all the small businesses in the downtown area for a loop, and some of them were planning ahead to make sure they wouldn’t get caught short in April; others were turning up in her office just to complain. One man had actually threatened her life if she didn’t personally overturn the legislature’s decision. Either way, she didn’t usually see this many people in one day outside of tax season.
But the steady stream over the week had died down to a reasonable trickle, and she no longer wanted to strangle anyone who dared to breathe audibly in her presence. It was Friday night, and she was set to go home, curl up with a glass of wine and the newest John Scalzi book, and pet her Border Collie, Gloria.
Nothing more exciting than that was necessary. Focusing on how she hadn’t had a date in eight months—hadn’t gotten laid in eighteen—would just make her drink more of the wine than was prudent and wreck the rest of the weekend.
She was busy with work, she told herself. Caroline did important work at the Second Chances Credit Union. She was one of the counsellors who specifically worked with small business owners in the community; she could point to a dozen businesses on Main Street that she’d helped to weather the recession. She could pay the mortgage on her townhouse, and if she looked out the living room window at just the right angle on a clear day, she could totally see the lake. What more could a woman want, really?
Friendship. Companionship. God, some hot sex would be nice. Bonus points if it didn’t require recharging.
Caroline sighed and rubbed her eyes. 4:25. Any sane person would just get up and leave. She’d had back-to-back clients until lunch and no more than a five minute lull in the afternoon. Her boss had already left for the day, cutting out at 3:30, and Jack, the other SB Counsellor on staff, would be here until 5:30 when the office closed. He would happily handle anything that came in between now and then.
But still. Her ass was glued to her chair. For five more minutes.
When the bell attached to the front door jingled, she sighed and prepped her professional face. She looked up, smiled, and then made a concerted effort to reel her tongue back into her mouth.
The guy in the doorway was tall—probably taller than her own 5’11”, though she wasn’t positive without standing in front of him and seeing how far up she had to look. His hair was a deep auburn, and curly. He wore it long, and it was pulled back from his face in a braid, of all things. He had a full goatee and mustache, but his beard was trimmed down neat and tight to his jawline, his cheeks clean. He wore a dark grey T-shirt that looked like it was at least a size too small—the better to highlight his cut abs and built shoulders, my dear—and jeans that traced over his narrow hips and— She yanked her eyes back up to his face. HIs green eyes were all but laughing at her.
“Hello,” Caroline forced herself to say, standing and extending a hand. From his desk, Jack looked up, smirked, and went back to the computer file in front of him. “My name is Caroline Lewis. How can I help you?”
He was taller than her, by several inches. The man stepped in a hair too close and took her hand. He had ink around both his wrists in a pattern of Celtic knots and weavings and he smelled amazing, like sunshine and leather.
He held her hand a spare moment longer than he needed to and she resisted the urge to smooth her blonde hair back. First of all, there was no way she was going to look that stereotypical in front of Jack, and second, her hair was in a ponytail. It was fine.
“Hi,” he said. “Mason. Mason Butler. I just took over the books for a garage, and I was hoping you could help me sort something out.”
“Sure,” she said. “Come on over here and sit down.”
She had a crazy urge to start neatening her desk, as if he wasn’t sitting down just a few feet from her. He was watching her carefully, maybe more carefully than strictly necessary for someone who needed to get help straightening out company accounts. She wasn’t going to let herself hope, but there was nothing wrong with fantasizing. “So you just took over the accounts for this business. What sort of business is it?”
“A garage. Basic stuff: maintenance, repair, some resale, but not too much.”
“So what’s making you think that something’s off?”
That fun zing of energy switched off like he had it on a switch. His eyes were intense, and his fingers were tight on his legs. “Funny feeling?” he said, and she knew there was a hell of a lot more to it than that. Whatever the problem was, however it was that he’d taken over the business, there was a story here.
Caroline hated to admit it, but she found herself leaning forward, interested. The clock on the bottom corner of her monitor clicked over to 4:31; she reached over and tapped the monitor off. “So, a garage, huh? Cars, trucks, motorcycles, all of the above?”
“All of the above, but we specialize in bikes.” He seemed surprised at her sudden left turn in the conversation.
“Bikers,” she laughed to herself, thinking of her cousin Teddy. “Organ donors waiting to happen.”
His smile came back, almost looking like he was swallowing a laugh. “Really?”
“Basically. I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just—all the drama about helmet laws and safety precautions, all the resistance. My cousin’s always going on about it. My point has always been: you’re welcome to go without a helmet, just as soon as you sign your organ donor card and notify your next of kin.” She shrugged. “Plus, the beards.”
“I’d be afraid they’d get caught in the gears somehow.”
He was all but laughing now, and his hands were relaxed. Good. That was what she needed. Him open and ready to talk, so that she could figure out what was going on.
“So, Mr. Butler—”
He did laugh at that. “Jesus, no. Mason. Please.”
Caroline grinned. “Sure. While I certainly respect your funny feeling, Mason, and I’d be happy to help you figure out what’s going on, I’d need more information. Books, maybe? Billings and receipts?”
She’d seen enough small business attempts at accounting to be beyond relieved when he pulled out a black ledger marked with “2014” on the cover. It wasn’t bristling with random papers, either. A good start. He passed it over and she opened it up, tracing her finger down a column of numbers. They added up, nothing immediately tipping her over into “what the hell” territory, but it was also just the books. To really know…
“Nothing’s jumping out at me, but to really go over things, we’d have to be able to look into past billings—accounts receivable and payable, that sort of thing. Do you have access to all of that? From before and after you took over?”
Mason looked uncomfortable again. “I don’t have it on me. I could get it for you, but—it’ll take time. I could come back in an hour or two?”
“I’m off at 4:30,” she said before thinking it through. “Jack’s here until 5:30, though, when the office closes.” She gestured at her colleague, and she was quite sure she saw Mason’s face fall, just a little bit. “Monday?”
“This whole thing is kind of time sensitive,” he said. “I need to get this settled as quickly as possible.” He leaned in close, and she felt her panties all but dissolve as the smell of sunshine and leather washed over her again. God, she needed to get laid. She needed to get laid in the worst way.
“We could go over to the garage together—”
Jack looked up at the outburst, and Caroline could see Mason calming himself.
“Sorry,” he said. “I know this sounds like a bad movie line, but… I think someone may be setting me up to take the fall for something I didn’t do. I don’t want to go back there until I know what I’m up against.”
Then take me out for a drink
, she thought, and shook her head. “Can you get the paperwork?”
“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I can get someone to get it
me, though.” He flashed her that smile again, that one that warmed up her insides. “Can I meet you somewhere? A bar? Hell, the public library?”
She wrote down an address. She could hear her mother’s voice in her head screaming
Caroline Lewis, what are you doing?
But she didn’t care. “This is my place,” she said. “Come by with whatever you can get your hands on. We’ll take it apart and see if there’s anything to worry about.”
He took the paper from her, his fingers brushing over hers, and she felt that heat kick up again in the lowest parts of her belly. My, oh my. So much for a quiet night with Gloria. “You sure about this?”
She nodded. “I’m glad to help.”
“Thank you.” He stood and left then, a surety of purpose in his walk that hadn’t been there when he’d come in.
Jack was shaking his head at her. “What?” she asked.
“That guy is trouble,” Jack said.
“You’re just jealous because I haven’t given you my address and invited
over.” She tossed her phone and her empty coffee mug into her bag; she needed to get home and shower before he got there. If he even showed up. The whole thing might have been some weird attempt at a scam. Who knew?
“That’s not the point,” Jack said, leaning back in his chair and giving Caroline the once over with no attempt to hide it. She rolled her eyes, and he laughed. “Just be careful, okay?”
“I’m always careful.”
“Your track record says otherwise.”
She couldn’t think of any response other than to stick her tongue out at him, and that would be immature, even for her. She did it anyway, then walked proudly out the door while he laughed.