When You’re Back
It had been twenty-two days, five hours, and thirty minutes since I’d said good-bye to Mase at O’Hare Airport. Once he was sure I was safe at my father’s house in Chicago with my newfound family, he returned to Texas to his family’s ranch, which just couldn’t run without him.
Going back with him had been so tempting. I was ready to start my life with Mase, and I was anxious to make his home our home. But first, I needed to do this.
A little more than a month ago, a polished, well-groomed Italian man had shown on my doorstep in Rosemary Beach, where I had worked as a maid for some of the town’s wealthiest families. Not too long after I’d met Mase, the father I had never known—and hadn’t even been sure was alive—had walked back into my life, wanting to be a part of it.
Mase had been right there with me, holding my hand through it all. Benedetto had stayed with us in Rosemary Beach for a week, and then we’d all flown to Chicago together.
I soon found out that not only did I have a father, but I also had a brother. He was two years younger than I and a total riot; Raul made me laugh constantly. I also had a grandmother, or nonna, as she preferred to be called. She loved to sit and talk
with me for hours. She told me stories about my father when he was younger and showed me pictures from Raul’s childhood. She also told me how she’d pleaded with Benedetto to find me. He had his reasons for not coming after me. That was all he ever told anyone. I wanted to hate him for not coming for me when I was younger, but I couldn’t. My life had led me to Mase.
The time I’d spent with them had been wonderful, but I had missed Mase. Talking to him every night wasn’t enough. I needed him. I needed him more than I needed a father, brother, and nonna. Mase was my family. The first person who had ever truly been there for me after a lifetime of abuse from my mother and stepfather.
Now, finally, I was home—or in the place that had been about to become my home before my father had shown up. Mase and I were planning to move in together, but that hadn’t fully happened yet.
I hadn’t let Mase know I was coming back early. I wanted to surprise him.
The cab driver pulled up outside of Mase’s parents’ house on their sprawling ranch. A quick look at the dark house told me no one was home. Good. My surprise was just for Mase. I quickly paid the driver, pulled my one piece of luggage out of the trunk, and hurried toward the stables. Mase’s truck was parked outside beside another truck I didn’t recognize.
I propped my suitcase beside his truck, then made my way down the small hill to the stables. I knew he’d be there, since he’d told me he wasn’t planning to train a horse that day. My heart was racing with excitement, and my hands itched to touch him. I was thankful I’d had time with my family, but I wasn’t leaving Mase again. If he couldn’t go with me to Chicago
next time, then I wouldn’t go. They’d all just have to come visit me here.
Female laughter drifted from the stables as I got closer. Was he handling a business deal? I didn’t want to interrupt him if this was a client. I couldn’t throw myself into his arms if he was in the middle of dealing with a horse and its owner. I paused outside the stables.
“No, Mase, you promised me the other night that we’d go riding today. You can’t take that back now for work. I want my ride,” the woman said. Her voice sent a chill down my spine. It was young and flirty; she was too familiar with him.
“I know I promised, but I have work to do. You’ll have to be patient,” he replied.
“I’m going to bat my eyelashes and pout if I don’t get my way,” the female threatened.
“No games today, Aida. I seriously have stuff to do. You’ve been monopolizing all of my time the past two days,” he said in a voice that had me backing up. I knew that voice. He used it with me.
“But I’m bored, and you always entertain me,” she argued playfully.
“Seriously, I need you to give me some time to get things done today. I’ll entertain you tonight. We’ll go out, get something to eat. I’ll even take you dancing.”
My heart cracked. What I was hearing couldn’t be interpreted many ways. Mase was spending time with another woman. He cared for her. I could hear it in his voice.
I had assumed he was cheating on me once before. I didn’t want to do that again, but what else could this mean? I glanced at the truck parked beside his and then back at the door leading
inside. My heart wanted me to run away and curl up in a ball to keep from falling apart.
But my head was telling me I needed to face this. Whatever it was. I should at least give Mase the chance to explain before I left.
All the excitement I had been feeling moments earlier completely died. I was filled with emotions I couldn’t even begin to untangle.
The woman’s laughter floated outside, followed by Mase’s low chuckle, which always made me feel warm inside. He was enjoying himself. Being with this woman made him happy. Had I been gone for too long? Had he needed someone else?
Or had he figured out that I wasn’t as special as he thought I was?
“Hello. Can I help you?” the female voice asked.
I snapped my head up to see her standing in the doorway of the stables as if she were about to leave. She was tall, with long blond hair pulled up in a ponytail. Without any makeup on, she was still stunning. Full lips and perfect white teeth. Her large green eyes seemed to glitter with happiness. Mase had that effect on women.
“Are you here about a horse?” she asked, when I said nothing, just stood and stared at her. The jeans she was wearing were tight and showcased slender hips and tiny thighs. She was model-thin. I was not.
“I-I, uh—” I stammered. How could I talk to this woman? I should have just left. Confronting Mase while she stood there, looking like a Barbie doll, was going to be impossible. He would look at the two of us standing side by side and see who was the better pick.
“Are you lost?” she asked.
Yes. I was completely lost. Everything I thought I knew was true, everything I thought was mine, wasn’t. “Maybe,” I whispered, then shook my head. “No. I came to see—”
“Reese!” Mase’s voice boomed from behind the woman, and before I could say anything else, he was pushing past her and wrapping me up in his arms. “You’re here! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home? I would’ve come to get you. God, you smell good. I missed this. I missed you so fucking much!”
I stared over his shoulder at the woman, who was no longer smiling. She was staring at me as if I were repulsive.
“I wanted . . . I wanted to sur-surprise you,” I tripped over my words, not sure what to think. I had heard him with her. I knew he was spending time with her, and she obviously didn’t want me here.
He grabbed my face and covered my mouth with his. As unsure as I was and as hurt as I had been by what I’d heard between him and this woman, I quickly pushed my feelings to the side. The taste of Mase and the feel of his lips moving against mine always undid me. He feasted on my mouth, and I clung to him as I inhaled his scent. The flick of his tongue over mine made me shiver. Nothing else in the world mattered when I was with him like this.
“Ahem. I’m still here, guys. Remember me?” The other woman’s voice broke through my delicious haze, and I froze. Pulling back from me, Mase actually chuckled and glanced back at the woman, keeping his arms tightly wrapped around me.
“Sorry, Aida, my woman is home, and I’m going to be all kinds of tied up for at least the next forty-eight hours. Maybe more. Go find something to do back at the house,” he said,
then kissed the tip of my nose as he turned his back on the woman again.
“Kinda rude running off and leaving me and not introducing me to your friend,” she replied, with obvious distaste in her tone.
Mase grinned down at me and winked. “She’s a diva. You’ll get used to her.” Then he turned his head toward the other woman. “Aida, this is Reese, the woman I haven’t shut up about. The one I talk to for hours every night.” He turned his attention back to me. “Reese, meet my only girl cousin, Aida. She’s a bit spoiled, a lot dramatic, and easily bored.”
Cousin? If that’s all she was, why was she glaring at me like I was standing in her way?
I looked back at Aida, and she smirked. Although I was comforted by the knowledge that they were related, something about the way she looked at me felt like a challenge.
How . . . odd.