Fallen crest home, p.10
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       Fallen Crest Home, p.10

         Part #6 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  be back. This is all my fault.”

  “Come on.” Adam came inside, followed closely by Becky. Cass stayed out in the hall. “It was four on one. That’s not fair, and it’s not Sam’s fault. You can’t fire her, sir.”

  Keifer’s eyebrows furrowed together. He leaned back in his chair, taking his time as he studied Adam. “And who the fuck are you?”

  “Oh. Uh.” Adam held his hand out. “I’m Adam Quinn. You might know my father, Steph—”

  “Get that hand out of my face.” Keifer stood up, looking at me. “This is what we’re going to do. You are fir—”

  “That’d be a mistake.”

  Mason spoke from the back of the office. He must’ve come in after me, and now leaned against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. Everyone looked at him. It was like a sleeping panther had woken up, and everyone remembered they’d left the cage door open. Tension rippled through the air, and I glanced at Keifer. His eyes were locked on Mason. He didn’t know Mason, but he knew this wasn’t another Adam Quinn who’d tried to assert his dominance with a weak handshake. Mason was the real deal.

  Keifer responded with a softer, “And you are?”

  Mason shook his head. “My name doesn’t matter.”

  “Then what does?”

  “You have an opportunity here.” Mason pointed to Adam and Becky, then to me. “If I were you, I’d be hiring townies for one reason and that’s the draw they can have on the local community. That’s why you hired Sam and Mark, right? You were eventually going to put them somewhere their friends would come and hang out? Spend their money on your food, games, booze.”

  “Maybe.”

  Keifer wasn’t giving a lot away, but neither was Mason. He continued to lean against the wall. He rested one foot over the other, striking a casual pose.

  “Those guys who attacked Sam aren’t guys you want to side with,” Mason said evenly.

  “Who says I am?”

  “They’re the type that will come in, get drunk, and piss all over your place. Your carnival will get vandalized, and you know I’m right.”

  Keifer’s eyes narrowed. “I wasn’t going to let them back in.”

  “Firing Sam is the wrong decision.”

  Keifer’s nostrils flared. “You already said. I’m still waiting to hear a good reason.”

  “Put her in the beer garden. That’s where she and Mark wanted to work in the first place.”

  “Every goddamn employee works their way from the bottom up. I ain’t putting any greenie in there. No new kid is going to pour my beer and fuck up my till. You got that?”

  “So fast-forward the orientation,” Mason shot back, standing straight now. His arms lowered to his side, but that only increased the tension in the room. His voice remained deceptively calm. “Put them in the beer garden. We’ll come hang out. And if we’re here, everyone else will come, too. Quinn’s connected to the rich preppy group, and I’m connected to Roussou people. Put Sam somewhere we can be, to help protect her, and you’ll double your normal sales.”

  “We do just fine on the weekends.”

  “I’m not talking weekends. I’m talking afternoons. If you do your homework, you know there’s a good crowd at Manny’s every night. That’s our crowd. We’ll bring them here instead.”

  I cursed inwardly. Heather would love that.

  Keifer seemed to be thinking it over, his gaze skirting from me to Mason and back again. Finally, after a longer-than-necessary silence, he pointed to me. “This your boyfriend?”

  “Yes.”

  “Were those guys after you because of him?”

  How did he—

  He smiled. “Four on one girl? It’s always payback if that happens, sweetie.”

  I flushed, but glared at the same time. “My name’s not sweetie. It’s Samantha.”

  Mason came to stand next to me. “You can fire Sam. That’s fine. She doesn’t need this job. But she likes being here. Do what I’m suggesting and at the end of the summer, you can throw a big bash. Tell everyone Mason Kade is celebrating at your carnival before he returns to Cain U for his last year.”

  Petey’s head whipped around, and Keifer went eerily still, almost glaring at Mason now. A vein popped out along the side of his jaw. “The football superstar? That kid?”

  “Yeah,” Mason said. “That kid.”

  Keifer jerked his head forward. “You that kid?”

  “I’m that kid.”

  “Rumor’s that your daddy’s pretty rich, too.”

  “He is, and he’s marrying Sam’s mom. That’s how we met, and that’s why she doesn’t need this job. You’re the one losing out if you fire her.”

  “Now.” Keifer barked out that word, leaning down to rest his hands on his desk. His jaw twitched. “I know that now, but the real question isn’t whether I want to miss the chance at those extra sales. It’s whether I want to deal with a bunch of spoiled pricks for the rest of the summer. You don’t think we can draw in our own crowd? You don’t think that’s what we do for a goddamn living, boy?” He waved to the door, dismissing us. “Get the fuck out of here before I change my mind and have those guys carted back in.”

  Mason took my hand. “Fine.” He led me out of the office. Adam and Becky trailed behind us. We found Matteo and Cass sitting on opposite ends of the bench outside. They stood when they saw us.

  “What happened?” Matteo asked.

  “Sam was fired.”

  Adam added to Mason’s short explanation. “The guy’s an idiot. He’s losing a ton of money. He should’ve listened—”

  Mason interrupted him. “Where were you?”

  “What?” Adam took a step back.

  “You were there. You could’ve helped her.”

  Adam’s eyes widened. He looked at me, then Becky before turning back to Mason. He coughed. “I went to get Mark. I’m the one who told Becky to get security. She’s the reason Petey even knew something was going on. We had no clue. They were behind the tent, and music was blaring. We couldn’t hear.”

  That was bullshit. Petey might’ve been distracted because he was doing his job, but Adam would’ve noticed Caldron before he went between the tents.

  “It’s true,” Mark said. “Adam came and got me. He’s faster than Becky.”

  It felt off, but Adam’s bases were covered. I had another issue to deal with. I dropped Mason’s hand and rounded on him. “Did you do that on purpose?”

  Everyone stilled. Again.

  Matteo murmured behind us, “Fuck.”

  The only one who didn’t seem surprised by my question was Mason. An unreadable mask fell over his face, and I knew he was guarding himself.

  “Yes,” he said.

  “You knew my boss would be insulted by the way you talked to him. A kid telling him what to do—you knew that’d slam the door on me working here.”

  “Yes,” he ground out a second time. “I’d do it again, too.”

  “Uh, guys.” Matteo moved away from us, guiding Adam and the girls. “Maybe we should give them some space, huh?”

  I was aware of them leaving, but my blood boiled. I couldn’t look away from Mason. “Why? Why did you do that?”

  “You know why.”

  Oh, no. I shook my head, shaking a finger in his face. “You don’t do that. You don’t soften your tone with me, like you’re giving up this fight. You already sabotaged me in there. Don’t back down now.”

  “I can’t protect you here.”

  “You just made a whole argument that you could.”

  “I can’t be here every single day.”

  “So? He could have me work at night, when you can be here.”

  “Every night?”

  “Yes!”

  “Every minute? Every time you have to take the garbage outside? Every time you forget something in your car and have to run to get it? I’m supposed to shadow you all of those times?”

  “Yes!” Why was he fighting this? “We’ve had worse threats.”

  “
Caldron’s gone after you twice now. The first time I was right there. He’s worse than Budd Broudou. He knows who you are. I can’t trick this guy, and as much as I’d like to, I can’t be with you at every moment. He’s the type who will lie in wait, and he’ll grab you the second I’m not around.”

  His arms were shaking, and he took a calming breath.

  “Sam.” He stepped forward, touching my arms gently. “This guy will hurt you.”

  I searched his eyes, trying to read his next move. “What are you going to do?”

  “I’m going to hurt him first.”

  “You already did.”

  Mason didn’t reply. Maybe that was the problem? Mason had already knocked him down, and Caldron just attacked again. If he kept coming, what could be done? I chewed on the inside of my cheek, keeping all those questions to myself. If I was thinking them now, I knew Mason had already processed them.

  “What are you going to do?” I asked.

  “I’m going to cut off his knees so the fucker can’t walk.”

  I let out a shaky laugh. “That sounds like a good plan.”

  Mason chuckled, his eyes softening as he drew me against him. He folded his arms around me, and I felt his lips graze my forehead, tenderly, before he found my lips. I closed my eyes and let myself melt into that kiss until we heard the office door open.

  “Well, kid, you talked me into keeping your girl around.”

  Mason tensed and lifted his head.

  Keifer stood in his office doorway, arms crossed over his chest and a smug grin on his leathery face. Petey stood behind him, chewing on the inside of his cheek.

  “You start in the beer garden tomorrow night,” Keifer told me. “Eight o’clock sharp. Petey’s going to be working with you.” He turned, clapped Petey on the shoulder, and disappeared back inside.

  Mason’s plan had just backfired on him.

  Every morning for the next week, I got up.

  Every morning I went for an hour-long run, sometimes an hour and a half.

  Every morning I stretched, then crossed the street to Malinda’s house, and she met me with coffee on the porch.

  Every morning we sat and stared at the gate two houses down.

  And every morning that gate remained shut, so I would start another day with knots in my stomach, tense about the moment I’d see her.

  At the end of each day, I finished my shift at the beer garden and slipped into bed with Mason. Then I’d wake the next morning, reach for my running shoes, and begin the process all over again.

  MASON

  “James is free to see you now.”

  I gave my dad’s receptionist a cursory look as I passed by. He was the one who’d called me in, so yeah, he’d better be free. But the new girl seemed overwhelmed, despite her professional greeting.

  “Mason.”

  My dad started to stand, but I shook my head and tossed some papers on his desk.

  “What’s this?” he asked.

  “Those are the promotional ideas and plans Adam Quinn and I put together for the hotel’s opening, and sorry, Dad…” I dropped into the seat across from him. “I hate to tell you this, but in all the time I’ve spent with him, I haven’t gotten a whiff of anything illegal. He’s annoyingly pleasant to work with, and happily in love with his woman. That’s all I’ve got.”

  He frowned, leaning back with the papers in hand. He scanned them. “Nothing?”

  “Nope.” I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “But I don’t know what you were expecting me to do. Quinn and I are not close.” And remembering last night’s fiasco at the carnival’s beer garden, I added, “And that’s never going to happen.”

  “Why not?” He dropped the papers back on his desk. His mouth flattened into a disapproving line. “I need something to get in with the mayor. You have to dig deeper on Quinn.”

  “I’m not a private investigator. You have an entire team of those at your beck and call. Use one of them.”

  “You don’t think I haven’t?” His voice rose.

  So did mine. “I’m your son, not your whore.”

  His hand slapped the desk, and he pushed up from his chair. “You owe me, Mason. You and Logan both. My investigators haven’t found anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Stephen Quinn dotes on his son.”

  I frowned. That wasn’t what I remembered. “Are you sure? Sam saw an exchange between Quinn and his father a few years ago. There was no love between them, or that’s how she described it.”

  He waved a hand in the air, dismissing the notion. “He had a heart attack last year. Apparently, he saw the light, and now he can’t wait for his son to officially join his company. The boy is supposed to get married, too, as part of the deal.”

  “Wait. What’d you say?”

  “What?”

  “You said he’s supposed to get married as part of a deal? A business deal?”

  “I believe so. Why?”

  “Because he just proposed to his girlfriend.”

  “Hmmm…”

  My dad didn’t look surprised.

  “You don’t think it’s genuine?” That couldn’t be. “I know when he gets laid. He comes to work whistling, and I could tell the two times they’ve had an argument. Those were the only two times I haven’t wanted to punch him for being annoying. He’s in love with Becky Sullivan.”

  “Where are you two working?”

  “Why?” Sudden caution rose up.

  “Because Maxine called and asked if you and Adam needed anything. She’s under the impression you’re done with your planning because you haven’t been there for the last week.”

  I shrugged, leaning back. “We hit a snag, had to move our office somewhere else.”

  “Where else?”

  “What do you care? We’re getting the work done. We have three events confirmed, and yes, I’ve agreed to use my name for all three of them—plus a radio interview. Are you going to throw a fit because we’re not planning where you want us to?”

  “Yes,” he barked. “Where are you working?”

  “We’re at the country club in the mornings.” We were just somewhere else in the afternoons since Sam had to start working at two.

  “And she said you guys leave at one thirty every day. Where do you go?”

  “We’re somewhere I can watch Sam. That’s all.”

  My dad stared at me, and a full minute of silence passed before he asked, “Why do you have to watch Samantha?”

  “Dad.” I held a warning in my voice and started to stand up. “I’m not getting into it about Sam. That’s my problem.”

  He rose with me, his head lowered like we were about to do battle. “She’s the daughter of the woman I love. I know she’s the woman you love, but I’m invested, too.”

  “Because of Analise?”

 
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