Fallen crest home, p.6
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       Fallen Crest Home, p.6

         Part #6 of Fallen Crest High series by Tijan
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  his eyes seemed too bright.

  “Wouldn’t want either of you to lose consciousness on the drive over,” he said.

  Heather moved forward. “I can go with you guys.”

  “No.” I touched her arm. “I’m fine. Really.”

  She was so tense, but she melted at my touch. Then she was hugging me, her head resting where Mason’s had been earlier. I could feel her trembling.

  “I was so scared,” she whispered. “You didn’t see yourself, Sam. You were…” Her body twitched again. She couldn’t finish her statement. “I never should’ve invited you to come with me.”

  “Stop. I mean it.” I pulled back, keeping my hands on her arms. “I chose to go, remember? If anything, this is my fault.”

  She began to shake her head, and I opened my mouth, ready to take more of the blame, when Mason pulled me away.

  “Both of you shut up. Caldron’s my enemy. Stop with the blame game. You’re giving me a headache.” He touched the small of my back. “Come on, Sam. The sooner you’re checked out, the sooner we can go home.”

  He was right. Home. Bed. His arms. That was the list of where I wanted to be.

  I said one more time to Heather, “I’m fine!” and hugged her a last time before turning away and following Mason outside.

  Matteo was waiting next to Congo at the car. I didn’t know the specifics of the fight, and I hadn’t realized Matteo had fought with us, but his cut lip told me he had. Before I slipped into the backseat with Mason, I reached through the opened window and touched Matteo’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

  He shook his head. “Don’t thank me. I was deep in pussy and booze. I got in a few good hits at the end, but not enough. I never should’ve left your side.” He spoke to Mason as Congo started the Escalade. “I’m sorry, man. I let you down.”

  Mason waved him off. “This was my fight, not yours.”

  Anything else Matteo was ready to say, Mason must’ve changed his mind because he closed his mouth. As we pulled away, Mason lifted his arm for me, and I leaned into him, my head resting on his chest and my eyes closed.

  I could’ve stayed there forever, but soon enough I was pulled away to go into the hospital. A couple hours later, we checked out. The x-rays showed we were both fine, and I was back in his embrace.

  Everything was just as it should be.

  MASON

  The girl at the front desk gasped when she saw my face the next morning. I couldn’t blame her. I’d woken to a pounding head, black eye, busted lip, and aching ribs as well. Fucking Caldron.

  I didn’t want to shock this receptionist too much, so I kept my shades on. “James Kade said to be here at seven. I’m Mason Kade.”

  “I know.” Hearing my dad’s name and mine seemed to settle her a bit. She glanced around. “My manager said you’d be coming in, along with another guy. I’m supposed to show you to the conference room you’ll be using.”

  “And the other guy is here,” a voice announced.

  I turned to see Adam Quinn standing next to me with his hand raised. He was about to slap me on the shoulder.

  “Lay one hand on me and I’ll break it, Quinn.”

  He looked the same as in high school. I knew girls thought he was pretty with his height and blond hair, but he still looked like a preppy douchebag who wore sweaters tied around his neck like some Ivy League pedophile to me.

  He stepped back, looking at my face. “Your dad said you’ve been back a couple weeks. What shit have you already gotten into?”

  I shifted to face him directly. He was trying to see my eyes through my shades. “You still got a hard-on for Sam?”

  “What?”

  “Enough with the bullshit. Let’s just cut straight to business.” I rested a hand on the desk. The receptionist looked like a deer caught in headlights. “I hear you’re with that Sullivan girl, but I was there. I know how obsessed you were with my girl. So do you still have a torch? Are you and I going to have another problem like we did back in school?”

  A strangled laugh slipped out, and he cleared his throat. “Jesus Christ, Mason. We’re working together. I assumed you’d be over your issue.”

  “My issue?”

  His head lowered a fraction of an inch. He sighed. “No, I don’t still have feelings for Sam. Fuck’s sakes, I’m with Becky. Remember her? She was friends with Samantha.”

  He seemed to be genuine when he said he didn’t still have feelings for Sam. I was watching. Quinn was sleazy, but he was a piss-poor liar. I would’ve seen a reaction from him. I clapped him on the shoulder. “We can get through this.” I turned back to the girl at the desk. “You can show us that conference room now.”

  “Nope. That’d be my job.”

  A tall, skinny woman dressed in a business skirt held out a hand, flashing us both a smile. Her black hair was pulled back into some type of bun, and she had a bird-like nose with a small chin and dark eyes.

  “I’m Maxine. I’m in charge of cross-promotions with the country club, and that means I’m in charge of you two. I’ll be the person you go to if you need anything, okay?” She gestured with her head for us to follow as she started down a hallway. “The hotel is almost complete, but your fathers want you to have a room set up here as your office. The conference room I’ll show you is now yours to use. You’ll both be given keys for the property.” A second right, then she opened a door into a basic business room.

  A table ran the length of the space with black leather chairs around it. She pointed to a smaller table in the corner that was loaded with coffee and water, as well as baskets and trays of food.

  “Those will be changed every day. If you’d like lunch brought in, just call the front desk. They’ll have it arranged, and as I said, if you need anything, let me know.” Two business cards lay on the table. She touched them. “Here’s my contact information.”

  She pointed out the white board behind her and showed us how to use the projector. Once Orientation 101 was completed, she folded her hands in front of her. Scrutinizing first Quinn, then myself, she lingered on my bruises. “We usually schedule a small press conference to announce a new partnership, but I’m assuming you’ll want that postponed?”

  “Quinn can do it,” I told her. “He’s pretty.”

  Adam coughed, frowning at me. “Uh, pretty sure they’ll want Mason Kade there.”

  “He’s right.” There was a different look in Maxine’s eyes now, something close to a gleam. “Your dad wants to use your name. A football star is a big draw for publicity. They’ll want you to be there, but I don’t imagine you want the state of your face getting out. Soon-to-be-NFLer Gets Beat Up. Those headlines would double our publicity.”

  Adam looked away, his shoulders lifted in silent laughter.

  She noticed. “What?”

  I smirked. “You think I’m the one who got beat up?”

  “Oh.” The corner of her mouth dipped down, just briefly. Then her shoulders rolled back. “I just…you look like you did. That’s all.”

  “Being the one on the receiving end of his punches in high school a few times, I’ll say this for Mason.” Quinn gave me the smallest of nods. “There’s only one way you’d know if he was the one who got beat.”

  “What’s that?”

  He grinned at me. “He’d be in the hospital.”

  This fuckhead. I narrowed my eyes. He was being complimentary. He was being easygoing. “I still hate you.”

  He laughed. “I have no doubt, but we’re not enemies right now so…” He indicated the table. “Maybe we should act like project partners instead?”

  SAMANTHA

  “Hey there, my sister.”

  I lowered my book as my stepbrother Mark opened the front door and came out to the porch, a smirk on his face. He looked freshly showered and smelled it, too, as he gestured for me to move my legs so he could sit next to me.

  I scowled. “I was comfortable.”

  He shrugged, stretching his long legs in front of him. “You’ll get
over it. You know where my mom is?”

  I shook my head. “She was gone when I came over this morning. I assume she’s at the country club. One of her friends has a new obsession with wedding events.”

  He groaned, tipping his head back and pinching the top of his nose. “Great. My mom will start thinking she’s a wedding planner now.” He glanced at me. “Is she starting to harp on you and Mason?”

  I hid a grin. “Because we both know she’s not harping on you and Cass.”

  Mark was Malinda’s son, and he’d been staying at his girlfriend’s house since he came home for summer break. Cass was a point of contention. Malinda hated her, and Mark wouldn’t break up with her. I’d been a little sad when I learned he’d be staying there instead of at home. Mark was the only one from Fallen Crest Academy, my old school, who got along with Mason and Logan. Plus, it would’ve been nice to spend time with the guy who actually was an official brother to me.

  He grunted, stretching out even farther. “I think she’s hoping to help your mom with her wedding, actually.”

  I straightened in my seat. “Are you serious?”

  He nodded, yawning. “She likes to try to be on good terms with everyone.” He gave me a reassuring grin. “I wouldn’t worry about it. She’s probably doing it to spy on Analise more than anything. My mom won’t let yours hurt you again. She was bawling the night of the Christmas party last year.”

  I was taken aback. That was the first time I’d seen my mom again, and I hadn’t been fully prepared. “That wasn’t Malinda’s fault.”

  “But she saw your mom hurt you, and it was under her roof. You know how she is.”

  I frowned. I didn’t like hearing that at all. “I’ll talk to her.”

  “No. Leave it. She’ll worry anyway. Just let her do her thing. That settles her, at least a bit.”

  “Oh. Okay.”

  “Oh!” He suddenly shot up. “Hey, today’s the day, isn’t it?”

  “What day?”

  “The day Adam and Mason work together. Right? Or did I get that wrong?”

  I’d walked into the bathroom this morning to find Mason looking over his wounds from the night before. I’d forgotten he had to meet up with Adam this morning. I should’ve felt some sympathy for my boyfriend, but as I took in the sight of his hardened and ripped body in only his boxers, that was the last thing on my mind. Even though we were both hurting, a minute later I’d been on the counter with my legs wrapped around his waist as he was sliding inside.

  My neck grew hot. I coughed. “Oh yeah? That was today?”

  He rolled his eyes. “Like you didn’t remember. I half-thought you’d be there, spying on Mason while my mom’s spying on some wedding.”

  There was already a scheduled wedding to spy on, but I didn’t say that. “Right. Like I’m the type to do that?”

  “Uh, yeah. You are. When it comes to Malinda, anyone is the type. I know how she can talk a rock into pretending to be a pet dog. My mom’s got skills.” He shook his head. “Skills I wish I had.”

  I was going with a gut hunch here. “Cass problems?”

  He cringed. “Let’s not discuss my girlfriend. What about you? Mom said you’re staying with Mason at Helen’s now?”

  I nodded. It still felt weird being in her house. Mason had said I was welcome there. Logan would’ve said the same. But the person who owned the house probably had a different opinion. And I couldn’t shake the uneasiness I felt being there, especially with Mason at work during the days now.

  Hence the reason Mark found me on my stepmother’s porch.

  “Uh, let’s skip that topic, too.”

  He grinned crookedly. “Okay. Enough with this. Let’s go do something.”

  I was down. Whatever it was, I didn’t care. No Logan. No Mason. No Heather even. (Too soon after last night’s debacle. She would’ve broken down in apologies again.) I was in dire need of keeping my days occupied.

  Maybe that was why I found myself making a suggestion as we got into his car.

  “We should get a job together somewhere.”

  SAMANTHA

  Four hours later I found myself with a garbage stick, a trash bag, and a red vest over my clothes. I glared at Mark, who wore the same getup.

  “When you said the local carnival, picking up trash wasn’t what I had in mind.”

  He frowned over at the beer garden, the place he’d said we should try to get a job. “Me either.”

  “Come on, you two. Unless you’re reading the midway, get your asses in gear. There’s trash to be picked up.” The guy who hired us on the spot, after a good laugh, pointed for us to get going. “Everyone starts at the bottom. And if you find some hooch, bag it separately. We recycle that shit.”

  The guy wasn’t wearing a shirt. He was probably in his later fifties, and he had tanned and oiled skin with tattoos up and down his arms. A raggedy baseball cap was turned backward on his head, but his eyes were sharp. He skimmed the booths even as he turned to leave us, and a moment later he barked out, “Doggie, put that back. I don’t want to find your kick empty later on.”

  The worker waved at him. “Stop blowing your pipes. I’m fine.”

  They shared a couple more exchanges, but I couldn’t make it out. The words were jumbled together.

  “Hooch?” Mark looked around at the ground. “They recycle alcohol? What the fuck?”

  Another worker started laughing as he passed. “Slum.” He pointed at a piece of plastic on the ground and picked it up. “The really cheap shit. Keifer likes to be the definition of a cheapskate. It’s this crap he wants.” Brushing off some of the dirt, he handed over a plastic smiley face. Then he looked us over, taking in the trash picks and bags. “I would’ve marked you if you weren’t holding those things.”

  “This?” Mark lifted the trash stick.

  The guy nodded, narrowing his eyes slightly. “Just make sure he pays you at the end of each day.”

  “Wait. What?”

  The worker was moving on. He raised a hand in an absentminded wave before veering around a booth and into another one. Apparently, he manned some type of climbing game. People tried to climb up a rope ladder to ring a bell, but it kept flipping around, and they fell off.

  Mark watched the same two people trying a second time and cursed under his breath. “Sorry, Sam. It seemed like a good idea.”

  If I was being honest, finding myself picking up trash at a carnival seemed to sum up the last few weeks for me. What was I doing? Heather had a job. Mason had an internship. Even Logan had a new purpose in life: Taylor. And me? My purpose seemed to be more about avoiding Analise in case she tried to talk to me than doing anything productive.

  I speared an empty paper cup. “Let’s do the day and see how it goes.” I grinned at him over my shoulder. “It’s not like either of us has anything better to do.”

  “Uh.” He lifted an eyebrow, picking up some “hooch” and putting in a different bag. “I beg to differ. We have people to avoid. That’s why we’re here. It’s not like we have country clubs, private pools, or empty mansions to relax in. Nope. We don’t have any of those to take up our time.”

  Private pools, empty mansions, and country clubs were exactly the places I wanted to avoid. I flipped him my middle finger. “I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, so I’m just giving you this. I’m channeling my inner Logan.”

  He laughed, scooping a bunch of napkins and cups into his trash bag. “Speaking of the sex machine, when’s he coming back?”

  “Mason thinks a few weeks.”

  I felt Mark’s eyes on me as he mumbled, “Bet he’d come back earlier if he heard about those bruises you’ve not mentioned to me yet.”

  I stilled. I knew my cheek was red and swollen, along with some
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