Mason - Book cover

Mason

Zainab Sambo

Chapter 2

LAUREN

Waking up the next day, I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me. ~I was about to start working for ~him.~

I put on my best business casual outfit and gave myself a pep talk in the mirror. Confidence is key, right?

As I rode through the city in a taxi, I felt a sense of hope. This was my chance to change my life. My chance to pay off those hospital bills.

My chance to save my dad.

But when I walked into Campbell Industries, the place was deserted.

The lobby was eerily quiet.

The silence was thick as I walked to the elevators, trying to keep my breathing steady. The sound of my heels clicking on the marble floor echoed through the lobby.

Something was off.

And when the elevator doors slid open, I found myself staring into the silver eyes of the Devil himself.

After a moment of shock, I realized I needed to acknowledge him.

“Good morning, sir,” I managed to say, unsure if I should step into the elevator or wait for the next one.

“Come on in, Ms. Hart. I don’t bite.”

He smirked slightly as he looked me over.

I stepped into the elevator, keeping my distance from him, trying to avoid his intimidating gaze.

But he moved closer, standing just inches away from me in the corner of the elevator.

“Um, sir… this doesn’t seem right.”

He reached out and touched my cheek, sending a shiver down my spine. Despite my fear, my body responded to his touch.

Was this some kind of test?

“Oh, Ms. Hart. Did you really think I hired you to be an assistant?”

I gasped as he grabbed my ass, pulling me against him. I couldn’t help but notice how muscular he was.

“You’re mine now. I own~ you.”~

I pushed him away and gasped for air as the elevator doors opened to the top floor.

I looked out at Mason Campbell’s empty office, just as I remembered it.

Except for one thing.

My dad’s hospital bed was in the corner of the room, the monitors blinking and the steady beep of his heart rate filling the room.

“Dad?” What the hell was happening?

I rushed to his side, holding his hand as he looked at me with tired eyes.

“Oh, Lauren,” he said, his voice choked with emotion.

“You have to trust him. You have to do what he says. He’s going to save me. He’s going to keep you safe.”

When I looked back at Mason, he was gone.

But the office door was opening, and a woman covered in diamonds walked in.

What was going on?

As I looked at the woman, I moved closer to my dad.

“Hello, darling,” she said as she walked towards me. Could she be…

Then it hit me. “Mom?”

It couldn’t be.

But as I tried to get my dad’s attention, his heart rate monitor flatlined. His eyes glazed over as he looked at the woman he called his wife.

I screamed.

And I woke up screaming, covered in a cold sweat.

I couldn’t believe I’d had such a terrifying dream during my first week at Campbell Industries.

My fear of Mason Campbell was definitely tied to my attraction to him. But why were my parents in the dream?

The stress of this job and the pressure of taking care of my dad were getting to me.

I was on edge.

I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was working for Mason Campbell.

I kept pinching myself, thinking it must be a dream. Or a nightmare.

When I told my best friend and roommate, Beth, she laughed and called me a liar. Even after I showed her my ID card, she didn’t believe me. She wanted a picture of Mason, but I told her that was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.

She didn’t think I was important enough to talk to Mason, let alone work for him.

I was hurt by her words.

She acted like Mason was a god who couldn’t be approached. But let me tell you, Mason was no god.

He wasn’t the kind of person who would give candy to kids and say nice things. He was the Devil.

Mason was the kind of person who would take candy from a kid and eat it in front of them.

He was the kind of person who would push you in front of a moving car.

He was the kind of person who could break your heart with just a few words.

But I had to admit, he was good looking. Just dreaming about him made my heart race. Being in the same room with him made me feel like my heart might stop.

Why were handsome men always so cold and heartless?

But Mason was the worst of them all.

He had the nerve to say I wasn’t smart.

I was determined to prove him wrong. I was going to be the best assistant he’d ever had. I wouldn’t give him a reason to look down on me.

I needed this job. The paycheck was worth the stress of working for him. I could pay off my dad’s hospital bills and get him the best care possible.

He was going to be okay. I just knew it.

And despite everything, I had a good feeling about this job.

I put the dream behind me, got up, got dressed, and put on a brave face.

I didn’t bother to wake Beth before I left our apartment. I didn’t want to risk her saying something that might sour my mood. I grabbed my stuff and headed out.

I was wearing the best outfit I could find in my closet. It was a dress that would have been perfect for a wedding or a special occasion. But here I was, wearing it to work.

I couldn’t believe the hostility I felt when I walked into Campbell Industries. I was just relieved that the place was bustling as usual. After my strange dream about an empty lobby, it was comforting to see everyone, even if they didn’t seem thrilled to see me.

Word had gotten around that I was the new assistant to the boss. That hadn’t happened in a while.

Ignoring the few glares I received, I pressed the button for the elevator to take me to Mr. Campbell’s floor.

When the doors slid open, I was relieved to see that I wouldn’t be alone in the elevator. Today was already off to a better start than in my dream.

As soon as the door opened, I stepped out, my steps shaky. If my legs had a mind of their own, they would have bolted right out of there, leaving me legless. Even after a few days here, I still felt nervous.

I sat down at my desk and started my routine. Mason was probably already in his office, and I knew better than to disturb him. I still had a long life to live.

I answered emails, declined meeting requests, organized paperwork, and did a dozen other tasks to make Mason’s life easier. I had just hung up the phone with a very rude man who claimed that Mason had ruined his life when I heard a low chuckle from across the room.

A tall, lean guy was looking at me, a smirk on his face. His hair was short on the sides, with a slightly longer, messy spike in the middle.

When he saw me looking, he walked over to my desk. “Congratulations,” he said, his deep voice laced with humor.

“You’ve been his personal assistant for a few days now and you haven’t run out of the building crying. That’s worth celebrating.”

I couldn’t help but smile for two reasons. One, because I knew he was probably right, and two, because I knew I was going to like him. He had the friendliest face I’d seen in the office.

Doing a little curtsy that earned another chuckle from him, I said, “Would you like to engrave that on a cup and deliver it to my desk?”

“Oh, clever. You’re going to celebrate your own achievement. Sold.”

I extended my hand, my smile growing wider.

“I’m Lauren. Lauren Hart.”

The guy with the ginger hair released one hand from his cup and shook my hand.

“Nice to meet you, Lauren. I’m Aaron Hardy. It’s refreshing to see someone interact with the boss and not be an emotional wreck afterward.”

“You could say that I’m brave.”

He nodded, tilting his head to the side to study me.

“Or foolish. Why did you take the job?” he asked, and before I could reply, he cut me off with an exclamation, “Aha! I think I got it. It’s the paycheck, isn’t it? It’s always the paycheck.”

I rolled my eyes. “Something like that. I need the money.”

“Ahh.”

“You’re awfully nice to me. How is that possible? Everyone either hates me or is yet to hate me. They are all so uptight. Like people, please, take a chill pill.”

He laughed, his shoulders shaking. “Trust me when I say they’re jealous of you. Mr. Campbell doesn’t usually hire—excuse my choice of words—someone like you.

“He prefers employees with high class, people who wouldn’t embarrass his company. But they think you might be special to him.”

I snorted. “That’s ridiculous. He hates me.”

“He hates you just as much as he hates everyone,” Aaron said. “It’s not personal.”

“I wonder why.”

“And that, my dear Lauren, is what we all keep wondering,” he said, winking at me.

“Let’s get back to work before we have to stay back for an hour after work.”

I looked up at him, surprised.

“Are you serious?”

“Nope,” he replied, popping the “p.” “He’s not that much of a jerk.”

I gave him my best “are you kidding me” look.

He shrugged. “Okay, maybe he’s a jerk.”

“A grade-A jerk if you ask me,” I said.

Someone cleared their throat and I froze in shock, my heart racing.

It was Aaron’s laughter that snapped me out of it.

“Oh my God.” He doubled over with laughter. “You should have seen your face. You thought it was him.”

“It isn’t?”

“No, but you should be careful with your words.”

A girl with green hair smiled at me, draping her arm around Aaron’s neck.

“Is this the new girl?”

I stood up straight, pushing my shoulders back, and stared straight into her eyes.

She chuckled.

“Damn, girl, I don’t bite,” she said, amused at my attempt to stand my ground.

I immediately relaxed, figuring that she meant no harm. No sign of disdain.

“I’m Athena.”

I raised a brow.

She grinned. “My mom is weird.”

I smiled. “Lauren. You have green hair and you’re not fired.”

I knew for a fact that Mason would never, ever hire someone with green hair.

“That’s because he can’t fire me. I’m his aunt.”

“What? But you don’t look a day over—”

“Twenty-three?” Athena asked. “Yeah, I get that a lot. He’s older than me, but I’m his aunt. His mom is my half-sister.”

“Wow.”

She must be the only person he would be nice to.

Athena looked at my stunned expression. “Sweetie, just because I’m his aunt doesn’t mean I don’t get his crap too.”

“Yeah, but you’re the only person he respects,” Aaron chimed in.

She shrugged, like it was no big deal. I couldn’t imagine Mr. Campbell respecting anyone. His ego was as big as the planet. It was strange to think that a man who demanded respect from everyone could actually respect someone else.

“Let’s go,” Aaron said, “I’m supposed to make sure you get to his next meeting early.”

My eyebrows shot up.

“Really? So he thinks I can’t be on time and he’s assigned a babysitter? And you’re the unlucky one who has to escort me to the meeting?”

He straightened up, a playful smile on his face.

“I’m just messing with you, Lauren. He doesn’t have the time or energy to do that. I just don’t want you to get fired. You don’t know what will happen if you do.”

I’d heard rumors that you’d be lucky to ever work again…

“Oh, I think I have a fair idea,” I said. “But that’s just ridiculous. Why would he have so much influence on people?”

“You underestimate the power of Mason Campbell, Lauren.”

I walked with Aaron to the conference room and, to my surprise, someone had already beaten me to it.

Jade.

She was sitting in the chair closest to the boss’s seat.

I tried to stifle a laugh, but I guess I didn’t try hard enough. She looked up and glared at us.

“Guess someone is more eager than you to please the boss,” Aaron commented.

“Don’t try too hard, Jade. It will only be a waste.”

“Shut up,” she snapped at him.

I didn’t say anything and found a seat at the end of the table and slipped into it. Aaron took the chair next to me.

At exactly eight o’clock, people began coming in and filling in all of the empty chairs until there was one left.

At exactly three minutes past eight, Mr. Campbell walked in. We rose from our seats and when he sat down, we followed suit.

I tried so damn hard to stay out of his sight. But not enough, since I could still see his face clearly.

He wasn’t smiling and he wasn’t frowning either. He looked serious and determined. Everyone else gave all of their thoughts and attention to him. Power, leadership, and authority were his.

I looked away from his penetrating gaze and focused my attention on the view outside.

“Ms. Hart.”

It was just so beautiful. I could stare at it all day.

“Ms. Hart.”

“Lauren,” Aaron hissed, elbowing me in the ribs.

“Ouch, what?” I glared at him, rubbing the place he had elbowed me. It hurt. I hoped he didn’t bruise me. Then I noticed all eyes were on me.

I wanted to hide under the table.

“Not paying attention during your first meeting. Are you trying to get fired, Ms. Hart?” he mocked.

Mr. Campbell’s eyes were on me, his arms crossed as he regarded me.

His dark blue Armani suit somehow made him appear broader and taller than ever.

The very air seemed to hum and sizzle with the power of his presence: forceful and vital, so very bold and demanding.

My pulse suddenly beat rapidly at his attention, yet I was determined he didn’t know the effect he had on me…or did he?

I raised my chin, and I stared back with what I hoped was the gaze of someone cool and confident.

“Sorry. It won’t happen again.”

I was glad I didn’t stammer and show a sign of weakness.

A beat of silence.

“Ms. Willow.”

Jade was quick to answer. “Yes, sir?” She sounded annoyingly sweet. She looked like a dog who had seen a treat.

God, couldn’t she at least try to look less excited?

“Exchange seats with Ms. Hart.”

Her face fell in shock. I was just as surprised as she was.

Jade slipped out of her chair, and Aaron had to elbow me again before I got out of my chair. With every step I took, the knot in my stomach tightened.

I would have much preferred to stay where I was.

The fact that all eyes were on me, especially Mr. Campbell’s, made me uneasy.

My steps slowed, but I didn’t stop moving.

I took Jade’s chair.

I was out in the open for everyone to see. I wanted to sink to the floor and disappear.

Athena was there as well. Her brows shot high up in surprise; then she winked at me.

I glanced at Aaron, who wore an easy smile.

I knew that everyone in the room was startled by Mr. Campbell’s decision, though they did not say so out loud.

And Jade was giving me a penetrating death stare…

I looked up at Mason Campbell. His gaze was still fixed on me, somehow making me feel totally insignificant, but also like the only person in this entire room.

When the meeting wrapped, Mason Campbell stayed seated while everyone else flowed out of the room.

Attempting to make a quick escape, I moved in front of Athena to block me from his penetrating eyes. But that didn’t last very long.

He cleared his throat, and his low voice growled above the din, “Ms. Hart. A word.”

I turned abruptly, trying to stop my hands from shaking as I stood before him.

“Not paying attention will not be tolerated here at Campbell Industries. I won’t tolerate your gaze wandering, no matter how desperately you struggle to focus.”

A smile crossed his lips as he stepped closer, closing the gap between us.

“It is your job to remain at my side through all business meetings and beyond if need be. You’re all mine. From here on out, I own you.”

I tried not to let his words get to me, but those piercing grey eyes and the deep rumble of his voice made my knees weak.

I was in for a lot more trouble than I had expected…

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