Mason grew aware of Sam’s focus. He met her gaze and saw the wariness in it. “I won’t hurt her, not unless she hurts you first.”

Her shoulders rose and her chest moved up as she took in a pocket of air. She didn’t say anything, not at first. Then, her voice cracked and she murmured, “I told her I didn’t want anything to do with her.”

“But we all know that’s bullshit.”

She glanced to Logan. He added, “Come on, Sam. This is your mother. Our mom’s hardly ever around again, but I can’t deny that there’s a little boy inside of me who still wants her attention.” His tone quieted. “You can’t deny that either, even to yourself.”

“I’m not…” But she stopped.

She was.

Her head went down and her hands wrapped around the glass, holding it in a tight grip. The longer she took to respond, the tighter her grip grew. She jerked her head back up, a haunted expression hung over her. “I’ve never been more scared to let someone back in my life.”

“So don’t.”

Logan and Sam both quieted, turning to Mason as he said those two simple words. He pressed against the bar, but he didn’t reach for Sam’s hands. He knew she would’ve recoiled, just because she didn’t want to soften in that moment. She needed to remain hard. He said, “Don’t let her in. If you decide at some point to try, then it’ll be then. It doesn’t have to be now. It doesn’t have to be on her timeline. It’s your call. Your decision. Your time. You control every aspect of it.”

Logan snorted. “Analise is going to love that.”

“I don’t care,” Mason threw at him. He narrowed his eyes. “If she starts piping up, we’ll shut her up. We did it before. We can do it again.”

Logan held his gaze, then swung to Sam. All three were silent for a moment, and in that shared quiet, it was three of them versus Analise. But it was more. It went deeper. It was them versus anyone who tried to hurt one of them. It was like this before. It was like this now, and it would be forever.

The door leading to the basement opened and Christmas music from above filtered down to their room. Mark’s voice said, “They’re down here…I think…” He came down and nodded. “Yep. At the bar. I guessed right.”

Heather Jax followed him. A slow grin tugged the corner of her mouth up and she lifted up her hands. “I bring you good tidings and joy.”

“Finally.” Logan met her half way and took some of the bags. He carried them back to the bar. “What’d you bring us, Jax, and sidenote,” he paused before opening a bag and winked at her, “How are you and Channing?”

She fixed him with a warning stare. “We’re on again.”

Logan wrinkled his nose. “So that means there’s no chance of a ‘you and me’ being ‘on’ tonight either?”

“Not a chance.”

“Just so you know, having a boyfriend is overrated.”

“Why?” She leaned back and folded her arms over her chest. “Because I can’t hook up with guys?”

“Because you can’t hook up with me.” He ran a hand down his chest, smirking. “I’m the Jack Sparrow of Christmas tonight. I’ve got Rum, my own sword, and the right attitude about your problem.”

Heather closed her eyes, bit down on her lip, then let out a sigh. “I don’t even want to ask, but I can’t help myself.” She looked at Logan. “What is my problem?”

“The question that will plaque you all your life.” He leaned close and whispered, “Should I or should I not find out where Logan hung his stocking?”

Sam burst out laughing. Mason shook his head and Heather rolled her eyes. She held up a hand, placed it over Logan’s face, and pushed him backwards. “I already know where your stocking is hung. Thank you, but the only thing I really want from you—” Her hand snaked down his arm and she grabbed the bottle from him. Brandishing it between them, she grinned. “—is the rum. Merry Christmas, Logan, but I’ll never go down your chimney again.”

Without missing a beat, Logan said, “Ho, ho, ho.”

“Okay.” Sam pressed her lips together, then cleared her throat. Going around the bar, she held her hands up and said, “Give me a hug. Holy shit, woman. I’ve missed you.”

As Sam and Heather hugged, Logan opened one of the bags. “Holy crap, woman.”

Heather pulled back, saw the reason for his statement. “Yeah.” She grabbed one of the other bags and reached inside to pull out a forty ounce bottle of beer. Holding it up, she showed it off as if it were a prize. “One of the benefits from running the grill now, not that I didn’t have the hook-up before, but whatever.” She laughed, setting it down and pulling out another forty ounce bottle. The rest of the bags were opened. All held the same size bottle. She gestured to all of them. “Merry Christmas, fuckers. I’m keeping it classy this year. Forties for everyone.”

Logan groaned, holding his tightly. His eyebrows pinched forward and he shook his head, his eyes scanning her up and down. “You bring me a forty ouncer. You dress in your little jean miniskirts, and you share my same dirty sexual humor. Why the fuck did Channing meet you first?”

Heather laughed, pressing a kiss to his forehead. She murmured before stepping back, “You and me would never work, Logan. I’d only bring out the dirty side of you.”

“That’s quite fine with me right now.” He gazed down right into her eyes. “Sure you can’t take a ‘holiday’ from Channing, just for the night?”

“I’m ignoring that, but Merry Christmas to one my favorite flings ever.”

The two saluted each other, tapping their bottle necks to the other, before they both tipped their heads back and drank. As they did, Sam moved around the group and pressed against Mason’s side. She burrowed into him and he adjusted, turning so his back was to the flirting two with Mark silently watching. His mouth was twisted into an awkward grimace. Taking Sam’s hand, he pulled her back around the group and into her bedroom. Shutting the door, he leaned against it and pulled her towards him, holding both of her hands again.

She closed her eyes and rested her forehead to his chest.

Mason cupped the side of her face, tilting her backwards to look up at him. As he did, he said, “She won’t hurt you. I won’t let her.”

A tear welled up, but it didn’t fall. It held there, pooling in the corner of her eye. “Some hurts can’t be prevented. Having a mother like that is just one of them.”

Mason let out a groan, letting his head fall down so his forehead rested against her. “If I can prevent it, I will. I can promise that much. At least.”

“I know.” She lifted their hands so they were pressed between both of them. “Merry Christmas, Mason.”

He laughed, his chest moving slightly, as he traced the side of her face. His finger swept up to her lips and lingered at the corner of them. “Merry Christmas, Samantha.”

She smiled up, as his own lips mirrored her same expression. Then, she raised herself up on tiptoes and pressed her lips to his. She breathed into him, “I love you.”

Mason didn’t say it back. His lips took over and he locked the door behind them. He showed her, instead.

WWW.TIJANSBOOKS.COM

TIMELINE: AFTER FALLEN FOURTH DOWN AND BEFORE FALLEN CREST UNIVERSITY

Mason was in Fallen Crest. I was in Boston. This Christmas was going to suck. I didn’t even want to contemplate it as I laid in bed that morning. Garrett had been great. The entire trip to Boston, being flown first-class, getting picked up by him and his driver, spending the last few days in his apartment that was downtown in Boston. All of it was glamorous, in some effed-up way, but I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be in bed. I wanted to have woken up with Mason beside me.

“Samantha?” Garrett’s voice came through the door.

I cursed under my breath, but called out, “Good morning.” I didn’t want to talk to him yet, but I didn’t want him worried that something was wrong. He’d be knocking every five minutes asking if I wanted something to eat, something to drink, if he should order a movie, etc.

>   “It’s Christmas today.”

“Yep.” Fucking great. “Merry Christmas.”

“Uh, can you come out here? There’s a surprise for you.”

A small laugh left me. “I saw the Christmas tree. Those thirty presents aren’t really surprises.”

“No, I mean,” he leaned back, and his voice grew muffled. I sat up, frowning, but then I heard him say, “Okay. Love you too.” Then he leaned back closer to the door, his voice growing clear again. He said, “I’m making breakfast for us, but I have it on good authority that you like coffee too. There’s a latte here. I don’t want it to go cold.”

“Oh.” I sighed. That was really sweet of him. “Okay. I’ll be out in a little bit.”

“I’ll hurry with the first batch of pancakes then.”

As he left, I got dressed, but it was just Garrett and me. If I’d been at Fallen Crest, I would’ve put on jeans and a better top. Mason and Logan would’ve been at the house all day. Heather might’ve stopped over. Hell. Because of Mark, I was sure some of the Academites would’ve come as well. At this rate, I wouldn’t have even minded them.

When I headed for the kitchen, all I could think about was who I was missing at home. Tears were at my eyes, threatening to spill, but I could hear Garrett’s voice. He was back on the phone and he sounded so damn happy. I stopped, right before the kitchen and took a breath. I was in Boston because Mason and Logan wanted me there. I was there for my safety in case of any fall-out from the house burning, but damn. It hurt. A lot.

I wanted to be with them.

But I wasn’t. I was here, with my biological dad.

Forcing a smile on my face, I stepped into the kitchen. Garrett was smiling at me, a look of expectation in his eyes. I frowned. “What?”

He gestured towards the door. “There’s your latte.”

As I turned, I gasped. He was right—my latte was there and it was being held by Mason.

He was there. He was in Boston. He was right in front of me.

His eyes widened as he saw my intent. He had just enough time to put the coffee on the table beside him before I launched myself at him.

Wrapping my arms around his neck, my legs wound around his waist, and I burrowed into his chest. He was with me. That all I cared about. “Mason,” I whispered, but I couldn’t even say his name without choking. I stopped trying and I just held him.

His arms wrapped around my back and he held me. He whispered into the crook of my neck and shoulder, “I have a day to be with family. I have to fly back for football tomorrow.”

One day. I got him for one day. I whispered against his chest, “I love you. Thank you for this.”

He cupped the back of my head in a tender motion and whispered back, his lips grazing over my skin, “I love you back.”

“Okay.” Garrett cleared his throat from behind us. “I think—well, look at that. I’m completely out of flour and I have a sudden desire to make bread. So,” I kept my head buried into Mason’s chest, but I could hear Garrett moving around and then the door opened. He said, “I’m going to head out for a while. Get that flour and maybe some wine, don’t tell your dad on me.”

Mason chuckled and the sound of it warmed me, sliding inside of me and making everything all right. He swept a hand down my back and pressed his lips to my forehead again. Then he whispered, “As much as I’d like to bury myself in you, I can’t do that to Garrett.”

I clasped tighter to him. I didn’t even care. Mason was there. He was in my arms. He was holding me. My Christmas was complete. I tipped my head back, meeting his eyes and I whispered, a small tear appearing at my eye, “Thank you for coming.”

His eyes roamed over my face, a tender look in them, and his grin softened. “You’re family. Where else would I go?” I was about to say Logan’s name, when Mason shook his head. He said before I could, “I love my brother, but he’s not you. There was no choice in my mind. It’s you. It’s always you.”

I knew it was Christmas. I knew I was in Boston to spend time with my real dad and to be safe, away from any fall-out from the fraternity if they chose to reach out to Fallen Crest, but I didn’t care about any of that right then. I wanted twenty-four hours of just Mason. No Garrett. No talk about anyone else. Just him and me and thinking about that, I slid down to the floor. He released me, but caught me at the last moment so I didn’t hit the floor too hard. I took his hand, entangling our fingers and I led him to my bedroom.

“Sam,” Mason started.

I shook my head and started grabbing clothes, then throwing them on the bed.

He paused in the doorway, watching me, as he braced himself with both his hands on the doorframe. He frowned. “What are you doing here?”

Stuffing enough to cover me for a day in a bag, I grabbed my shoes and a few toiletries, then I ducked underneath Mason’s arm and went back to the kitchen. He followed me and waited as I scribbled a note to Garrett.

Garrett—headed to a hotel. I get him for 24 hours. I’m not sharing with you. See you tomorrow at this time! Sam P.S. Merry Christmas! I’m really sorry.

Dropping the pen beside the note, I grabbed my keys, phone, coat, and then Mason’s hand again. I pulled him out the door and we headed down for the street. As we stepped to the curb, I lifted my arm and signaled for a cab.

Mason asked, “Are you sure about this?”

I nodded as a taxi slid to a stop beside us. When we got in, after I gave him the name of a hotel, I said to Mason, “Twenty-four hours. I want just you and me.”

Mason nodded and I saw the relief on his face. I understood it, to an extent. Because Garrett was taking care of me, Mason felt some sort of respect to him, like he owed him and being with me under his roof wasn’t the nicest way to thank a guy for watching his girlfriend. When we had talked about Boston, if I should go or not, Mason kept insisting. I understood from his point of view. Sebastian could go to Fallen Crest. They could hurt me, even there, but if I was in Boston, they might not reach out to me here. But I had been surprised that Mason was okay with me being here with Garrett and he explained one night, when we in bed, “The guy’s a douche, but he didn’t know about you. When he did, he came to see you.”

“But he left me.”

“He went back home to get his wife and make his family right again. Then he came again for his daughter.” He shrugged, playing with my fingers and gazing at the ceiling. “A part of me respects that. He’s trying to make his home solid for his kid. Dating my mom, that wasn’t the right way to start a relationship with your daughter, you know?”

He turned to look at me then and I didn’t see the slight respect he had for Garrett. I saw the father he would be. It took my breath away. I knew, I felt it then, that Mason would do anything for his child. No matter the circumstances, he would make his home life strong, just how he described, so his child would feel the security a child should only feel.

I started crying and he lifted a hand to my eye, wiping it away. “What’s wrong?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t talk for a moment. Mason would be the father the he hadn’t had, that I hadn’t gotten. My love for him swelled even more in me and I grinned, whispering, “I love you. That’s all. No, that’s not all. I love you even more.”

He frowned. “Why?”

“Just because.” Because of who you are. That’s why. But I didn’t say those words. I kept them to myself and I leaned close to touch my lips to his. He swept me over him and deepened the kiss. No words were shared after that, not for a long while as I showed him how much more I loved him.

He kissed me now, bringing me back to reality, and I looked up to see that we were at the hotel. It was a classy one. I knew Garrett had mentioned it a few times when he said if anyone came to visit, he would have them stay here so when we approached the front desk, I used Garrett’s name. The hotel was so nice that I doubted we would’ve gotten a room otherwise and it worked. My dad’s name got the front desk attendant’s attention and we were given a room key moments later

.

When we got into the room, I didn’t have time to look around. Mason swept me up and carried me to the bed, or maybe I swept him up. Our lips met and we didn’t talk for a long time, a very long time. Okay, we didn’t talk for the rest of the night. We didn’t sleep either. It was spent exploring each other’s bodies, showing our love, remembering how it felt to be with one another. The first time when he slid inside of me, I closed my eyes and savored the moment. Home. Mason was home. He was family. He was the future.

He was my soulmate.

It was short, but I hope you all enjoyed!

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