Emma saw Mason weaving through the crowd. Her breath hitched and she gave herself a mental shake. He was no longer lanky, instead he was muscular. His face was more angular, and she liked the scruff of beard. It accentuated his high cheekbones and slim nose. Gorgeous, as always. Even as a gangly boy, his face had hinted at the man he’d become. And the fitted blue shirt, cuffs still worn rolled up to just below the elbow, made his eyes appear all the bluer. Her breath threatened to hitch again, but the sudden downturn in his wide mouth into a formidable frown nixed that. He’d spotted her. And he was not pleased.
Mason intercepted her. “Tell me you aren’t here waiting for me.”
He smelled as good as he looked and sounded obnoxiously hopeful. “Hello, Mason.”
“It’s Gregory, as you well know, Emma.” He didn’t look flustered, just irritated. “Are you waiting for me?”
She smiled just to annoy him. “I am.”
“Great.” He shoved a hand into his slacks’ pocket. “I need a security specialist and headquarters sends me a reporter. Batting a thousand today.”
So was she; not that she’d mention it. She needed a battle with him about as much as she needed another close call on her life. “I’m glad to see you again, too.” She sniffed and jutted her chin so he wouldn’t miss it. Everyone else had called him Gregory or Greg. She’d only ever called him Mason, trying to get his attention. It had failed. But she kept up the practice to needle him. Compensation for his rejecting her.
“They honestly did send you?”
They, being his headquarters, of course. “I’m here. No one else is, or can get here,” she said, lifting a hand. “So, do you want me to go or to stay?”
He didn’t answer, but from his darting eyes, she saw the mental debate raging inside him. It annoyed her. “That was a rhetorical question, Mason.” She folded her arms. “I’m staying.”
His mouth twisted and a muscle in his cheek twitched. “Airport’s closed. You’re stuck. They’re stuck. Now I’m stuck with a reporter when I need a security specialist.” He sighed and engaged in a stare down.
Emma didn’t flinch or flay him with a sharp comeback. She couldn’t afford the luxury, being on probation. “For what it’s worth, I’d prefer to be going home.” That was the understatement of the year. It’d been six weeks since she’d left home on her last mission. “Blame your storm, not me.”
His phone chirped, and he checked an incoming message. While reading it, the expression on his face went from irritation to surprise, then back to irritation.
Likely his headquarters was informing him of her arrival and position, as well as her security clearance. While she wasn’t free to disclose her status outside of her cover, it was his headquarters’ responsibility to assure that nothing impeded her work. How they’d pass off that work being done by a reporter was their problem, not hers.
Mason stowed the phone at his waist, then clamped his jaw. “You’ve been cleared. I don’t get how, but my orders are explicit. Okay, fine. You’re the boss. God, help us.” He clamped his jaw. “Where’s your luggage?”
“It didn’t arrive.” True, but not the truth. Still, he would believe it over the truth any day of the week. The ashes of her luggage were spread on a runway in Libya. Burned in a Humvee that came under fire seconds after she’d departed from it. She’d been lucky to escape with her life and the hostage she had been sent in to rescue.
A flash of movement over Mason’s right shoulder caught her eye. A little girl about nine, wearing purple-framed glasses, a hot pink coat, teal neck scarf and a gray and white hat that was tugged down over her ears barreled toward him. “Incoming.” Emma dipped her chin to signal him.
He turned and smiled, spread his arms wide. “Olivia.” He swept the girl into a bear hug and straightened, lifting her. “I’m so glad you made it. We were getting worried about you guys.”
Emma watched with interest. Obviously, he was fond of the girl and she of him. Was Olivia Mason’s daughter?
She sneaked a look at Emma, then buried her face in Mason’s neck. “Who is she?”
“She is my friend, Emma Miller,” Mason told Olivia. “We grew up together. Emma is stuck here because of the storm.”
The girl nodded. “Hi, Miss Emma.”
“Hello, Olivia.” Emma smiled. The girl was inquisitive, but Mason’s explanation apparently satisfied her.
He didn’t give her time to dwell on it. “Where’s your mother and Jacob?”
Olivia pointed to an exotic looking woman with dark hair and huge eyes standing in a food court line with a little boy five or six. He held a stuffed beagle to his chest. “They’re getting a cookie,” Olivia said. “She promised Bandit one in the car, if he stopped barking.”
“Bandit is Jacob’s sidekick,” Mason explained to Emma, while waving to the woman and the boy. “They go everywhere together and he’s fond of chocolate chip cookies.”
The woman and the boy waved back. Mason’s wife and son? Emma had a hard time wrapping her mind around that. Her heart refused to accept it. Mason, married with two children, and he had been, apparently, for a decade. Something inside Emma twisted. Envy. Jealousy. Either or maybe both. And neither were welcome.
“Actually, Jacob is fond of all cookies.” Olivia wrinkled her nose. “Bandit doesn’t really eat them because he’s stuffed. He doesn’t really bark, either. Jacob does it.” She dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “He thinks Mom doesn’t know.”
“I see.” Adorably talkative and honest. Emma withheld a smile, but she had to work at it. “They’re lucky to have each other, then.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here.” Mason set Olivia onto her feet on the floor. “You’d better get back over to them or you won’t get a cookie.” He smiled. “I’ll see you guys downstairs in a few minutes.”
Olivia nodded, quickly said, “Bye, Miss Emma,” and then ran toward her mother.
Mason watched until she arrived at her mother’s side and the woman smiled at him, acknowledging her awareness her daughter was back with her. He turned to Emma and all signs of warmth in him vanished. “Let’s go.”
Presuming they were heading to his lab, Emma stepped to his side and they walked. “You have a lovely family, Mason,” she said.
“Sophia is married to my lab assistant, David Johnson. Olivia and Jacob are their children.”
“Oh,” Emma said, suddenly feeling light and not at all happy about it. Whether or not he had a family shouldn’t matter to her. It shouldn’t, and yet it did. “I assumed they were your family.”
“Why would you assume that?”
Why had she? “Your face lit up on seeing them.” He was well acquainted with the family or he wouldn’t have known Jacob’s stuffed dog Bandit’s name.
“We’re close,” he conceded. “The kids think of me as their uncle.”
He was fond of them, and clearly, they were of him. Stepping around a group of college-aged students traveling together, she asked, “So why are they here?” Of all days to visit the airport, this had to be the worst. The news report warning people to hunker down replayed in Emma’s mind.
“To ride out the storm in the lab.” Mason sidestepped a teen couple dressed in black with matching tattoos on their forearms. Keri and Matt. Permanent tats they’d no doubt regret when they went their separate ways in life.
“To ride out the storm?” Emma grimaced. He was letting kids into a high-containment lab to ride out a storm? What was he thinking?
“Their dad is here,” Mason said. “Holly’s not playing around. We could all be stuck here for an extended period of time. It seemed prudent to keep the family together.”
“In a high-containment lab?” He couldn’t be serious.
“In this one, yes.” He pointed across the Main to the far wall. “Elevator’s over there.”
“In that hallway?”
Mason nodded and kept walking.
Emma followed, hoping she didn’t have to report him.
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