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“When You’re Back” Excerpt

Reese

I started to say something but decided against it. Mase didn’t say anything, so I took his lead and walked toward the bar.
He ordered a beer, and I decided on the blueberry cider after trying a sample. Once we had our drinks, we turned to see Aida coming directly for us . . . or for Mase. She looked upset. Really upset.

“I need you,” she choked out.
“What’s wrong?” he asked
She looked pointedly at me and then back at him, pleadingly. “I can’t talk about it here. Please,” she begged.
Mase nodded. “OK, where do you want to go?”
“Somewhere we can be alone. I just . . . I can’t.” She covered her mouth and squeezed her eyes together dramatically. I wasn’t sure if I believed something was wrong.
Mase nodded toward the house. “Let’s go inside.”
She nodded, and then Mase’s hand was at my back, guiding me forward. I knew this wasn’t Aida’s idea of “alone.” I had started to say something when she saw I was following along.
Her face crumpled again. “I can’t talk about this with her. Just you.”
Mase shook his head, as if he was about to argue.
“It’s Heath. He’s here with her,” Aida said with a sob.
Mase’s frown grew. “I know that’s hard, Aida, but I can’t leave Reese alone. She doesn’t know anyone here.”
This was my chance to win Aida over, if only a little. “Yes, you can. I have a drink, and I can sit in one of those lovely chairs and wait. Go with her. She’s upset.”
Mase didn’t seem convinced.
Aida sobbed again. “Please, Mase. I need you to talk me off a ledge.”
“Go,” I repeated.
Finally, Mase sighed and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “I’ll be back quickly,” he whispered.
I nodded, and he followed Aida inside. I watched them until they reached the house, and then I turned to survey the scene. I was at a party full of strangers, and no one else was sitting down yet. Maybe the tables were off limits until we ate.
I made my way to the shadows, where the lights from the trees didn’t reach. I could see the house from here, and when Mase returned, I’d be able to see him.
It wasn’t until I was out of the light and my eyes adjusted to the darkness that I saw I wasn’t alone. I paused. Should I be concerned? Or maybe I should just excuse myself and find another dark spot.
“He leaves you for another woman, and you hide in the dark,” a deep voice said. I could just make out the shape of a man leaning against a bale of hay with a beer in his hand. I studied him quickly to see if I should be worried. The first thing I noticed was his jeans, then his white Oxford shirt, similar to Mase’s blue one. But his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. The only thing I could make out clearly from his features was his green eyes, which burned with an inner light.
“You decided yet?” the man asked, making me self-conscious that I was still staring at him.
“What?” I asked, confused. A low rumble that sounded like a laugh came from him. He tilted his head, and I realized his hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Although it was dark, I could make out highlights in his hair. Seemed like he spent a lot of time in the sun. “Am I safe to be around? That’s what you’re trying to decide, isn’t it?”
Was he safe to be around?
“That’s debatable, if you ask me,” he said.
“What’s debatable?” I asked.
He took a drink of his beer and studied me a moment before responding to my question. “Whether I’m safe or not.” He laughed again, although it was low and almost hard to hear. “You have an expressive face.”
How could he even see my face out here in the dark?
He shifted his stance and crossed his left ankle over his right one. I glanced at his boots and realized they weren’t like Mase’s boots. They were more like combat boots.
“Why are you out here in the dark?” I asked, not meaning to actually say that out loud.
He held up his beer. “Drinking my beer in peace.”
I nodded. That made sense. Maybe he didn’t like crowds, either.
“Why are you out here in the dark?” he asked.

I glanced back at the house, and there was no sign of Mase yet. “I . . . my boyfriend went to deal with something. His cousin is upset.”
The guy stared at me while he drank his beer. It made me nervous. It was like he could read all my thoughts. “But he knows you aren’t comfortable in a crowd of people you don’t know. A man shouldn’t leave his woman.”
He didn’t understand the situation. Who was he to judge something he didn’t know? “His cousin is upset. I told him to go.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that he shouldn’t have left you.”
I didn’t like this man. I would rather face the crowd than hide out here with him. “Don’t make assumptions about something you know nothing about,” I said angrily, before turning and walking back into the light, just in time to see Mase, his eyes scanning the tables for me. His long strides quickened as he walked down the steps and passed several people who were trying to speak to him. When his gaze finally landed on me, he looked relieved.
I hurried toward him, deciding I wouldn’t mention the guy in the shadows.
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