Beneath This Mask (Beneath #1)(16)

by Meghan March

My next question made me feel like a complete hypocrite. “Why weren’t you honest about it? Why didn’t you let them get you some help?”

He closed his eyes for a beat before answering. “Because of the black mark it would leave on my record. And the stigma. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was broken.”

I set my mug down on the table with a loud thump. Goddamn. His honesty tore through me. Staggered me.

“Oh.” It was a ridiculously useless word, but I didn’t have anything else.

“And now, it’s time I did something about it. Because I haven’t spent a full night with a woman in four years. I haven’t let myself fall asleep holding someone for fear that I would scare the shit out of her when a nightmare hit. Like this morning.”

“Why now?” I asked.

Simon looked up, and his stare trapped me with its intensity. “Because I want to spend an entire night with you.”

My eyes went wide.

“More than one night,” he added.

“Oh,” I said again.

I felt a pang in my chest where my heart was thumping double time. His brutal honesty did what legions of charm couldn’t—it broke through my walls. Demolished my better judgment. I tried to appear unaffected, squeezing my mug to hide my trembling hands. He continued drinking his coffee as though he hadn’t just rocked me to the core. One thought echoed through my head: Things were about to get complicated.

Three sharp raps sounded on the door, and a woman called out, “Simon, I saw your light on. I hope you have coffee!”

“Shit,” Simon mumbled, standing and moving to the coffeemaker.

A petite, dark-haired tornado blew into the kitchen. She looked to be in her fifties and was wearing black yoga pants, a black zip-up jacket, and hot pink sneakers. Her sleek hair hung to her chin in a flattering bob. Her hazel eyes and the angle of her nose gave her away immediately as Simon’s mother.

“Oh. Hello there! Didn’t mean to interrupt,” she said as Simon handed her a mug.

I pictured us from her point of view and winced. This looked like an intimate morning after. Simon was shirtless, wearing only sweatpants hanging low on his hips. I was dressed in his shirt and boxer shorts. Awkward, to say the least. But Mrs. Duchesne acted as though nothing was amiss.

She held out a small hand with perfectly manicured nails. “I’m Margaret Duchesne.”

“Ch-Charlie Stone.” I shook it, choking a little when I realized I had almost given her my real name in response to her formal greeting. What is this family doing to me?

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. We get to meet so few of Simon’s—”

“Mother,” Simon interrupted.

She smiled warmly before releasing my hand and speaking to Simon. “I just wanted to stop in and say hello. I’m headed to my yoga class, and I haven’t seen you in a few days. We need to have dinner sometime soon. Time is running short before we leave for Maine. So much to do before we go.” She turned to face me again. “So Charlie, tell me, who are your people? What do you do?”

“Ummm … I … uh…” I stuttered.

“Mother, it’s too damn early for that. You can interrogate Charlie some other time. I’m sure you’ll be seeing her again soon.”

Whoa. When I thought things were going to get complicated, I hadn’t even considered a meet-the-parents scenario and the questions they’d have.

“That’s lovely, Simon.” Her smile was sincere and welcoming, and not strained and fake like my mother’s would have been if I’d introduced her to a guy covered in tats with crazy bedhead. “I’ll leave you two alone then.”

“We have to get back to Jack Richelieu’s office anyway. Charlie’s dog had surgery yesterday.”

Her eyes turned huge and sympathetic. “Oh, you poor dear. I’m so sorry for keeping you. I know you must be anxious to see your baby.”

My heart clenched at the thought of Huck. I’d been counting down the minutes until I could call the clinic while I’d lain awake in bed. I glanced at the clock. Still too early. My plan was to get a verbal update, run home to change, and then peddle my ass over there. Shit, my bike. I left it on the side of the road. Fuck. It was history.

Margaret balanced on her tiptoes to kiss Simon’s cheek. “Have a good morning. Tell Jack I said hello and that we’ll be bringing Minka to see him before we leave town.” And then she was gone. A dark-haired tornado indeed.

I dressed in my jeans from the day before and put on my bra, but I wore Simon’s T-shirt, as mine was headed for the rag bin. When I’d mentioned that I was an idiot and had forgotten about my bike, Simon had shocked me by telling me he’d called Voodoo and asked Delilah to get it. Apparently she’d texted him while we were in the waiting room to let him know my bike was waiting for me at work.

Simon dropped me off in front of my place and drove around the block to find a parking spot. By the time he’d walked back to Harriet’s, I was ready to go. He’d called Jack on the way, and Jack had informed us that Huck was doing well, but they wanted to keep him sedated for another day or so to give his body additional time to recover. It broke my heart to think of Huck still knocked out in his stall, but Simon trusted Jack implicitly. And I was learning that I trusted Simon. It was yet another foundation-rocking discovery.

“You all right?” Simon asked as we drove to Jack’s clinic.

“Fine, just lots to think about.”

“Huck’s going to be okay.”

“I know.” I pulled a stack of hundred dollar bills from my purse, wrapped with a paper band with ‘$10,000’ printed on it. The money was a huge chunk of what remained from the cash I’d run with. I dropped it on the center console. “This is for yesterday and hopefully will cover some of the bill for this week. I’m sure I’ll owe you more though.”

Simon nearly swerved into a parked car when he looked down at the money. “What the fuck, Charlie? Put your money away. I told you we’d figure it out.”

“No. I pay my debts. And I know Huck’s surgery had to cost a small fortune. Not to mention a week in doggy post-op. He’s my responsibility. My family. And I’ll pay for it.”

Simon shot me an annoyed glare. “I haven’t even gotten the bill, so at least keep it until we know how much we’re talking about.” His frown deepened. “I really don’t like the idea of you carrying around that much cash.”