The Soul Mate Page 15

My throat tightened, and I cleared it as I watched him move around the kitchen. Mason went right back to preparing dinner and didn’t seem to notice all the words that remained unsaid.

He tossed two cloves of garlic and a bundle of thyme into the heating pan, and a savory, mouthwatering aroma filled the air.

“Anyway,” he said. “I feel like I talk all the time about myself and I don’t know enough about you.”

I blinked. “Well, what do you want to know?”

“Anything, anything at all. Like, why do you go by your middle name?”

“My middle name is Brennan, but I prefer Bren,” I said.

“That’s cool.” He nodded. “Why did your parents name you Ashley?”

I rolled my eyes. “The stupidest reason you can imagine.”

“You have to remember I’ve seen a lot of people name babies stupid things for stupid reasons. Ashley hardly seems far out there.”

“Right,” I said. “Well, my mom and dad met at an old-timey sort of movie theater and it was playing Gone With the Wind that night. So, you know, my mom named me Ashley because she fell in love with that character.”

“That’s not stupid. That’s actually very sweet.” The steak sizzled in the pan behind him and he turned around to tend the meat. “Ashley was a middle name, too. It could have been worse, because they could have used his first name and called you George.”

I snorted and leaned back in my chair. “I like Bren a lot better. It’s a family name. My grandma was Bren, too.”

He nodded. “Family connections are important. But it’s nice to have a love story in your name. Like a little reminder.”

All the more reason to go by Bren, I thought. Every sorrowful lilt of my mother’s voice was reminder enough of my parent’s tragedy of a love story—I didn’t need to add my name to the list.

“Are your parents still together?” he asked.

A knife dug between my ribs, and I chewed on the inside of my cheek, wondering how best to answer him. I wasn’t about to lie to him—but I didn’t need to say all of it either. Not now. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

“No,” I said simply.

He nodded, and silence fell between us for a long moment before he slid a plate—steamy and hot—in front of me. On it was a massive serving of porterhouse and green beans amandine.

“Wow, this looks incredible,” I said, then waited as he slid a knife and fork toward me and then joined me at the island to eat.

“Your steak is smaller than mine,” I said. “Let’s swap.”

“You said you like your steak with more steak, and you might be eating for two.”

“And if I’m not?” I said.

“Then you still get more steak. Seems like a win-win to me.” He cut into his steak, then said, “Shit, I forgot to ask—are you okay with medium?”

“Perfect,” I said, then started in on my food. With every bite, I was more amazed with his prowess in the kitchen, and I was on the point of telling him as much when he started to speak again.

“Your job is amazing,” he said. “Watching what you do.” He shook his head. “I’m impressed.”

“Well, I don’t save lives or anything.”

“I’ll bet you do,” he countered. “Animals need to be cared for just as much as humans.”

My heart melted a little, and I swallowed hard, trying not to get sucked in to the whirling, twirling human vortex of perfection that was Mason Bentley.

“Anyway, what else do you want to know about me?” I asked.

“What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?”

“What?” I laughed.

“I’m serious. You can tell a lot about a person based on their favorite childhood toy.”

“Even if it was just a doll?” I raised my eyebrows, then took another bite of my green beans.

“What kind of doll?”

“A veterinarian doll set I got for my seventh birthday.” It had been a special gift from my father. He’d run all through all the surrounding cities trying to find one just for me. That was just the kind of guy he’d been.

“What was her name?”

I blushed. “Oh God.”

“Come on,” he coaxed.

“Valerie Veterinarian.”

“You still have her?” he asked.

“No.” I shook my head. “Lost her in a move. But what about you? Favorite childhood toy?”

“Too many to name.”

“Ah, so you were spoiled,” I teased.

“I was well-loved,” he amended with a wide grin.

“I see.” I nodded. “Well, gun to your head, what was your favorite?”

“I don’t know. I guess…I had a stuffed giraffe when I was little. I mean, really little. There are a bunch of pictures of me with it.”

“What was his name?” I asked.

He shrugged. “We had no need for names. Our connection was more spiritual than that.”

I laughed out loud. “Right. Well, good to know.”

We finished our meal and before I got the chance to clean up, Mason grabbed my dish and handled everything for me. Which left me to sit there, wondering what came next. Our conversation was a little awkward, but that was to be expected. We were still in the getting-to-know-you stage. But he was trying—cooking for me, asking questions about me, and attempting to make me feel comfortable. He was one of the good guys—and that’s what scared me.

I couldn’t very well eat and run.

Worse, I didn’t want to.

I wanted to run, all right. Run straight into his bedroom and thank him for dinner in the most intimate way I could. But then, of course, that was only because I knew this time could never be as good as the last.

If I slept with him tonight—which I definitely wasn’t going to—but if I did? Maybe I’d finally have a lukewarm memory to wash away the searing hotness of our first night together. There was no way it could be as good as I remembered. No way.

Or at least, that’s what I kept telling myself as I tried to justify still wanting to sleep with him.

Which I totally wasn’t going to do.

“Want to watch a little TV?” Mason asked as he stepped away from the sink, rolling his thick shoulders to stretch and leaving me with my tongue hanging out.

“TV sounds good,” I said, wondering if I should plant the seed for my early departure now so it would be an easy, hassle-free extraction.

“Cool. Pick your poison.” He turned on the flat-screen TV hanging on the wall opposite his bedroom, his Netflix cue already loaded.

“Lots of car shows.” I nodded toward the screen.

“Yeah.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, then settled back onto his cream-colored sofa. “I’ve got one I’m working on. Probably not worth the price I pay to store it, but it’s a hobby.”

“What kind of car is it?”

“A Mustang,” he said. “My dad taught me how to work on old muscle cars when I was growing up. It helps to have something to do with your hands or to unwind after a bad day.”

I could think of something he could do to occupy his hands. Shaking the mental image away of his weight pinning me to the bed while I moaned, I moved toward the sofa.

“I can understand that,” I said.

In fact, the similarities in our lives growing up were almost eerily similar. Before my father had gotten sick, I spent almost every Saturday in our garage, watching him as he toiled over a Cadillac he’d inherited from my grandfather. He used to tell me that oil ran in our blood and that—once I figured out my true calling—there’d finally be a mechanic in the family.

Every time I’d laugh and he’d explain that he was kidding, but that if I ever wanted to work on the car I could join him. Instead, I’d always sat on my stool and handed him tools as he fiddled with this or that and tried to explain to me what he was doing. I never understood, of course. I was too young then.

But selling that Cadillac once he was gone to help my mom get on her feet financially? That had been one of the hardest days of my life. Handing over the keys had been like handing over a part of my dad to some random stranger.

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