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Thread: [M] You Are Not Alone {1x1 AgroShadow, Larynx}

  1. #71
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    The place was small. It held a dozen dark tables against the wall and across the dining area away from the window and where the waitstaff grabbed the orders and brought them out to customers. She had been in some fancy places, some that held waitlists, some that you knew really charged too much based on name and reputation or a single "fancy" ingredient but this place seemed promising with the calls sounding from the cooks in the kitchen, but especially the smells coming from their dishes being cooked. It was primarily strong and spicy, but not overpowering and maybe it was her hunger talking but she could practically taste the hiss of meat hitting pan signaling a nice sear. She could feel her mouth start to water as they took their table at the further end of the dining room. It had been a bit since their lighter breakfast and the soft rumbles of her stomach now, and mouth watering were reminders.

    Taking a sip of water, she watched the waitstaff move about the dining area. It was busy enough to have half of the dozen tables with patrons eating their own orders or waiting for them. They looked to be enjoying them as they talked amongst themselves. Their was a low buzz of of talk which was always a good sign. Her attention slid back to her own companion as he offered somewhat of an explanation of what had happened at the register. Her eyes moved across the menu as she thought of that. "Well, I'm no stranger to fucked up relationships either." She replied, meeting his look with her own that she hoped conveyed her acceptance of his apology. The glimpse into her own past he surely would not forget anytime soon. Relationships were sometimes complicated things. She gave a soft sigh and leaned back in her chair, looking towards where she could see their waiter laughing with another. Arianna caught her eye and gave a soft wave to let her know they were ready. "Hi. I think I will try the 'spiced pork tacos'. May I swap the rice for the 'southwestern salad', also please?" At the waitress' blink followed by a nod, she realized she probably phrased as that less as a request and more of a statement. Chiding herself, she replied with a genuine thank you before handing over her menu. At least the waitress didn't seem to have taken it personally.

    Taking up the glass again she took a long sip as she watched the slices of the chefs she could see pass by the window as they started placing orders up to be served. "You don't have to explain it if you don't want to." She had no room to deny someone's own mistakes regarding relationships.


    Last edited by Larynx; 07-14-2021 at 02:39 AM.

  2. #72
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    Mason took a long draw on the glass of water that had been set down by the blonde female, emptying half the glass. It had been a long time since he had seen Britt. Their parting was rough while the relationship was wild and free. It's part of the reason they had to get away from one another, they were bad for each other in different ways. Just knowing her, he knew that she had been in this town looking for him. He had never taken her to the cabin for that reason. She would have lingered more than either of them would have liked. Sighing, he watched as Arianna waved the second waitress over. After she ordered and those older brown eyes landed on him, he rattled off his usual. 'Can I get the steak fajitas, please?' His eyes trailed the woman as she walked away. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Britt serving new tables, her gaze glancing back over to Arianna and him every few minutes. At the sound of Arianna's voice, he glanced back over at her and gave a shrug. 'It wasn't a fucked up relationship, per say, but it was not good. I just wonder how long she's been hiding in town waiting for me to come down...' It was rather weird, having someone seek him out for other reasons other than knowledge or refuge. 'I'm sure if you don't hear it from me, you'll hear it from her.' He drained the rest of his glass of water and before he could even say anything, it was refilled. He nodded a thanks to the waiter. 'I met her in a time in my life when I was low mentally and was just looking for someone, anyone to know I was here. She's a shifter like us, just a fox type. And she's through and through a fox personality wise. Very cunning and persuasive, but also fiercely loyal.'

    'You know when you just find someone that just seems to get you, and you lose yourself into them and suddenly you don't know where you begin and end? We caused a lot of trouble, both in the non shifting world and the shifting world. And it was fun. But on a particular job, a really good friend of mine died while we were working. She's the one who had caused the accident. And while I don't blame her for it, it still was not something I could recover from.' He shook his head slightly, the sound of the gunshot still echoing in his head. 'We parted shortly after that, once I realized I could not look at her the same way as I used to. She did not take it well at all.' It was as if a vail had been lifted off of his eyes. And at first, it was hard. To not have someone right by your side all the time, Mason had to relearn how to just be on his own again. He has been tracing the grain in the wood table with his eyes when a noise caused him to glance up. Their food had arrived, hot and steaming. The plates were placed on the table gently and he shook his head when she had asked if they needed anything else. 'I think I'm good.'

    He made short work of the food in front of him, not realizing just how hungry he was. Well, either he was hungry or he was wanting to get over talking to Britt. The food was just as good as he knew it to be. Just the right amount of flavor in all the right ways. Sighing, he leaned back in his chair while he pushed his dish away and down another glass of water. He could already see a blonde figure standing in the doorway to the kitchen, carefully watching them. Their current waitress brought over the check and Mason pulled out a small wad of cash. Counting out a couple twenties, he handed it to her. 'Keep the change.' He waited until Arianna was finished with her food before he started gathering up their stuff. 'Well I suppose lets get this over with.' Standing, he shouldered his backpack and they made their way out the front of the restaurant. Mason held the door open for Arianna behind him, and sure enough another figure was dashing toward the open door after them. Her face was flushed, stark against those familiar green eyes. 'Mason, I...' Before she could continue, he held up his hand to stop her. 'Let's go somewhere else, the park down the street maybe?' The small nod of her head was all he needed. He caught the flash of her eyes as she glanced over toward Arianna, a note of caution, or was it jealousy? He wasn't certain, either way, he started leading the two girls a few blocks away to an open park with a few benches.
    "A philosopher once asked, 'Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?' Pointless, really... 'Do the stars gaze back?' Now that's a question."

  3. #73
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    It was a hole in the wall. But it was good. This had been a good choice. She vowed to herself to really explore more of these local shops. There had been some hesitation on her part, not sure of what to expect as sometimes local places were very, very good and deserved their accolades but it seemed just as often they seemed to have those accolades because they were the only decent steaks in town. Glancing over her last bite of taco she noticed that her companion had already finished his own meal, and wiped the plate clean at that. And about as soon as she had finished that bite he was gesturing for them to head out. Draining the last of her water, she rose to her feet and followed him out. She could feel a pair of eyes watching their backs as they went. It was not the first time. It had lasted all through lunch. She had not let herself stare back when she'd caught those green eyes but she had not looked away immediately either.

    They did not make it out all the way when here was their owner, face filled with a light blush of color that she could not fully determine was from embarrassment at having run after them or from bustling about with the other tables. She could not miss the quick up and down, looking her over. She did not allow herself to look away. There was no romantic or even platonic claim here over Mason, in his own area, in her own hometown, but there was no desire for Arianna to feel inferior or that she was to be pushed around. That was a precedent that she often settled early. There was no way back up if you allowed someone to think they could get one over on you. When the girl's attention turned back to Mason she moved to follow after him. Only to find herself relegated to actually following and not walking with him, leaving her to move along awkwardly beside this new person who she felt already did not have the fondest of feelings for her. It left her in an uncomfortable choice of coming across as a bitch for not talking much or being obviously trying to make small talk to ease the mood. Sighing softly to herself she chose not to be too chatty and simply said, "Hi. I'm Arianna. Pleasure to meet you." The hand she held was glanced at with brief hesitation but was taken up for the few seconds to shake. The girl had a good, firm grip. The calluses brushed against her own smoother hands and she was suddenly cautious of how it was probably easy to pick her out as someone not used to doing laborious tasks for a living. She gave the girl a small smile when she returned the phrase. It wasn't said in an overly kind way but at least it had broken the ice and she felt more comfortable knowing she had been the one to make the effort.

    The main drag was not a long one and it came rather quickly with Mason's pace, to an end. The park was... a public park. She eyed the low wrought iron fence around the main entrance that definitely had been there for a while with its blunted points and overgrown brush twining through it. She was a little surprised at just how big it was, at least two football fields long. There was a well worn swing set tucked over to one corner, two seats moving back and forth gently in the slight breeze. The grassy areas were not at their best, with fall almost upon them, its cover turning dull and a bit brown and yellow but it was all one even length and covered a good swath of the park, even up to the fence line for the most part. There was an oblong concrete path going around, showing its age as well, with worn surfaces and roots and grass poking through. A few worn smooth, plain concrete benches scatter around under the large trees... It probably was quite nice in early summer and she could imagine that they held all manner of local activities and festivals and things here all year long. She found herself smiling about what those would be and whether she would be present to enjoy them.

    She followed along to the bench they had picked out. It did not go unnoticed that as soon as she could, Britt took the seat next to Mason. Unbothered Arianna took the seat across from them and was actually grateful for the space between them. She did not know what to expect from this. It almost felt like she did not need to present for this. What could she add to the conversation? This was between them was it not? The idea of a fox shifter was intriguing though and looking the other woman over, she supposed one could see a sort of lupine set to the angular eyes, a mouth not especially voluptuous but held in a sort of tight manner, high cheekbones... There also seemed to be a watchfulness about her. But she couldn't be sure how much of that was this situation or the fact she was also a shifter. Arianna was sure Britt was very conscious of what probably felt like a third wheel. Clearing her throat softly, "This is quite a nice park. These trees give so much shade." She said, looking up into the branches as an excuse not to look at either of them. Maybe the stupidity of her clearly said to ease the anxiety building between them would get them to start hashing things out. The blonde clearly had things to say.


  4. #74
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    --Britt--

    The female that was keeping Mason company was something else. She was beautiful and carried herself in such a confident manner that it made Britt feel like there was no way she could compete with her. She could feel her glances everytime her eyes came over to her while they followed Mason to the park. She was not looking to have another person here to hear this conversation, but if she was with Mason then she must know what they were. She was slightly taken aback when she introduced herself. And after a little hesitation, she took the hand that was offered to her. 'Britt.' Christ, even her handshake felt as if it was full of power and determination. The walk was not long, but it made her all the more nervous that she was going to have to have this conversation. Mason was one of the last people she wanted to see... well that was not entirely true. She had craved his presence ever since they were not seeing each other any more. There was just something so sure and steady about him that she missed. And those hands. So calloused and rough from day to day work, but just so gentle in other ways. Her mind wandered back to times when they were closer and, well, more physical in ways that she missed. She felt her cheeks flushed when she sat down. Hoping that neither of the two that were there would know why and just think it was from the heat. The idle chatter from... Arianna, she said? Was welcome in a way. A soft smile played at the corners of her mouth. 'It's not often you find older parks with such big trees anymore. They are always so small and new.' She glanced around, taking in all the greenery. She had been here for quite some time now. Knowing that Mason would eventually come back to his usual spots. She had grown to love the town in the meantime. All the people were so friendly and willing to take care of one another... much like the family that she wished she could have. She happened to glance over at Mason just has he had looked at her as well. Their eyes met and for her, just for a moment, it was as if he was the only person there. 'What is it you needed to talk about, Britt?' His voice was low but soft. A voice that could draw goosebumps over her whole body when he whispered into her ear. She blinked. Realizing that they were still staring at her. 'Uh.' Her gaze suddenly went to her hands, which had been nervously wringing her fingers back and forth.

    'Well, it's not good. Have you heard anything about The Alliance?' Judging from the slight confusion on his face and the small shake of his head, her shoulders dropped a bit. If he hadn't heard, he must be one of the last to find out. 'There's a rumor, well what I thought was a rumor for a bit, until I actually witnessed it. But, a group of shifters, out off the east coast that are banding together. They are slowly making their way across the country and recruiting anyone that they can find that have our... abilities.' She sighed a little, continuing, 'Mason, they are gathering us up and those who refuse to join are taken and either killed or tortured for information. For what, I'm not sure since no one comes back from that.... I don't know why they are trying to gather all the shifters up. There are mentions of an uprising against either the non shifters or another group of shifters, but no one I've talked to is sure at all.' Britt did not realize, but she had been staring off at a spot on the ground. She glanced up, first at Arianna, who seemed she could just hold any emotion from her face, and then at Mason, who made it very clear on how shocked he was. 'I thought... I thought you already knew and were hiding away in your cabin, like you do. So I came here hoping to run into you sooner, so I could ask, if I...' She took a nervous swallow before continuing, 'If I could stay with you until this was figured out.' It was no secret that she never had a place to stay, and she had never stayed at Mason's cabin, knowing that one day he would have taken her to it. If she had known where it was, she would have gone straight there. But also she would never wanted to impose on him. But now thinking back on it, she knew the cabin was small and glancing over at Arianna, she couldn't help but wonder if she was staying with him as well. Were they sharing the same bed? The thought caused a small flash of jealousy through her, but she battled it down while she waited for the male to respond.


    'What do you mean you saw it happen?' His voice was a startle back into their conversation. She shrugged a little as she spoke. 'I was staying with Sarah and Jason, they just bought a house together. I had run out to grab some food for all of us and when I came back there were a ton of cars outside their house. I hung back a little and snuck around to the back and peaked into the kitchen through a window. There were voices, some were too far away to hear, but I could gather what was being said by both their responses. After some talking back and forth, there was a clear refusal from the both of them. When one of the guys asked one more time and they said no, they shot Sarah and took Jason. There... there were so many of them I couldn't do anything. I.. I ran and hid.' She was ashamed that she had done such a thing, but what was there to do in that situation? 'I went back a couple days later and scouted the house. They had taken Sarah's body and cleaned the house... It was like there had never been anything there. I started making my way across the country and asking around. That's all the information that I have as of now...' Her voice trailed off some as silent tears had started falling down her cheeks.
    "A philosopher once asked, 'Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?' Pointless, really... 'Do the stars gaze back?' Now that's a question."

  5. #75
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    That was information that had not been expected. At all. She could feel her brows come together as she thought about what this all meant, before making the effort to smooth her features. Not just for her, but the greater population of shifters. From the way Britt described their movement, they wanted to sweep across the nation for whatever it was they were after. That hardly ever seemed to indicate good things for anyone, whether they were a target or just caught up in the crossfire.

    At the mention of needing help in the way of staying at Mason's cabin, with them, she looked more closely at the girl. There it was. She had been waiting for something like that. Surely there was indeed then still some bit of something unresolved between them...At least, maybe. Looking over the girls face, she thought she could see genuine fear there, especially as she moved into a description of what really sounded like the oldest crime in the world. Could be wrong but she suspected not because those eyes had also held some hope in there before she'd looked back down into her lap, where her hands were wringing themselves dry. Looking to Mason, there was a quietness about him. Some deep thoughts were taking place there, trying to comprehend what had just been shared. She did not know him well yet, but she knew there was fear there too even though he tried to push it down. Hide it behind the furrowed brows and the anger that she could see too. And that scared her more than anything else,, if someone who seemed to hold himself to a high standard of being prepared, ready to take care of himself....someone who had always seemed confident in his ability to do that....

    "They sound serious. And dangerous." She said softly. More of a thought said out loud than a conversational bit. But from what little she had just heard, her words felt pretty true. Rising to her feet she gestured for Mason to come with her. With a look at Britt he followed her over to a tree she hoped was out of earshot. Foxes had good ears. "Mason. How long have you really known her?" She began, partly out of her own curiosity and out of genuine concern about this new situation. "I know I'm new to all of this and you obviously know this world and her better than I do. But... this sounds, I don't know, weird to me." Crossing her arms, she continued softly. "She travels all across the country for information and doesn't get more than what she's told us so far and doesn't get on anyone's radar for asking those sorts of questions? Comes here to wait for you, not even sure you would be back, instead of running as far as fast as she can? I don't know any foxes personally but that doesn't sound very smart to me." She shrugged. She was no detective and hoped that he wouldn't be upset at her for voicing her opinion on this. His friends and relationships and acquaintances were his to have. A soft sigh escaped her. "I..." In a quieter voice she continued. "I have a friend...He could do some digging. He's in the FBI so this would be right up his alley. Wouldn't bat an eye and I'm sure wouldn't give two shits about us being what we are. He and my Papa go way back." She looked at him then, to a bright pair of eyes. "We can try and do this on our own first if you want but it's an offer. Freely given and frankly, this sounds like it could become some real scary shit, Mason."





  6. #76
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    It was difficult for Mason to take this all in. There were a number of things that just didn't add up from Britt's story. But also it had been awhile since he had seen her last and actually spoke to her. And for Britt to just do nothing? That was very unlike her. He knew her well enough to know she would go with her actions before even trying to think things through. Their messy past was enough proof of that. Sighing, he rubbed the back at his neck and looked at her. Really looked at her. She was hurting, that much was apparent. But there was a tension in her shoulders, the glancing looks between him and Arianna and the ground. The wringing of her hands in her lap. Something was up. But what it was, he was uncertain. At the sound of Arianna's voice, he glanced over at her and noticed he invite to join her a few feet away. Getting up, he left Britt on the bench but he kept aware of her and any movements she might make. He tilted his head a little at her question before answering. Four, maybe five years. Not counting the last two we have been separated. But I agree with you. Something is up. And she's not one to lie to me... But things have changed for the both of us.' Rolling his shoulders slightly, he glanced back at Britt. She was fidgeting on the bench while looking at a cell phone she had pulled out. 'Would you mind reaching out to that friend of yours? I don't think we should trust everything she is saying but if we could get even a little more information, that would be helpful. I also don't want to let her get very far from me, but I'm not going to take her to cabin.' He looked back over at Arianna. 'What do you say about staying in town for a bit? Just till we can get this thing sorted out. And at least you'll have signal to reach out to anyone you need to.'

    It was not a solid plan, but he could not trust her to not do something stupid that would endanger them all. He was grateful Arianna was here and had connections that he did not, but it made him all the more wary of Britt and her story. He did not want to get Arianna involved in things that she could avoid. He didn't think that that contract they signed together had anything about 'shifters taking over the world' in it. Just that thought alone caused him to huff in amusement. Just the sound of it was ludicrous. He took
    covered the distance over to Britt again, his voice soft, but stern. 'Until we figure out what exactly is going on, I can't trust you at the cabin. Once I give that location, it's no longer a safe place. Are you staying somewhere?' At the shake of her head, he sighed inwardly. Of course not. She'd been sleeping on couches or if it was nice enough outside, then under the stars. 'Come on then, we'll go get a few rooms at the hotel for a bit. My treat.' He grabbed his backpack, throwing it over one shoulder. He was at least a little relieved that he had brought a majority of his stuff with him. The cabin would be fine for a bit, as it usually was when he left for months on it. Just as he was getting ready to ask if Arianna could drive them over there, Britt's cell phone started ringing. Before he could glance at the screen, she denied the call and shoved it into her back pocket. 'Scam.' She pursed her lips together in a nervous line, and Mason narrowed his eyes slightly at her before they started making their way back to Arianna's car.

    The hotel was across town. It wasn't some fancy one, but it was one of the nicer places to stay in the town. Air conditioned and turn down service was something that was offered, and Mason found that in itself a treat. Once inside the lobby, Mason approached the counter and asked if they had three rooms available. After a few moments of typing on the computer, the service man shook his head slightly. 'I'm sorry. All I've got right now are two that are next to each other. Once with a queen and the other room with two double beds.' Holding back a groan, he pulled out some cash from one of his pockets and placed it on the counter. 'We will take them.' He didn't want to figure out how to divide the three of them up. On one hand, he had no intention of staying with Britt, but he also did not want to push the two women together into a room. Gathering the room keys that were handed to him, he gave one each to both Arianna and Britt. At least they would have their own room. He would figure out what he could do with himself in the meantime. Shifting was always an option for him, but he would wait until later to figure that out.
    "A philosopher once asked, 'Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?' Pointless, really... 'Do the stars gaze back?' Now that's a question."

  7. #77
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    "Holy shit! That sounds like something I wannna know!" An overexcited, but gravelly from years of smoking at least a couple packs a day, male voice came yelling out the phone's speaker. Cringing she held the phone away while the voice's owner calmed down. "Take it easy, please. I'm not exactly putting up a billboard on Time's Square, ya know?" She replied, in a much calmer and quieter voice than him. Arianna had not wasted time in getting touch with the contact she and Mason had discussed earlier. Just as she had predicted, the man was excited about it. He always claimed he was too busy to do anything but whatever the bureau gave him, but her family knew better. The guy just as often came in to his head of department with concerning leads that he'd caught wind of on his own. The guy just loved finding interesting things, finding leads and following them to their very end, and though he joked it was a decent paycheck with too much overtime, the guy seemed to like being able to do some good. He had never treated her unkindly and was one of the positive male role models in her and her sister's life from the very beginning of becoming a member of the Lancaster family. Of course, he had been their first illegal taste of beer but he always scolded them for speaking ill of anyone or not wanting to help learn about changing the oil on his car, and never smoked around them. "I just want you to use your talents, find any information that seems worrisome, Al." She could hear the soft clicking of a keyboard as he affirmed his willingness to do so. With a quick agreement on how to contact each other, their was silence in the room at the end of the call.

    She sat on the edge of her bed, phone in hand, and taking the room in. It was... as standard semi-budget hotel. It was clean and fairly plainly decorated but it was nice enough and she had not seen many others also in town but was able to tell this one was larger than them. A soft sigh escaped her. This hadn't been how she expected the day to go. Well, it certainly might do her some good to take a quick nap after getting some work done. Sliding her laptop out of its bag she set to it. The numbers and charts were growing fuzzy, needing to rub her eyes more often than usual... It felt like not too long after, she had curled around a pillow and fallen into a nice nap.


    ~~TIME SKIP~~

    With a jolt, the girl shot up from bed. Swinging her gaze to the window through bleary eyes, she realized that night had fallen, the sun shining through earlier having changed to the distinctive neon of the hotel's outdoor sign. Rubbing the sleep from still tired eyes, the young woman shuffled to the bathroom to freshen up. The cool water against her skin certainly woke her up, and she was wistful for her face wash to help even a little more but she was soon puling the basic little hotel comb through her hair. Catching her reflection in the small round mirror made her pause. There sued to be dark circles under her eyes, from too little sleep and too many nights spent staring at graphs and chart and numbers of profits and losses and composing memos that would largely go ignored. Slightly too small dark eyes looked back, a clarity there she hadn't remembered could be, and her skin was seeming to like the cleaner forest air.... All good things, and even with this recent shift in priorities, the scent of danger, and an uncertainty still hanging between her and Mason.... There was a whisper of excitement that also hung in the air,, not dampened by the edge of fear about unknowns. Pulling in a deep breath, she let it out slowly and deliberately, focusing on the motions.

    The air had cooled considerably, even with the long sleeve shirt she wished she'd thought to bring a jacket. Pulling her phone out of her pocket, its face displayed seven-thirty in numerals bright enough to cast her face in blue light. "Let's get a bite to eat? Not sure if Britt wants in. Meet at the Timberline?" Hitting 'send', she adjusted her purse and headed out, not minding the couple blocks it would take to reach it. The feline perked up but was easily coaxed to relax when it realized there was no real wilderness quite so close as at the cabin. It was a good night to think about things and realize that although a smaller town and local, the Timberline was one of the nicer restaurants that she had visited while on her trips in for regular shopping and work meetings. It was too late though as she had already reached it. No going back, she strode in with as much confidence as she could realizing that this might get a little awkward, especially if Britt declined. Giving instructions to the hostess to let Mason and Britt know that they need only request to be shown their table, the hostess' eyes widened a bit before she gave a nod and led her to a table tucked into a corner with a good view of the main street. Eyeing the placement and dark green tablecloth, she now definitely knew that everyone seemed to know who Mason was, or at least knew of him. Maybe though, it was her, too, she suddenly realized. She had done it at the last place, and every other place she'd visited while here, and she had not always been dressed so casually either. Eyeing the street, and letting her mind mull over this supposed rising up of shifters... the wine she'd requested, swirling gently in its glass as her gaze absently followed the tourists meandering up and down the street, sky deepening and the lights starting to give a warm glow.

    Last edited by Larynx; 07-23-2021 at 04:44 AM.

  8. #78
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    Mason had spent his last few hours in the library. The comfort of old books and quiet atmosphere was enough to settle the nervous energy that had sent his canine counterpart to pacing. He had picked up a old favorite of his and was nestled in the corner of the room, a small desk and lamp with a chair next to it that was shoved between two bookshelves. He was not quite sure what he was going to do when it came time to sleep. He had given the two woman the only two rooms left in the hotel and had not even thought for himself until this moment. Sighing, he leaned back in his chair, his eyes scanning the next few lines in the book. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught movement. Glancing up, he noticed a fairly attractive female scouring the shelves next to him for something. She was a petite thing, long blonde hair and carried herself much like she knew that she could turn heads. Her pale blue eyes shot to his when she noticed him staring. He did not miss the smile that had pulled her lips into a rather seductive look and he could feel his own body react and return a smile of his own. He watched as she pulled the backpack off her shoulder and reached in to grab a piece of paper and pen. She jotted something down then came over and slid it onto his desk he was sitting at. 'Text me sometime.' Her voice was soft but assertive. She gave a wink at him and then rounded the corner, leaving behind her scent of what seemed like almonds and cherry blossoms. Looking at the piece of paper on the table, he found the ten digit phone number, along with her name and a little heart next to it. As fun as it would be for a distraction right now, Mason grabbed the paper and crumpled it and shoved it into his pocket. He got back to reading his book when his phone went off a few times in alarm to a message.

    He couldn't help but smile a little when he noticed who it was from. The mention of Britt was enough to cause him to roll his eyes, but he shot her a quick text explaining where they would be. Closing the book, he set it back on the shelf on his way out the door. Stepping out the door, he noticed the slight chill in the air. Fall was coming, and with that it meant colder weather. Mason thrived in that weather and could not wait for it to hit. The smell of decaying leaves and cold fronts moving in was enough to send a shiver down his spine. It was a short walk to the restaurant, but he made it in pretty quick time. He arrived at the hostess and let her know that he was looking for someone. She nodded and lead him to a table with a familiar face. He was not sure what exactly it was, but she looked rather beautiful in this dim lighting, holding her glass of wine. She was comfortable here, her tense shoulders slightly rounded and relaxed, the crease between her forehead when she was thinking hard, smoothed out. Grinning, he slid in to the chair across from her. 'Fancy place you chose here.' His voice held a bit of playfulness with it, but Mason had been here before. It was a place he frequent regularly when he was down here. Good alcohol and decent conversation. When the waitress came back around, he ordered a mixed drink which came out rather quickly. Taking a quick swallow of it, he was not disappointed in the least. 'I'm not sure if Britt will be coming, but I told her where we were. She's not much for out and about things. Besides, I still think she's got something going on that makes her nervous to be around us.' He gave a small shrug before taking another sip of the drink in his hand. This drink was strong. His empty stomach was going to pay for this, but what the hell.

    His eyes landed on Arianna as she sat there and it was hard to not just stare. There was a stray hair that had fallen from the rest and was resting just in front of her ear that he so badly wanted to just push back. Clearing his throat, he shifted his gaze to people walking by. 'I hope the hotel is enough. I don't think it will be more than a couple days, but I'm not sure...' He glanced at her, knowing it was still early for her to find anything through her friend, but he had to ask. 'Has your friend told you anything that might be useful? I know you only just talked to him, but damn those guys can work fast sometimes.'
    "A philosopher once asked, 'Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?' Pointless, really... 'Do the stars gaze back?' Now that's a question."

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    The distinct feeling of being watched made her turn, abandoning her idle people watching. It was just in time to see a familiar man sliding easily into the booth across from her. The playfulness that came out of his mouth made eyebrows rise, but a smile pulled at the corners of her lips before she could stop it. Taking a sip of her wine to hide her expression she watched the ease with which Mason ordered a drink and was not surprised in the least with the dark mix that returned. Absently swirling her wine, she wondered what his favorite was. Probably something dark, and simple. He never had struck her as a complicated man when it came to everyday things, and this seemed to be just the type of place for him. It was a fancy place, for here, but she knew that he probably had never stepped into the type of establishment that served edible gold and thousands of dollars worth bottles of wine, or the type of chairs that were boasted to be made with hand stitched leather by local craftsmen from some tiny village needing the economic boost... No. This was an attempt at fine dining compared to those run by Michelin-starred chefs really just doing it because they claimed the love of good food, but were just as often doing for the money, because it honestly was an avenue for profits at that point. She eyed take a sip of his drink and caught the barest of cringes at its booziness.

    "I prefer just the two of us." The words were a hushed whisper, but they spoke truth. It was a thought spoken aloud and not meant to let stray from behind her teeth, to betray the feelings that had stirred up within her at the sight of him reaching her table tonight. Feelings that were soft and unsure, ones that she had squashed immediately. The contract made those impossible. Feeling a rush to her face that would be a beacon of her meaning, she quickly moved to respond to his questions.

    Her shoulders rose in a small shrug. "No, but he seemed happy as a loan shark getting double interest hearing about it. All he texted me so far was that he had a lead on some guy... I requested not to be told of anything unless he was sure of it. I want useful information, not guesses." She looked away when the man's eyes lingered a little too long, the feelings rising up from before dampening quickly. The contract flashed briefly in her mind, and she remembered why she had made that addition in the first place. Crossing her arms, she waved one hand to their waitress. "You know what... I'll take the honey walnut shrimp appetizer, steakhouse salad, medium well. Another glass of wine and I'll try this famous 'Grandma's Cobbler'." As she had detailed her order, she had realized how empty her stomach felt. It had actually been several hours since their lunch. And damn, she did like some good food and more people had begun to trickle in, small groups, a couple or two, and singles who had taken up residence at the bar. Their light, quiet chatter was beginning to fill the space and the more romantic lighting settings had been kicked on by staff now that dinner rush begun to settle in. But she didn't really notice these things for what they were but they did contribute to her more chatty mood.
    "So tell me Mason, what is your guilty pleasure?" She wiggled her fingers for dramatic effect.


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