Be My Hero(10)

By: Linda Kage

That was fine; he could hate me all he wanted. But he was not allowed to treat Reese with anything less that absolute adoration.

Except I didn't like where this conversation between them was headed.

"She should be the one to take care of that kind of shit. We're already providing a roof over her head, all her utilities, food, everything. And we can't even afford that."

"I know. I know." Reese began to wring her hands. It made my skin itch to watch how placating she was being. "Maybe I can . . . I'll find a job. Something that pays."

She already babysat Mason's little sister between her college coursework, but ever since they'd started dating and she'd moved here from Florida, she no longer took money for watching Sarah.

"No," Mason muttered with an irritated growl as he spun away to rub his hands over his face. "Your time's already stretched way too thin as it is. I don't want anything else cutting into your school work."

Aww, there he went, trying to act like a nice guy again, pretending to want what was best for Reese. The bastard. Determined to flush out his inner monster, I finally spoke up.

"Well, I guess I could get a job." I spread my arms apart so I could put my big, pregnant belly on display. "What do you think? If I took after you and sold myself on the street, would anyone buy an hour with me in this condition?"

I knew that was a low blow; I really should get a job. But my words were also completely uncalled for. Another rule Reese had made me adhere to before letting me move in with her was that I never, ever mention what he used to be before they'd moved here. But I wanted to push him over the edge already, so my cousin could see just how much of a bastard he really was.

I realized I'd made a mistake a second too late, right around the moment Reese gasped and slapped her hands over her mouth.

Mason sliced me with a glare. He stared at me so intently I held my breath waiting for him to finally lose it. My brain skipped around the kitchen, wondering what kind of gadget I could use to defend myself if he turned violent. His scowl told me just how much he wanted to wring my neck.

But instead of saying or doing anything, he turned away. Shoulders rigid and hands fisted at his sides, he marched from the kitchen, into the small living room and yanked open the front door of the apartment.

Reese leapt out of her seat. "Mason?"

He paused as if the tremor in her frightened voice held him captive, but he didn't turn around. Lifting a hand over his shoulder, he grated out, "I have to go." Then he fled the apartment. He didn't even slam the door in his wake.

Both Reese and I gaped at the closed exit. Well, I certainly hadn't expected him to do that. I'd pushed him past the limit. I'd made him angry enough to release his bastard, but he'd chosen to walk away instead of engage.

Shit. That wasn't good. A bastard definitely would've engaged. Why hadn't he engaged me in a fight? Called me a bitch? Taken a swing? Kicked me out?

This was all wrong.

Reese whirled toward me, her eyes wild. I tripped a step backward. Oh, double shit. She was beyond pissed.

"Why did you do that?" she cried. "E.! I told you not to ever, ever mention anything to do with that again. You know how much it bothers him."

I wrapped my arms protectively around my stomach, though I have no idea why. Reese wouldn't do anything to hurt my baby. I just couldn't help it. Old habits die hard.

"He . . . he was being a jerk to you."

"No, he was not. He was freaking out about the credit card bill . . . for a damn good reason. Money is a very sensitive issue for him."

I already knew that. Reese had confided to me months ago why Mason had become a male prostitute to begin with, how he'd felt the need to see to his family's security and how his landlady had blackmailed him into servicing her.

It all sounded heroic the way she told it, making him out to be this really good, stand-up guy. But I was so stuck on my theory that inside every male lurked a selfish, devious, evil prick, I just couldn't think of him in noble terms.

Except now that he'd opted out of releasing his anger on me, I was confused.

"I never should've bought that stupid baby changing table. Damn it, we haven't even gotten diapers yet. How the hell are we supposed to use a changing table if we don't even have diapers?"

My throat felt raw as I watched her break down. This wasn't her fault. It was mine. Every stressful issue for her in the past few months had been my fault because I was here, invading her life and mooching off her and her boyfriend.

But I pushed my guilt aside because knowing what I should do—leave her and try to make it on my own—scared the crap out of me.

"I can't believe he just left," I said, still stunned.

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