Touch of Fate by Autumn Reed

 

Chapter One

Adele

“Adele, meet my mother, Elizabeth.”

Mason’s usually-smooth voice cracked mid-sentence, and I wanted to inspect his expression, wanted to decipher what he was thinking. But I couldn’t take my eyes off the woman sitting by the window, utterly still.

His...mother? She couldn’t be. Hadn’t he told me his parents were gone?

“I don’t understand.”

The woman—Elizabeth—didn’t turn despite the slight hysteria in my voice. She hadn’t moved at all.

Mason took my hand. “I know.”

Forcing my gaze to his, I found an uncertainty that didn’t look right on him. Mason Montgomery was all confidence and swagger. Without that, he resembled a boy, lost and searching for the meaning of life.

Movement at the other end of the large room caught my attention, and I turned to find a middle-aged woman dressed in scrubs walking toward us. She watched me curiously but spoke to Mason.

“Hello, Mr. Montgomery. I’ll take my break now, if that’s acceptable.”

“Of course.”

Once she was gone, Mason gave me a hopeful smile and led me toward the statue-like woman. Elizabeth wore a simple cotton dress, and her hair fell over her shoulders in soft waves. At first glance, she didn’t look old enough to be anyone’s mother. But on closer inspection, I detected fine lines around her eyes and streaks of gray in her dark hair.

She was lovely in the way a doll on a shelf was lovely. All of her features were pleasing to the eye, but there was something vital missing. Her expression was blank as her eyes stared vacantly at something in the distance...or maybe at nothing at all. It was impossible to tell. And her lack of movement was almost creepy. If not for her periodic blinks, I might wonder if she was human. Or alive.

Mason bent over and kissed her on the forehead. “Hi, Mom. There’s someone special I want you to meet,” he said, his tone gentle and loving. He looked up at me, and his dark eyes glittered with emotion. “Her name is Adele Rose. She’s the woman I’ve been telling you about.”

Elizabeth still didn’t respond, and I struggled with how to react. What was wrong with her? And what did Mason expect from me?

I looked at him helplessly, and when he continued to watch me without speaking, I swallowed the lump in my throat and returned my attention to his mother. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Montgomery.”

As expected, she stared into the distance as though I didn’t exist.

Mason gave me a grim smile. “Please don’t be offended. She hasn’t spoken in years.”

I nodded, not knowing what to say. I had so many questions, I wouldn’t even know where to start.

He tugged me to a sitting area and down onto the love seat, his arm stretching behind my shoulders. My mind spinning, I focused my attention on my surroundings, hoping they would provide some measure of clarity.

The apartment, for lack of a better term, was bright and spacious. The butter-yellow walls, trimmed with white molding, displayed colorful artwork in a variety of styles. To my right, a set of French doors opened up to a bedroom, and to my left was an updated kitchen and a small, antique dining set. Bouquets of fresh flowers were positioned around the room, emitting a light floral scent that matched the feminine tone of the room.

Though finding Mason’s mother locked in the attic could have given this entire experience a Jane Eyre vibe, the setting couldn’t have been more different from Thornfield Hall.

But that didn’t make me any less curious about why Mason was hiding his mother up here. Or why he’d waited until now to tell me about her.

“What do you most want to know?”

He seriously wanted me to choose?

I shifted on the love seat to face him. His expression was somber, but there was nothing defensive about his tone or posture. This was the moment he was fully opening up to me, and that realization made my annoyance fade faster than a cheap black cotton T-shirt.

Trust had to be earned, and it seemed that I’d managed to earn Mason’s. Now, I needed to prove I was worthy of it.

“Why did you tell me that your parents were gone?” Technically, he’d made the comment in passing, and in front of Stowe, at that. But I’d still caught it and tucked it away for a rainy day.

“My biological parents are dead.” His mouth twitched, though it didn’t lift into its usual grin. “They ditched me when I was three and left me on Elizabeth’s doorstep with a rather stereotypical note stating they knew she’d be able to care for me better than they could. I haven’t heard from them since.”

My chest squeezed at the thought of Mason as an innocent three-year-old being rejected by his parents. No matter the circumstances, I’d never understand how parents could desert their child like that. It was unthinkable.

I reached for his hand, and though mine was covered in a white glove, I hoped the act would offer some degree of comfort. “I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t really remember them. And there was more to it, if I’m honest. I’d already started using my abilities, and apparently my parents didn’t know how to keep me hidden. They thought that Elizabeth, with all of her wealth and resources, would be the best person to help me. And, lucky for me, she’d never married but always wanted a child.”

“She adopted you?”

He nodded.

“I’m glad you had her.”

“Me too. She was a wonderful mother, until...”

I squeezed his hand in silent encouragement. “What happened? Why can’t she speak?”

“The short answer is, I don’t know.” Mason peered off into the distance, but unlike Elizabeth’s, his face held more emotions than I could decipher. “About sixteen years ago, she started acting strange. She began forgetting things. Little things at first, like forgetting to pick me up from school or to go to the grocery store. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was a relatively typical eleven-year-old, and too concerned with my life to pay attention to my mother. But it steadily got worse until, one day, I came home from school—I’d had to call a cab when she didn’t answer her cell phone—and she was sitting in a chair in the living room, just staring.”

He removed his hand from mine and leaned forward, bowing his head. “She was gone...and she’s never come back.”

My eyes burned as I tried to hold back the tears. Though Mason and I had lost our mothers at around the same age, I still struggled to imagine what that must have been like for him. Not only what happened sixteen years ago, but every day since.

It was a different kind of loss, visiting a loved one, day in and day out, but never being seen. Never being heard.

My heart splintered at the unfairness of it all. Mason’s biological parents had deposited him in the care of a woman who had been more than willing to step up. But she’d abandoned him, anyway. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t gone willingly. Not really. Not when the result was the same—he was left all alone.

Peering at his downcast profile, I felt like I was seeing the man for the first time. I’d always understood there was more to Mason Montgomery than the Gatsbyesque persona he projected to the world. But as much as I’d tried to shove the pieces together, they hadn’t quite fit.

The wealthy playboy façade, his willingness to help me with Intuition, the cocky attitude, his sweet declaration of interest in me, the impish gleam in his dark eyes, and his easy acceptance of my relationships with Noah, Stowe, and Jameson. Not to mention his questionable partnership with the Collectors. He’d been a puzzle from the beginning, and I was just now discovering a small sliver of what I’d been missing.

Mason was a survivor.

He’d been on his own for most of his life, and I had a feeling he was even more desperate to find a place to belong than I had been when Jem first offered to bring me into the fold. I doubted he’d ever admit as much, but I was okay with that. Whether he knew it or not, he’d found his people, and we weren’t letting him go.

Ignoring his closed-off body language, I slipped my arms around his neck and pressed into him. It was an offering. A way to let him know I was here for him, in whatever way he needed me.

He stayed rigid for a minute before slowly relaxing his muscles and drawing my head into the crook of his neck. Burying his face into my hair, he sighed, letting me know I hadn’t completely lost him to the past. He was here with me.

It was then that I realized I’d needed that tiny bit of reassurance from him. I wasn’t an idiot. I had little doubt that Elizabeth was the reason Mason had shown interest in me from the moment we met. He probably believed I could help her—that had to be the mysterious favor he’d asked me for.

A small part of me wondered if, once I’d fulfilled my end of the bargain, he would disappear. But I didn’t want to wonder. I was tired of questioning everything in my life. This new information didn’t change anything. I’d always known he needed something from me.

If Mason didn’t want to be with me, he was going to have to say that to my face. I refused to sabotage our relationship before it even got off the ground.

“I hate that you’ve been alone for all of these years,” I said against his throat, letting my lips skim over his warm skin.

“I don’t feel so alone. Not anymore.”

Needing to meet his gaze, I withdrew slightly. He peered at me, his eyes intense yet somehow still soft. I waited for him to say something else, but he dropped his head instead, capturing my mouth in a slow, sensuous kiss.

My body instantly responded, and I longed to sink into him, to beg for more. Unfortunately, propriety kept those desires at bay. Even though it was likely that his mother had no idea what was going on, it seemed disrespectful to make out on her couch while she sat several yards away. So, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to savor the moment while it lasted.

When he pulled back a few seconds later, I asked, “What’s the long answer?” As much as I would have loved to continue basking in the comfort of his arms, Mason brought me here for a reason. And I hadn’t heard the full story yet. “What happened after you found your mother like this?”

He adjusted his position again, his body tensing like he was preparing for battle. And maybe he was. From what I knew about this man, he wasn’t one to share details about his personal life. He’d probably only told this tale a handful of times over the years.

“Mrs. Lyons, our housekeeper, who was more like a member of the family, took care of everything. She didn’t want to risk that I would end up in foster care, so she moved us to Florida and posed as my grandmother. In addition to enrolling me in school, she dragged Mom to every doctor and specialist in the state.

“But they didn’t find anything, of course, because her problem isn’t a medical one. I knew it, and even Mrs. Lyons knew it, but what could either one of us do? I was too young, and though Mrs. Lyons knew about Mom’s psychic abilities, she didn’t know anyone in the psychic community. There was no one to turn to.

“After my eighteenth birthday, I bought Mrs. Lyons a condo by the beach as a retirement gift and moved back here with Mom. I’ve been trying to figure out who did this to her, and how to cure her, ever since.”

“And that’s how you got involved with the Collectors?” I asked, though I didn’t need to. His association with them finally made sense. Everything came back to whatever happened to his mother.

“Yes. I needed access to the most powerful and influential psychics to have any chance of figuring out how to help Mom.” He sneered, an expression that didn’t belong on his beautiful face. “Not that it’s done any good.”

“You can’t beat yourself up. You’ve done the best you can. No one could ask for anything more.”

Mason shook his head. “It hasn’t been enough. I’ve been at this almost a decade, and it’s gotten me nowhere.” He glanced at me. “Well, until I heard about you.”

Anxiety churned in my stomach. He was placing sixteen years of hopes and disappointments on my shoulders, and what if I couldn’t help? I had no idea where to even start.

“Mason, I...” I chewed on the inside of my cheek as I attempted to form a sentence that wouldn’t sound like I was backing out of our deal. It wasn’t that at all. I just felt utterly unprepared for this moment, for what he needed from me.

He reached for my hand and tugged off my glove before interlacing our fingers. “It’s okay, little thief. My expectations are low. I’m only asking you to try. That’s all I’ve ever asked.”

He spoke the truth. Since that first meeting with him in the park, he’d only asked that I try...when the time came.

That time had arrived, and I knew without having to think about it that I would do everything in my power to give Mason the one thing he wanted more than any other—his mother.