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Mason drove to his office in downtown Atlanta, eager to find out the details of his new assignment. He had finally gotten burnt out of undercover work and was tired of being away from his family. That was why he was determined to make this his last assignment and do something less risky.
As he sat behind the wheel of his car, he reminisced about the times when he went undercover. In the past he had his brother, Vincent, by his side to help take care of his family when he was unavailable. Like him, Vincent had moved up the ranks in law enforcement, but he wanted to go much higher than Mason did. Mason was always appreciative that Vincent never made him feel inferior once he climbed the ladder of success, and it was Vincent who made sure Cherise and Mase were safe while he was away. He cut the grass and did other things around the house when Mason was undercover. Mason missed his brother, who was now a police chief in Texas. After his promotion, Vincent moved away and Cherise hadn't seen him in nearly nine years. However, Mason did find time to visit Vincent when he could, which was rare because of the job's demands.
Vincent's job was the kind that left him little time for himself. They sent e-mails to each other, but those notes lacked the closeness they were accustomed to sharing. Mason still wanted to go on the hunting trip they talked about but never got around to taking. Maybe once this assignment was over, they would make time to come back together as a family. Mason was jarred out of his trance when a car horn blew behind him. He vowed when this assignment was over he was going to take Cherise and the kids to see the Grand Canyon and swing through Texas to visit Vincent. He wanted to put his relationship with Vincent back to where it needed to be, because the children needed to know their uncle. Mase was a lot younger when Vincent moved away, and Janelle wasn't even born. Mason smiled because his mind was made up about visiting Vincent. A good friend is something no one should be without, and he was determined to have his friend and brother back by his side once again.
Mason finally arrived at work and parked his vehicle in the garage. He exited the car and greeted several coworkers as they walked into the building together. Once in the office, he set his belongings down on the desk and picked up his messages. The room was full of activity. Some of the guys in his unit were on the telephone taking tips on suspected drug and other illegal activities. Mason looked over and noticed that no one had made coffee. He put his messages down and took off his jacket.
"I guess you guys expect me to make coffee every damn morning."
"No one makes it like you, Mason," a coworker nicknamed Tank because of his build, announced.
Mason picked up the coffeepots and frowned as he watched Tank stuff a doughnut in his mouth. If you didn't get there when the pastries arrived, you took a chance on not getting any once Tank got to them. Tank was a former NFL linebacker and had been in the unit for seven years. He stood about six feet, six inches tall and weighed close to two hundred-eighty pounds. His size gave a lot of criminals the perception that he wouldn't be able to catch them. They learned real quick that Tank was fast on his feet.
"I'm going to collect money from you guys so we can get a couple of those coffeemakers that you can set on a timer, because I'm not the goddamn maid around here."
"Why are you in such a bad mood this morning?" Rat, nicknamed for his love of cheese, asked as he leaned back in his chair.
"I'm cool, but you guys are trifling when it comes to pitching in around here," Mason mumbled as he filled the coffeepots with water.
Rat walked over to Mason so they could talk in private.
"Is everything okay? I mean, we haven't even started the case and you're already grouchy."
Mason poured the water into the reservoir of the coffeemakers and opened two bags of coffee. He looked over at Rat and sighed. "Nah, man, everything's straight."
Rat picked up a doughnut and bit into it as he watched Mason pour the coffee into the filters. "I hope so, because from what I've heard, this assignment is going to be a mother," Rat commented.
Mason pushed the button and watched as the hot coffee streamed down into the coffee pots. He folded his arms and directed his attention to Rat. "How so?"
"I heard we're going after some heavyweights this time, but that's all I know," Rat said as he picked up another doughnut.
Mason looked across the room and watched as his unit prepared for their upcoming meeting. Some were on the computer pulling up criminal profiles, while others were mapping out the perpetrators' territory. Seconds later, his commanding officer, nicknamed Domino, called him and the other members of his unit into the conference room so they could go over the details of their assignment. Mason had been a part of the Anti-Crime Unit Task Force for several years, and he enjoyed bringing down the bad guys. He knew in his heart this assignment would be no different, and he was ready to get it over with so he could concentrate on his family.
Cherise walked through the house to make sure everything was locked up before her cab arrived. She glanced at Janelle's calendar on the refrigerator to see when her next social event was scheduled. Eight-year-old Janelle was a serious social butterfly. Cherise had to keep a separate calendar for all the birthday parties, baseball games, slumber parties, etc. that she was involved in. Somewhat of a tomboy, Janelle was always challenging her brother to wrestling matches and other physical activities. And though she had her mother's looks and personality, she also loved wearing her thick, wavy brown hair in a ponytail, mostly because it fit perfectly under her baseball cap that she wore daily. She was a daddy's girl and sought every opportunity to talk to him about improving her baseball skills. She was already on the All-Star team and recently started talking to Mason about playing basketball. Cherise wanted her to do more girlie things, but she didn't try to hold her daughter back from doing what she really enjoyed, which was sports.
Cherise smiled when she saw Mase's picture on the refrigerator. Mason Jr., an aspiring basketball player, was turning fourteen next month. He was already nearly as tall as his dad, standing around six feet, one inch. Everyone called him Mase, and he was quiet and very protective of the women in the family. He looked like his father with the exception of his thick eyelashes, which he had inherited from Cherise. Mase had already filled out in all the right places, especially since he had started lifting weights. His physique gave him the appearance of a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old, which was beginning to attract older girls. Cherise was having a hard time keeping the older girls at arm's length from her young son. She knew that sooner or later she would lose the battle. She'd already gotten Mason to talk to their son about girls and sex because they weren't ready to risk becoming grandparents. Mason happily took him on a relaxing fishing trip to break it down to him. Most of what Mason told him, Mase already knew; however, this gave Mase the opportunity to ask his father questions he knew he wouldn't get a straight answer on from his friends.
Reminiscing about her family made Cherise lose track of time briefly. She took one last sip of her coffee before rinsing her cup out in the sink. As she did so, she couldn't help but worry about Mason and the dangerous job he had. She was trying not to let it get the best of her, but she could feel her stomach quiver. When she first met Mason, she wasn't sure what she was getting herself into by dating a police officer. It didn't take long for her to find out, but by then, she was madly in love with him. Standing at the sink, looking out over their backyard, Cherise remembered it like it was yesterday.
She was coming out of a boutique when Mason ran right into her, knocking her down on the sidewalk. He and another man were chasing someone who had just committed a crime. When Mason realized he had hurt someone, he immediately stopped but told the other man to keep going after the suspect while he attended to her. After helping her up from the sidewalk, he noticed blood running down the side of her head, staining her pink silk blouse; she had deep scrapes on her arms and legs. He quickly took out his handkerchief and applied it to her head wound.
"I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
"I'm not sure," she answered, clearly dazed.
He spotted a bench in front of the store she had just exited and helped her over to it. People were starting to stare as they walked by, and the manager of the store rushed out to assist him. "Do I need to call the paramedics?" she asked.
Mason removed his handkerchief to inspect her wound and frowned. "No, ma'am, I don't think she needs the paramedics, but if you have a first-aid kit, that would help."
The young woman thought for a minute. "I think we do. I'll be right back," she said.
Within moments she returned and assisted Mason with the gauze and tape. Cherise was getting embarrassed with all of the attention. Onlookers continued to hang around to watch what was going on. Mason picked up on the fact that she was uncomfortable and he turned to the crowd and flashed his badge.
"There's nothing here to see, folks, so move along. We have everything under control."
Cherise looked up at his handsome face as he took control of the situation. "Thank you," she whispered.
"You're welcome. I can't have them putting us on the evening news." He joked to try to keep Cherise calm. The wound was still bleeding, and Mason realized he had injured her worse than he thought.
"You're bleeding. Let me get you to a hospital."
She looked at the handkerchief and examined the small amount of blood on it. "It's not that much blood. I'll be fine."
"No, it's bleeding through the bandages. It looks like you're going to need a few stitches."
Alarmed, Cherise tried to stand up. When she did she became dizzy. Mason steadied her and helped her sit back down.
"That's it. We're going to the hospital."
"Do you want me to call the paramedics now?" the manager of the boutique asked Mason.
Mason looked at Cherise and noticed the panic in her eyes.
"No, I'll drive her, but I appreciate all your help."
Mason handed the first-aid kit back to the manager and pulled out a radio that was attached to his belt. It as at that time that Mason really looked at Cherise and saw just how beautiful she was. Just as he was about to speak into the radio, he noticed a familiar face walking toward him. The person had a smirk on his face and a young, black male in handcuffs.
Cherise's eyes widened as she also watched the men close the distance between them. She had no idea what was going on, but whatever it was, it was none of her business. Her concern right now was not her wound, but her torn and stained clothing, and her tousled hair. Cherise did her best to knock the dirt and leaves off her clothes, but since she was wearing white linen pants she was unsuccessful.
Mason automatically assisted her by gently plucking the leaves out of her soft, thick mane. He wanted to help her remove the dirt from her legs, but he figured he'd end up in handcuffs if he followed through on his thoughts. Her pants fit her round derrière perfectly, and it was taking Mason the strength of ten horses to keep himself from becoming aroused. So he turned his attention to the other man his brother, Vincent.
"You caught him!" Mason said.
Vincent smiled and raised his brow. "I've been outrunning you all our lives, big brother. I wasn't letting this young buck get away."
"Whatever, bro. Look, I need to get this young lady to the hospital. I knocked her down and she's hurt."
Vincent turned his attention to Cherise and noticed the blood on her blouse. His heart skipped a beat when their eyes met. Feeling closed in, Cherise took a breath and once again tried to stand up. This time she was successful.
"I don't need to go to the hospital," she insisted. "Once I get home I'll put some peroxide on and wrap it up real tight."
"Nah, miss, I think Mason's right. You need to let a doctor take a look at you," Vincent said as he inspected Cherise's cut. "It is Miss, isn't it?"
Cherise gave him a disgusted glance. She knew a come-on line when she heard one, and she wasn't in the mood. Her head was starting to throb and she just wanted to get home. She started to massage her temples and then remembered her wound.
"What does that have to do with anything?" she asked angrily.
Vincent raised his hands in defeat.
"You're right. I'm sorry if I offended you, but you really should get that looked at."
"Who are you guys, anyway, and why were you two running after this kid?" she asked.
"We caught this kid trying to break into our car," Vincent answered as he reached inside his pocket and pulled out a police badge.
"I'm Officer Mason McKenzie, and this is my brother, Vincent. What is your name, if I may ask?"
"Cherise," she answered as she eyed the young man they had in custody. She continued to hold Mason's handkerchief against the bandage as they stood on the sidewalk.
"Do you have a last name?"
She looked over at him curiously and wondered why she was being cross-examined like she was the one in custody.
"Jernigan. My name is Cherise Jernigan."
Mason picked up Cherise's bags from the sidewalk. Vincent smiled at seeing his brother smitten with Cherise. "We'd better get going. I'd hate for that cut to get infected."
"You're right, Vincent. Cherise, where is your car?" Mason asked.
She pointed to the silver Lexus parked a few feet away.
"May I have your keys?" He held out his hand and waited for her to turn them over to him.
"I believe I'm able to drive myself, officer."
Vincent butted in to help Mason. "No way, Miss! You have a head injury, so we can't allow you to drive because that would endanger public safety. You could black out behind the wheel or something. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"
Mason's eyes met with hers and it was hard for him to tear himself away. He was praying she would cooperate so he could hopefully get a chance to ask her out once he knew she was okay.
"I guess you're right. Okay, Officer McKenzie, you can drive me to the hospital, but I'm driving myself home."
Mason opened her car door for her and smiled. "We'll see what the doctor says first. It's my fault you got hurt, and I'm not going to rest until I know you're safe."
Before allowing Mason to escort her to her car, Cherise turned to Vincent and smiled.
"Despite the circumstances, it was nice meeting you, Officer."
"Likewise, Ms. Jernigan," he acknowledged before escorting the suspect down the sidewalk.
Mason strolled around to the driver's side of Cherise's car and climbed in beside her. They were silent for a few minutes as Mason maneuvered the luxury vehicle out into the flow of traffic. Cherise looked over at him and finally broke the silence.
"Are you this attentive with everyone?"
He pulled up to a traffic light and turned toward her. Her breath caught in her throat as she realized just how handsome Mason McKenzie was.
"Only the innocent bystanders."
She smiled and looked away. She wasn't able to look into those eyes for more than a second. Cherise decided it was best that she close her eyes and rest her head against the seat for the remainder of the ride. She'd only known Mason for about fifteen minutes and he was already causing her body to feel things that she hadn't felt in a long time. She had to admit to herself that he was sexy and seemed to be a true gentleman, but a policeman was not on her list as a possible soul mate.
It only took minutes for them to arrive at the emergency room. Cherise received a couple of stitches and a tetanus shot to be on the safe side. Mason held her hand throughout the entire ordeal, and once the doctor was finished with her, Cherise felt like Mason was an old friend. From that day forward, they were inseparable. It didn't take long for their relationship to blossom into a full-blown love affair. By the end of the year they were engaged, and they were married three months later. It wasn't like Cherise to take to strangers like she did with Mason, but he was so warm and loving. She wasn't particularly excited about the fact that he was a police officer, because she dealt with a lot of them on a daily basis in her profession; however, she loved him and would support him no matter what.
Snapping out of her trance, Cherise sighed and looked over at the clock, realizing she didn't have much time left before the taxi arrived. She prayed this weekend would not only be informative, but would also open even more doors for her. Within minutes, the taxi pulled up and blew its horn. She closed her eyes and said a short prayer before walking into the foyer to get her bags. She grabbed the handle on her luggage and took one last look around before letting herself out and locking the door. Then she rolled her bag out to the cabdriver, waiting patiently while he put her luggage in the trunk.
"Good morning, ma'am," he said with a smile. "Where to?"
Cherise smiled back at the gentleman, who didn't appear much older than she was. "Good morning. I'm going to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, please."
The gentleman closed the trunk of the taxi and walked around to open the car door for Cherise. "When does your flight leave?"
"With all the security, I'll have you there in twenty minutes so you'll have plenty of time to go through the checkpoints."
Just as the taxi pulled away from the curb, a weird feeling overtook Cherise. It was overwhelming and had her feeling that her life was headed for a major change. She had no idea what was in store for her no idea.
Copyright ©2006 by Darrien Lee