It's Family Business

Chapter Two

Charlie, crouched down in the snow, stared at the half finished snowman. It was pretty good, even after Zeus had made three attempts on its life. Grinning at her masterpiece, Charlie turned to ask her nephew for his thoughts, only to find him missing from where he'd been sitting not two minutes before.

"Drew?" Spinning around in a clumsy circle, Charlie scanned the large yard for the boy dressed in bright red. She opened her mouth to call his name again, but stopped when giggles erupted from somewhere behind her. She spun around, and saw the five year old sprawling back first in the snow, with her dog over top him.

"Got a little sidetracked, I see?" She called to him while turning back to the snowman, which was about the size of a small child, laughing. All that was missing was a carrot. She still had the one Zeus had kindly given her earlier, but didn't like the idea of putting a half eaten carrot on the snowman. When starting something new, she preferred to start fresh with everything.

She stood and brushed off her jeans. "I'll be right back!" She wasn't worried about Andrew. He knew the grounds just as well as her, and since Zeus was weighing him down, it didn't seem likely that he'd move an inch before she got back.

Besides that, she could still see him from inside the kitchen. Windows practically formed the walls in the farmhouse. It was like being outside, without actually being outside or at least that's what Josie said when Andrew and Charlie asked her if she wanted to come out. It was true though.

Charlie, while rubbing her hands together, walked across the wood floor to the fridge. Stainless steel and spotless – it was worth more than her car and apartment combined, Charlie bit her lip as she thought.

Outside, she was perfect. Her nerves were gone and she felt like she belonged. That was probably because her only company was a five year old and her dog, but still it was a start. However, she'd only been inside for less than a minute, and she already felt the weight of disappointment on her shoulders.

Sighing, she pulled open the refrigerator door, and scanned the shelves for her snowman's nose. She didn't even notice anyone else enter the room, until they cleared their throat.

Straightening up, Charlie spun around with her heart in her throat. Laughing, when she saw her grandma grinning warmly at her, she sighed, "You scared me."

Anna leaned against the island that sat in the center of the rectangular room. "It's good to have back here, Charlene." Turning her back on her grandma, Charlie tensed. For a second, Charlie completely forgot what she had previously been doing. Then, when she saw a carrot, she grabbed it, and made hast on her way towards the front door.

"I'm sorry that I couldn't make it to his funeral." Charlie muttered as she past her grandmother.

Anna, with reflexes that belonged on a woman half her age, grasped Charlie's upper arm. "You know that isn't what's bothering me." She stated.

Clenching her jaw, Charlie closed her eyes as she remembered what happened the previous year, when her grandfather passed on. It hadn't been a big shock for many people, but for Charlie it had hit hard. She had always seen her grandfather as a superhero. Nothing could break him.

Charlie had just graduated when the tragedy happened, and had moved to Colorado just before the funeral. She'd gotten a call from her father two days before she was planning to take a plane to Pennsylvania, and the fight they had, about her chosen job and career, caused her to cancel her plans.

Missing the funeral had nearly broken Charlie's heart, but she had been stubborn and remained in Colorado.

Anna's hold softened as did her gaze, but she didn't release her. "I'm upset because you haven't talked to any of us since."

Mumbling, "I went to see Drew on his first day of school." Charlie snapped her eyes down to her snow soaked boots, which were forming a puddle beneath her.

"Yes, but you barely spoke to your brother while you were there." Anna scolded. She paused before saying, "You can't keep hiding from us." Though she didn't raise her voice, she spoke strongly. "We are you family, and this is your home."

Nervously she shuffled her feet. "Drew's outside." Charlie pulled gently out of her grandma's hold, and escaped from the kitchen, only to bump into a man's chest. Jumping back, she nearly slipped because of her wet shoes, but a large hand wrapped around her arm and kept her upright.

"Are you alright?"

Part of her wished she could just shove right past him and keep going to the door. If it had been one of her brother's she would have. But, this was a guest and those stupid good manners that her parents had taught her ran deep.

Gathering the dignity that she had left, Charlie straightened herself out before raising her stubborn gaze up from the floor. With a hard and clenched jaw, she could already see that this one had been through a lot to get where he stood today. There was arrogance in his smooth soulful eyes and a touch of cocky charm in his smirk.

Handsome, she had to admit.

Realizing he'd asked her a question Charlie quickly ignored the blush ascending her neck and talked through the stammer she'd somehow acquired, "Yes, I, um, I'm fine. Thank you."

His crystal clear blue eyes shone brightly as if she were staring at the open ocean water. They watched her every move, without moving from her own gaze. There was something soft to his gaze, but a darkness that crept in from inside the pupils as if trying to overtake the happiness.

Goosebumps ran up her arm starting from where Kade's, she recalled, hand was resting.

The warm and fuzzy feelings crashed to a sudden and regretful halt when Charlie heard her grandmother's soft laugh from behind them. Ripping her arm free of the man's grasp, Charlie shook herself mentally and physically. "Thank you." She repeated while tightening her grip in the carrot and rushing out of the kitchen door.

She then slammed the door behind her for good measure. Romance should have been the furthest thing on her mind right now. But, deep down, beyond the worries and stresses of being near to her family, she couldn't help but silently declare that it felt nice having someone look at her like he had.

~!~

Kade was still staring at the door that Charlie had exited when he heard someone approach him a good five minutes later.

"She's a good girl." Mrs. Mason, the lady of the estate, spoke fondly. She stared at the door like Kade had moments before with concern and a grave expression. There was definitely some trouble there, Kade knew.

Charlene Mason had been at the top of the gossip mill for quite some tip. Ever since she declared her major in college people in their society have been asking questions and making up their own answers when none of the Mason's filled in the blanks. When he first got involved with Henry Mason he heard some crazy things around the offices. A few of the secretaries said she'd gotten pregnant. Someone said she'd ran away to follow… or was it to join a rock band?

Mentally he shook his head at all those stupid, hilarious ideas. He never paid much mind to the gossip, especially when Henry's family came up. It wasn't his business, and he wanted Henry's respect more than a few laughs.

But, watching Charlie's grandmother, he knew that something bad had happened between the Masons. And Charlie was obviously stuck in the center of it.

"She just," Mrs. Mason sighed tiredly, "I don't know."

"She just doesn't like lawyers." Kade turned slightly and saw the middle of the Mason boys strolling towards them with an unlit cigarette sticking out of between his lips. He smiled charmingly at his grandma before turning to Kade, "So you might want to watch yourself. She's known to get violent with people like you."

John's smile was borderline crazy, so Kade wasn't sure if he was pulling his leg or not.

"Don't tell him that!" Mrs. Mason scolded with an underlying laugh. The older woman swung her arm to slap her grandson on the shoulder, but the blond dodged and slipped out the door laughing.

Mrs. Mason then filtered out of the room, leaving Kade standing solo by the door. In what he hoped was an inconspicuous manner, he stepped closer to the door and pushed back the curtains.

He could see Charlie trudging through the mounds of snow towards the romping boy and her dog. She really was something, he thought.

Closing his eyes, Kade touched his forehead to the doorframe. He was really entering dangerous grounds by pursuing these feelings of his. He hadn't meant to. Seriously, after first laying eyes on her an hour previous he'd promised himself to stay clear of her. She was exactly what he looked for in a woman, well maybe no exactly but at that moment she seemed as close to a goddess as anyone to achieve, and was the one girl he shouldn't be interested in.

She was his soon-to-be business partner's daughter. He kept repeating the mantra in his mind hoping it would sink in and rid him of all these emotions. He was a guy after all. He should be able to turn them on and off like a light switch.

So why wasn't it working? Kade asked angrily as he opened his eyes and found his eyes searching for Charlie's retreating form.

Nearly growling Kade pushed himself off the wall and stalked out of the kitchen. He steered himself up stairs and into the guest room that he'd adopted for the course of the holidays. All of his things were still packed away in his suitcase. All he'd bothered to unpack was his laptop and a few selected papers.

Right on top of the desk was the contract that had been drawn up for him and Henry. If things went according to plan they'd be signed after Christmas. His name was already scribbled confidently across the line. All that was left was for Henry's to go beside it.

It was foolish and oddly sentimental for him to bring it with him, but Kade couldn't help it. Call if wishful thinking, but he hoped to heaven and back that Henry would decide to sign it early.

Rolling his shoulders to relieve some of the stress that had built up in his neck, Kade sighed heavily. His whole career was hanging in the balance with the prospect of this deal. He needed this deal as much as he needed to breathe.

He had to prove to himself that he could do it. He could be successful. He had to know that he wasn't his father.

Gritting his teeth, Kade took off again. He couldn't stand there any longer. So, with no particular destination in mind, Kade half jogged downstairs, grabbed his coat off the rack, and headed out the back.

~!~

Charlie was pissed. She couldn't figure out what the hell was wrong with her. This holiday was stressful enough without her bringing in unnecessary hassles into her life. Really, what was her heart thinking?

He wasn't even that good looking.

Glaring at the ground, Charlie bit down on her lip. She couldn't lie to herself. Kade Marshall was gorgeous.

She was still huffing when she heard the door open and close from a ways behind her. Great, she grumbled silently, someone is following her. Hoping it wasn't her grandma she kept her pace unyielding.

"Hey baby girl, wait up!" Charlie cringed at the sound of Jonathan yelling after her.

That was the last thing she needed right now. Jonathan was the most stubborn of them all and would stop at nothing until he got a rise out of her. Normally she loved getting into spats with him. She adored Johnny. Growing up they were always getting into some kind of trouble together. But at that moment all she wanted to do was get her anger out on some unsuspecting snow. She figured there was no better way to cool off than shuffle some snow off the path.

Quickening her pace, Charlie called out, "Stop calling me that!"

Johnny obviously thought differently, because as he crossed her path and forced her to slow down in order to avoid collision. "You're a little touchy, aren't you?" There was that smirk he was famous for, Charlie noted.

"Johnny, leave me alone." She hated being this crabby, but knew that her tone wouldn't hurt Johnny's feelings. His ego was too big.

"Hey," He hangs his arm over my shoulders, "I'm just being an older brother. I'm supposed to get up in your grill."

Pausing in her step, Charlie narrowed her eyes comically at her brother's expression. "I cannot believe you just said that." She said that, but it wasn't entirely true. With Johnny, anything was possible.

His face turned mockingly insulted, "Why? I'm cool. I know how kids talk."

She couldn't help but laugh in his face, "You're such an idiot."

Slowly Johnny's face changed. Charlie should have run when she had the chance, she realized as a conniving grin took the place of her brother's previous lazy expression. "You're in for it now."

Charlie tried to back away, but it was too late. She could only squeal as Johnny wrapped his arms around her and tackled her to the ground. They were just as bad as Zeus and Andrew as they rolled in the snow.

Laughing hysterically the two wrestled like they were teenagers again. Her clothes were soaked through and she was shivering, but she wasn't mad. In fact Charlie was nothing but smiles as the two siblings spread out in the snow gasping for breath.

"You're impossible." Johnny rolled onto his side; propping his head on his hand. Charlie just stuck her tongue out at him. They were already acting like little kids, so why stop now? Laughing, John got to his feet. "Alright," Against her will Charlie was hauled to her feet, "So tell me what's up with Charlene Mason's life away from the 'ents."

"I will if you stop talking like that." Charlie brushed away as much snow as she could from her clothes. It didn't do much. She was already numb.

Johnny fired up his lighter and lit up his cig. He mumbled, "Deal," while offering her a puff. She only wrinkled her nose in disgust. Laughing, Johnny said, "We all have our guilty pleasures, baby girl."

More playful than angry, Charlie shoved her brother, "I'm not a baby anymore."

His laugh settled into a steady chuckle as he regained his balance, "You're my baby sister. That counts for something."

"It shouldn't." She crossed her arms partly for warmth.

He shrugged and sent her a cocky smirk, "Well, it does so just get over it."

Rolling her eyes, Charlie started over towards Andrew and Zeus. They seemed to have lost interest in their snowman for the moment, so Charlie didn't rush over with the new orange nose. "I'm going back to Colorado after I'm done here."

"After you're done here?" Johnny scoffed, "You make Christmas sound like a chore."

Charlie glanced at him from underneath her lashes, "It is for me."

When Jonathan started to frown, Charlie turned back to where her nephew was playing. Zeus was having a ball. Drew was too. From the driveway she could hear her nephew giggling excitedly. She hated to break up the fun, but she knew she'd have to herd him back inside soon. There was no doubt that Andrew was soaked to the skin.

Two arms wrapped around her from behind. Charlie jumped slightly and she and Johnny nearly went pivoting back into the snow. Luckily her brother had obviously been expecting this reaction and he kept them on their feet.

"It's not that bad, Charlie." Johnny told her. His breath smelled like smoke, but it wasn't that bad. He must have gotten rid of the cigarette. At least she hoped he did. "We all love you, even if dad is being an ass."

Charlie snorted, "I just wish things were different."

"Everyone wishes for different families." He paused, "You're just lucky you have an amazing brother to run distraction for you all week long."

Stopping in her tracks, Charlie asked, "Week?"

Releasing her, Johnny came up to her side, "Aren't you staying for new years?" There were so many more questions in his tone. He wanted to know exactly how long she was staying. Apparently Mom hadn't announced that she'd only be there four days.

"I was not planning on it." Charlie stated firmly. Mom was most likely going to make her tell everyone she'd be leaving the day after Christmas.

Surprisingly, Johnny only shrugged. He didn't look at all disappointed as he said, "We'll see."

Charlie rolled her eyes. Great, she thought, he was going to bug her about this all weekend. "Don't get your hopes up."

"You underestimate my powers as a lawyer." He thrust his index finger into her face.

Jokingly glaring right back at him, Charlie retorted, "And you underestimate my powers as a Mason. I'm just as stubborn as you are."

A red Mercedes pulled up over the slope of the driveway and both Charlie and John turned.

"Carter!" Charlie exclaimed.

Johnny merely laughed, "I wouldn't get that excited. With Carter here you won't be able to leave before New Years."

She stopped to glare at John for two seconds before taking off at a jog towards the youngest Mason son's fancy car.