Fixed on You

Fixed on You: Page 26

"I don't know what you're talking about, but you're making a scene. You need to calm down and save whatever this is for later."

He moved to grip my elbow, but I pulled away before he could. "There isn't going to be a later-I quit." I darted past him and out the main doors to the sidewalk.

"Alayna!" He followed me.

Anger surged through me, tears forming in my eyes. I was vulnerable and floundering and he had taken advantage. I turned on him, hot tears streaking my cheeks. "Tell me, Hudson, did you pick me because you thought my obsession issues would make your game more fun? Because really, where's the challenge in that?"

Hudson's jaw tightened, realization setting in. "Fuck Celia and her big mouth." He took a step toward me, his hand reaching for me. I stepped away. He softened, but his glare was insistent. "Let's talk about this in the limo."

"I don't want-"

He cut me off. "Alayna. It's not fair of you to listen to a stranger tell her story and not give me a chance to explain." His eye twitched, but, other than that, his features and composure were controlled. "I'm telling you we will talk about this in the limo which is parked in the lot next door. First, because my mother is watching, I'm going to bend down and kiss your forehead. Then I'm going to walk over and tell her that you aren't feeling well. I will meet you in the car."

I peeked over his shoulder and saw Sophia inside the doors, a smug grin on her face. I'd already told him I was quitting. I'd get a job at whatever loser place Brian wanted me to work at, because I obviously couldn't work anywhere that Hudson Pierce would be. But I knew he wouldn't let me walk away unless I agreed to his plan. Then, when I got to the limo, I'd tell Jordan to take off before Hudson joined us.

I gave him a tight nod. He approached cautiously and kissed me softly on the forehead. I crossed my arms over my chest to hide my ni**les that had pebbled traitorously.

"The limo, Alayna. I'll meet you there."

I wiped the tears roughly from my face as I walked toward the lot he'd pointed to, picking up my pace as soon as I was out of his view. There were several limos parked, but I spotted Jordan leaning against the hood, playing with his phone. When he saw me walking toward him he opened the door without a word.

"Take me home, please, Jordan," I choked as I slipped in.

Jordan shut the door and I heard him get into the driver's seat. He hadn't said anything, hadn't agreed or disagreed to my direction, and, for a moment, I feared he'd only take his orders from Hudson.

Relief swept over me when the car started...

...and then immediately left when he pulled up next to the ballroom and Hudson climbed in, the doors automatically locking after he'd closed the door.

Shit! Hudson had probably texted Jordan that I was coming out, to pick him up after, and to not take me anywhere without him. Unreasonably, I felt betrayed by my driver.

As the car pulled into traffic, I pressed into the opposite corner, as far away as I could from the man sharing the car with me.

Hudson pressed a button and spoke. "Jordan, drive around until I say otherwise. Or find someplace to park for a while."

Normally I'd blush, afraid of what Jordan would think we were doing in the backseat. But I was too pissed and hurt to care.

We sat a few minutes, not speaking. I couldn't imagine that the always-in-control Hudson Pierce was at a loss for words, so I assumed his silence was meant to calm me down. Or unnerve me. Some sort of expert manipulative tactic.

It didn't calm me. Instead, the silence gave me time to review every moment of the past few days, allowing me to recognize his domineering hand in all of his actions. It gave me fuel to hate him for his control over me. And myself for falling in with the prick in the first place.

Finally he spoke, quietly. "What exactly did Celia tell you?"

I couldn't remain silent. "Oh, just how you f**k with vulnerable women's emotions. Is it true?"

"Alayna-" He moved across the seat, placing his hand on my knee.

"Don't touch me!" He removed his hand. "And stop saying my name. Is it true?"

"Will you calm down so I can explain?"

His soft tone felt patronizing, emboldening my fury. I needed him to admit it. I had to hear him say it. "Is. It. True?"

His answer came in a burst. "Yes, it's true!" He took a deep breath, regaining his control. "In the past, it was true."

I froze, my eyes riveted on him. I hadn't expected a confession. Hadn't expected him to tell me anything-he never did-and I feared if I moved he'd stop talking.
So I remained still.

He took his time, not looking at me as he made his admission. "I did...things...that I'm not proud of. I manipulated people. I hurt them and often it was deliberate." He turned to me, piercing me with his intense gray eyes and the grit in his voice. "But not now. I don't do that now. Not with you."

His delivery affected me, but I bit past the emotion, knowing I had proof that betrayed his words. "Really? Because it seems completely obvious that you did exactly that with me. The way you picked me out at the symposium and you tracked me down and gave me a spa vacation and Jesus, you bought the club!"

He shook his head. "It's not like that. I explained the gift and I was looking at the club anyway. When I found out you worked there, yes, it helped me make my decision-"

I cut him off. "And you 'hired' me and seduced me. And when I told you I needed to not have sex with you, you somehow got me to do exactly that. You are manipulative. You're a bully, Hudson." I wrapped my arms around myself, hoping to stop the new onslaught of tears that threatened.

"No, Alayna. I didn't want that with you." The anguish in his tone set my tears into motion. He leaned forward and I sensed he wanted to touch me. Instead, he put his hand on the seat next to me, putting himself as close to me as I'd let him. "I don't want to be like that with you."

I swiped at the tears, unable to keep up with their pace. "Then what do you want to be with me, Hudson?"

"Honestly? I'm not sure." He sat back against the seat. His expression confused, torn.

Suddenly, he looked much younger than I'd ever seen him. He no longer seemed the confident, commanding alpha male that I knew him to be, but like a group member in one of my therapy sessions, exposed and accessible.

He let out a brief laugh, as if he recognized his own vulnerability and it amused him or confounded him. "I'm drawn to you, Alayna. Not because I want to hurt you or make you feel a certain way, but because you're beautiful and sexy and smart and, yes, a little crazy, maybe, but you're not broken. And that makes me hopeful. For me."

I let out a shaky breath. God help me, I wanted to reach out to him. I wanted to comfort him, knowing his words about me said more about himself than any he'd ever spoken.

I didn't move, though, still not willing to break the moment. Even my tears had stilled, as if they'd interrupt.

"And maybe I've been a bully. But I'm a dominant person. I can try to change things about me, but the fundamentals of my personality are never going away." His voice lowered further. "You of all people should be able to understand that."

He had me earlier. Probably back when he'd insisted he didn't want to be whatever with me, but for sure when he'd inferred he was broken, and that I was not. And if none of that had reached me, his last statement would have. I did understand him. More than I had ever thought possible. What it felt like to be a certain way and to loathe myself for it. How difficult it was to change and learn to accept the parts of me that were fundamentally never going to change. And what it did to me to believe I was incapable of falling in love the way normal people do.

I knew what it felt like to be that person.

"I'm sorry." It came out as a choked whisper so I repeated it. "I'm sorry. You didn't judge me and I judged you."

He nodded once and I knew that was his way of accepting my apology.

"And I exaggerated when I called you a bully. I haven't done anything I didn't want to. And your whole confident, domineering thing is actually kinda hot."

He almost smiled, but squeezed his eyes shut as if trying to reign in his emotions. When he opened them again, they were pleading. "Alayna, don't quit. Don't quit me."

I looked away, knowing how easy it would be to give in if I kept staring into those gray eyes. "Hudson, I have to. Not because of this, well, not only because of this, but because of my past. I'm not well enough to be with someone who has his own issues."

Truthfully, I didn't know if I was well enough to be with anyone.

"You are, Alayna. You only tell that to yourself because you're scared."

That drew me to face him. "I should be scared. It's not safe. For either of us. You should be scared, too."

He let out a heavy breath. When he spoke again, he was resigned, as if he didn't expect his words to make a difference yet he spoke them anyway.

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