Found in You


Found in You: Page 13





"He went back to sleeping with anyone with two legs. Last I heard he'd gotten HIV. I don't know. I lost track of him."

He studied me, the same way I'd studied him a moment before, and I knew he read me. Saw what I was feeling. I couldn't be stoic as he'd been. I couldn't hide my emotions.

His features grew dark. "I told you, you didn't want to hear it. I told you-"

"Just give me a second to process," I stuttered, ashamed that I needed the delay. I'd said his past wouldn't change how I felt about him. Did it? I pushed past the horror of the story and focused on Hudson, the man who had committed the horror. Did knowing these things change how I felt for him?

My pause was too long for him. "See, Alayna? See why your past means nothing to me? Compared to me, you were an angel. You hurt people because you loved too much. I hurt people because I could."

I jerked my eyes to his. No, my feelings for him hadn't changed. If anything, they'd grown deeper. How lonely, how sad, how broken did a man have to be to feel compelled to destroy the people around him? And how strong and worthy was that same man to attempt to be someone different in the aftermath?




I was in his lap before a second had passed by, straddling him, my hands resting on the sides of his neck. "No." I aligned my eyes with his and said it again. "No. You hurt people because you didn't have any idea what love really was. You were trying to understand it in the only way you knew how. It's horrible, yes. But it's forgivable. I forgive you. I forgive a thousand worse things you may have done. I can forgive anything."

I caressed his cheek with my palm. "Because I love you. I love you too much, like I always do, but this time I don't regret it and I don't wish I could take it back because you need it. So take it from me, H. Take it all from me."

He buried his head into my neck and sighed, a deep sigh that sounded both haunting and freeing.
Wrapping my arms around him, I stroked his hair, whispering his name at his ear.

Soon he found my lips, and we disappeared into the sweetest, most languid kiss that lasted on and on, neither losing momentum nor turning frenzied.

It was a long time later before our clothes were discarded and Hudson slid us to a lying position, stretching me out over the length of his body. And just like the kiss had lasted on and on, we made love slow and leisurely, giving and taking from each other until the wee hours of the night when we were certain that the memory of our bodies together burned stronger and brighter than the horrid memories we'd shared from our past.


Chapter Five

"What do you call these rooms again? They're amazing!" Julia Swaggert, founder of Party Planning Plus, pressed her forehead on the glass of the enclosure and looked out over The Sky Launch's empty dance floor.

"Bubble rooms," I answered behind her, pleased that Julia seemed impressed with The Sky Launch. Our meeting had begun at eleven, and now, forty-five minutes later she was still engaged and interested in my proposals for a partnership.

"And when they're occupied-" I flipped the light switch on that indicated a room was in use.

Julia's face lit up as the room glowed red. "Ha-ha. Awesome. Can people see inside them?"

"Unfortunately, yes. We'd have too many legal issues if we were to install one-way mirrors in them. But when it's dark on the floor, you can't see very much inside them. Mostly silhouettes."

"Hot."

I liked Julia. Instantly. She was fun and enthusiastic but also had a smart head on her shoulders. I could tell why she came highly recommended in the event planning world. She was definitely someone who could boost The Sky Launch's business, and my excitement grew about the possibilities as I showed her around the club.

"This is totally perfect for Bachelorette parties, as you suggested." She wrote a couple notes down on her tablet with her stylus and turned back to face me. "Actually, I can think of a few types of events that might be interested in this venue. If you can come up with some pricing packages-" She tapped her pen across her cheek, leaving her sentence for me to finish.

"Sure thing." Damn, did that sound too eager? I really wanted to make this deal, to prove that I could do all the things I'd said I could when I applied for the promotion. And, to be honest, I wanted Hudson to be proud of me.

I wasn't taking notes on paper, but I was mentally. "Do you have some things you'd like to see in particular as part of the packages?"

She nodded energetically, her dull brown curls sweeping her shoulders as she did. "A dollar amount at the bar is a must. Perhaps a selection of appetizers. Few pre-brides will be expecting dinner when they're clubbing, so light on the food and heavy on the drinks."

That had been pretty much what I'd been thinking. "Would add-ons be of interest? Like male waiters or a penis-shaped cake?"

She laughed. "I think you know what you're doing."

A bleep bleep came from Julia's purse. "Ah, that's my partner," she said, digging inside. "He was overseeing arrangements for an event we have later and said he'd join me here if he got free." She retrieved her phone and read the screen. "Yay, he's here. Mind if he comes up?"

"Not at all. The front doors are locked, though, since we're not open during the day. I'll have to walk down and let him in."

"I'll come with you." She followed me as I exited the bubble room. "I want to get his feedback from the moment he enters. See if he loves it as much as I do. I can't believe I had no idea this place existed!"

We walked back down the stairs and through the club, Julia commenting on different features of the club as we passed them.

She nodded to the bar on the lower level as we passed. "I'm so glad there's a bar on each floor."

"There are two bars on this floor: the main one and a smaller side one that we only operate on the weekends. Food is only served upstairs. So the first floor is tailored for drinking and dancing while the upstairs level with the bubble rooms and lounging areas is geared more toward socializing."

"Nice. And you can rent out the entire club for events?"

"Of course."

"Can you put together some packaging for that? I know some corporations that might like this for holiday parties and such." She pointed to a counter near the front of the club. "And what's this? An information desk?"

"That's the coat check." Or a fabulous place to make out, I thought, remembering how Hudson and I had spent some time in there one evening before my shift. "Oh, whoops! That's not supposed to be there." I grabbed a serving tray that had been left on the coatroom counter.

"I'll put this away while you let him in."

I skipped back up the ramp to the front bar to deposit the tray behind the counter then headed back.

As I returned, I heard Julia gushing about The Sky Launch to her partner, whose back was to me. "It's an amazing club, baby. A total gem."

Baby, huh? Partner must mean more than just in business.

"Plus we'd be hooked up to Pierce Industries, and that's a major bonus for us. We have to score this deal. I can already think of two couples this place would appeal to." Julia's tone echoed the excitement I felt about our impending venture. "The Fredericks for one."

Julia spotted me walking toward them. "Here she is. Alayna Withers, I'd like you to meet my boyfriend and partner at Party Planners Plus-"

Her partner turned around to face me, and I nearly choked as Julia finished her introduction.




"Paul Kresh."

My heart stopped. Literally stopped for the space of two beats. Paul Kresh, the man I'd stalked and terrorized. God, oh god. He had a restraining order out on me. I couldn't be within one hundred feet of him and there he was, standing a yard in front of me, his features frozen in a state of shock that had to mirror mine.

Fuck.

There went my affiliation with Party Planners Plus.

Julia carried on, unaware of anything odd between her boyfriend-that's what she'd called him, anyway-and me. "Paul, this is Alayna, the...Wait."

She paused and I worried she'd figured it out, that she'd pieced together his expression and my name. If she knew about me, that was.

But when she spoke again, her words were harmless. "I'm sorry. I don't even know your title." She laughed, and I blinked at the oddness of the sound in contrast to the panic that was rushing through my veins.

David and I had come up with my official title only the day before, but I was so stunned by Paul's arrival and Julia's obliviousness that it took me a second to respond. "Um, Events and Promotional Manager."

I didn't know if I should shake his hand or run. If I should act like an old friend or as if we'd never met.

Paul made the decision for me. Smiling stiffly, he held his hand out. "Pleasure to meet you." His tone was steady. Not sure and commanding and unflinching like Hudson's, but unfazed nonetheless.

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