Found in You

Found in You: Page 30

"Or they're working awfully hard to make me believe that." She smoothed her hair, which was so stiff that the movement did nothing.

Mira leaned back in her chair and rested her hands on her baby bump. "Why on earth would they want to fake a relationship?"

I kept my eyes on my plate, worried my expression would give something away. Why would Sophia jump to that conclusion? We had indeed tried to fake our relationship. I even had the feeling that Mirabelle suspected as much. But she also knew I loved her brother, and she'd never tell that to her mother. Mira was the type of person that hung everything on love. An any-obstacle-could-be-overcome-if-there-was-love type of person.

For the first time ever, I didn't want to laugh at that idea.

Sophia took her refill from the waiter, not even bothering to let him set it down before indulging in a long sip. "Beats me. Why does Hudson like to do any of the shitty things he does to people? I long ago gave up trying to figure it out."

Celia shifted uncomfortably in her seat, but her parents showed no reaction. Which confirmed that Hudson's past was common knowledge to everyone at the table. No wonder he'd referred to the Werners as family. If they knew his dark secrets, then they practically were.

Then again, how could they not know his secrets? Their own daughter had been his victim, even though it wasn't to the extent that they thought. He hadn't knocked her up, anyway. Whatever he'd done to her head-well, we'd all had people that shaped us for better or worse. Blaming another person for our own actions was selfish. We had to be responsible for our own actions. I'd learned that the hard way.

Sophia was responsible for her bitchy comments now, no matter what hard-knock story formed her. Her cattiness was disgusting and unforgivable.

But Jack was the only one who seemed to think her behavior needed to be reined in. Or the only one to say something, at least. "Just because it's your birthday doesn't mean you have the right to ditch being polite."

Mira snorted. "No, she believes that merely breathing gives her that right."

All eyes turned to the perky brunette, her face growing bright red. Mira never said anything the least bit snarky. It was surprising.

Adam coughed at her side, whether signaling her to say something else or trying to alleviate the tension, I wasn't sure.

She looked down, sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"Thank you for the apology. You're hormonal. I don't know what Jack's excuse is for speaking to me so rudely." Sophia cast a sideways glare at her husband and I wondered if it ever crossed her mind to apologize as well. Instead, even.

No, it didn't cross her mind at all. Her expression remained unaltered, not even a flicker of remorse passing over her face.

She peered around the table, as if challenging someone to call her on it. No one did.

"Chandler," she said as her eyes grazed the top of his head. "Put down your damn phone and be present. I want to enjoy the evening with us together. All of us."

But her glance skidded right past me. All of us clearly meant everyone except me.

Chitchat replaced the heavier conversation after that, the attention moving away from Hudson and myself. I enjoyed my salad while Hudson talked business with Warren, and Celia bantered with Mira and Sophia. Sophia even relaxed enough that I saw hints of the carefree fun person she must have been once upon a time. So long ago now that only the smallest remnant graced her current being, hidden from anyone that didn't bother to look hard enough.

How I could see it...well, maybe I was looking. Searching for the person that Hudson wanted to please so much, the reasons that he still kept her in his life instead of separating from her once and for all the way I had from Brian.

Hell, that wasn't necessarily a better option. Cutting Brian from my life hurt. It was a reality I'd been ignoring for the past several days, and I shoved away the impulse to think about it now. I was at a family get-together. Of course I'd think of him. It didn't mean I had to dwell.

Things continued with an air of banality through most of our main course. The dish Hudson had ordered for me was delicious and like nothing I'd ever tasted. Minced lobster and fish dumplings covered with a dill cream sauce. It made me want to lick my plate clean.

Hudson had ordered some sort of duck crepes. He fed me a corner of the pastry that wasn't drenched in the mushroom sauce that accompanied it, the poultry melting in my mouth as my lips slid along his fork. "Divine."

He watched me greedily. "I could say the same thing."

Madge had gotten the brunt of our romantic display that evening since she sat across from us. Now she cleared her throat.

I smiled with what I hoped was an apologetic grin, though I was anything but sorry. I was well aware that Madge believed that Hudson was merely slumming with me, that he'd eventually dump me for her darling Celia. I wanted her to see me with him, knew it irked her, but I wasn't performing for her benefit. I was simply enjoying the evening with my lover. It was genuine.

Madge returned my smile with a sour one of her own. Then she turned in her seat toward Mirabelle on the other side of her.

Pretending I wasn't there was one way to handle me, I supposed.

"Mira," she exclaimed, peering over Celia who sat between her and Mirabelle. "Only four more months until the newest Pierce is introduced to the world. You must be so excited!"

Mira's hands flew instinctively to her belly. "I am!" She frowned. "But when you say four more months, I want to puke a little."

Sophia cleared her throat with disapproval. God, correcting a full-grown woman's language was beyond ridiculous. I wanted to puke a little myself.

Mira was used to Sophia though. "Sorry, not great dinner conversation. I wish it were sooner, that's all. I'm anxious to have her in the world instead of sitting on my bladder."

"It will be here soon enough. Trust me." Unlike his wife, Adam sounded happy that he still had months to prepare.

Warren shook his head, triggered by Adam speaking. He elbowed his wife. "That's not right, Madge. Mira's not a Pierce anymore. It will be baby Sitkin."

Mira's eyes went straight to her mother. "Or Sitkin-Pierce, if we decide to hyphenate." The look on Mira's face said this was a conversation she'd had before. Mirabelle had kept the name Pierce for business endeavors, but the hyphenating was new. I'd bet my entire bank account that it was an attempt to please Sophia.

But nothing pleased Sophia. "It's not the same. Sitkin-Pierce is not Pierce." She sighed dramatically. "So the bloodline continues, but not the name."

It was funny how concerned the woman was with a name that she'd only earned through a loveless marriage. It showed how materialistic she was, how tied she was to appearances. It was the Pierce name that held weight in the world. Any deviation lost the power that the Pierce Industry carried. In her eyes, anyway.

Adam sat forward as if about to go to battle. "Mira's not the only Pierce offspring. Chandler could have children."

And Hudson, I thought to myself.

"Then it will be the name but not the bloodline," Jack said nonchalantly.

My hand flew to my mouth, stifling a gasp. There were rumors that Chandler wasn't Jack's child, but I didn't know it was something the Pierce family discussed openly.

"What?" Chandler looked up from his lap where he'd been trying to hide that he was texting or whatever it was he was doing on his phone.

"Nothing," Mira called down the table. "Go back to whatever you were doing."

So maybe it was common knowledge to everyone but Chandler.

Sophia took another swallow of her drink-her third of the evening. "Hudson and Celia's baby could have been both."

I tensed. Hudson and Celia's fictitious baby caused a fair amount of contention in the family. It had happened years ago, yet the weight of it had been so heavy that it refused to disappear. Why Celia didn't own up and explain the baby wasn't Hudson's was beyond me. It pissed me off that she let him continue to save her from humiliation no matter what it cost him. I couldn't help but throw her a glare.

Celia missed my scowl as her own eyes darted toward Hudson. Or maybe Jack. They were sitting next to each other and it was difficult to tell, but Hudson made more sense.

Jack dropped his fork to his plate, the noise clattering loudly in the quiet restaurant. "Not this again, Sophia. Really? Goddammit, I won't listen to this." He wiped his mouth and threw his napkin over his half-eaten food. Then he stood. "Thank you everyone, I wish I could say it has been a lovely evening, but, well, I'll leave it at that. I'll take care of the bill on my way out. The rest of you stay and enjoy. Order dessert. As for my wife, I'm not going to invite her to rot in hell as I probably should because I think she already lives there.

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