Found in You

Found in You: Page 38

Especially when David had ended things specifically so Hudson would never find out.

However he'd figured it out, it didn't matter. What mattered was setting the record straight now. "No, I'm not. I was never in love with him."

Hudson closed his eyes briefly, almost as though he were relieved. But when he opened them again, the stone coldness remained from before. "Then whatever it was-attraction, obsession. Do you still feel that for him?"

"I never felt any of that for him. He was safe. We messed around a few times." I winced at Hudson's hurt expression. "That's really the extent of it. Really and truly. He was just a guy I had chemistry with but not enough to drive me crazy." Not like you. Never like you.

"Then why did he file a restraining order?"

A whoosh of air swept through my ears, leaving me lightheaded. Dizzy. "Wait, who are you talking about?" The only restraining order I'd had was with Paul. And the secret that I was working with Paul was much heavier than the David thing.

My fingers curled into the sofa behind me as I waited for him to say the name I knew he'd say.

"Paul Kresh."

"Oh." I nodded slowly for several seconds. "Oh." There was nothing else to say. I had no reaction, I had no defense. "You found out about Paul."

His teeth gritted. I could hear as he ground them together. "Since you know I'm already aware of your past with Paul, you must be referring to the fact that he's a partner in Party Planners Plus."

I shook my head.

"You didn't know?" There was hope in his tone. He wanted me to not know.

But I couldn't lie. It was one thing to keep it from him, quite another to lie outright. "Well, he's not technically a partner, so that's not a fair question."

"Dammit, Alayna. Don't hedge around the facts. Because I'd like to think that you would never do something so stupid as to sign a deal that would put you in close working proximity with someone that you are legally not supposed to be anywhere near. The Alayna I know would never do something so brainless."

But I had signed the deal. That morning, in fact. "Guess you don't really know me."

He slammed his empty glass on the bar. "This is not a f**king game!"

"Don't you think I know that?" I raised my voice to match his. "I'm the one who has the restraining order. I get the seriousness of the situation." I pointed my finger into my chest at each mention of the word I so forcefully, I knew it would bruise.

"Then why?" His eyes were pleading. "You can't have been that desperate to sign a deal. I had thought-I'd hoped-that you didn't realize that Kresh was engaged to Julie Swaggert-"

"Engaged? I thought they were just dating."

The look on his face said that wasn't the thing to say.

I quickly corrected. "Which doesn't matter, I know. I didn't mean to seem interested, because I'm not. I'm not, Hudson. I don't care what or whom he's with. It's only that he didn't say they were engaged when we talked."

"You talked to him?"

I hadn't thought he could be more enraged. Turned out I was wrong.

"So help me god, Alayna, you better say it was on the phone."

Lie, lie, lie. It was a song in my head, repeating the same refrain. I willed myself to ignore it. "It wasn't. It was in person."

He stepped toward me, his hands poised like he wanted to wring my neck. "Dammit, Alayna! What the f**k were you thinking?"

"Stop yelling at me and I'll explain." Even though I knew he wouldn't hit me, his rage wasn't productive. And as mad as he was, I was afraid he wouldn't get past his anger. That he'd end things for sure. I needed a hint that there was a chance we weren't over.

"I'm waiting." His volume was lower, but his demeanor hadn't changed in the least.

"I'm not saying anything until you calm down. You're scaring me."

He looked as though I'd slapped him. "That's fair." He ran a hand through his hair. "But this is as calm as I'm going to get."

I swallowed. "I, um, had the meeting with Julia. On Thursday. And I didn't know she was involved with Paul. But then at the end he showed up and I was totally unprepared." A chill ran through me at the memory of seeing him in the club, at the shock I'd felt. "He acted like he didn't know me so I followed his lead. And then when Julia went off to the bathroom, Paul told me he didn't want to ruin the deal for her and so we had to pretend we'd never met."

I stepped toward Hudson, hating the look on his face, wanting him to be comforted. "I told him I couldn't work with him, Hudson, and he said I had to. He said Julia was dying to work with Pierce Industries and this was her in and if I screwed it up..." I bit my lip and tasted blood. "He said I owed him."

"Alayna, you don't f**king owe him anything." His voice was still harsh, but less so.

My eyes stung. "I do! I ruined his life."

"He cheated on his fiancée. He ruined his own life."

"But there's more to it than that, and you know it."

"You still don't owe him shit. You were sick. You weren't responsible for what you were doing."

I took that in. I had been sick. I hadn't been in control of my actions. I knew this. I'd accepted this in therapy.

But that didn't change anything. "It doesn't matter. Even if I don't owe him, he has this over my head. He could say that I set up the meeting simply to get to him. I mean, I didn't, but it could look that way." I chuckled harshly. "Even you thought that I did. And then he was there again that night at the Botanic Gardens. It looks like I could have been following him. Who's going to believe me over him?"

I'd been avoiding his eyes, but I met them now. "If I violate that order again, I could see jail time." Not to mention what could happen to Hudson in the media. He'd be the joke of the town.

"Alayna." He closed the short distance between us in two quick steps and wrapped his arms around me.

I hadn't realized how close my tears were to the surface until I was safe and in his arms. I cried softly into his shoulder, not only because of what I'd done or because of the pressure I'd been under keeping it in, but because he was holding me. They were tears of relief.

Hudson pulled me in even tighter. "Why didn't you come to me? I would never let anything bad happen to you. Never. You have to know that, don't you?"

I turned my face so my words wouldn't get lost in the material of his suit jacket. "I got scared. Of what he could do to me. Of what he could do to you." The long strokes he ran along my back made it easy to keep talking, easy to confess. "And I wanted you to be proud of me. Of the deal I made."

He pushed me away suddenly and gripped my upper arms. Bending to catch my gaze, he said, "I'm always proud of you, Alayna. Always."

It broke me. Again.

I clutched on to his shirt inside his open jacket. "I should have told you. I'm so sorry. I didn't know what to do and I wanted to tell you. Please, don't be mad at me."

Softly, he shushed me. "Don't. Don't cry, precious." He held me as I cried. When I was calmer, he said, "I'm only mad because you put yourself in danger. You scared me.
You can't imagine what I felt when the background report came across my desk and I realized the situation. Don't you know I couldn't stand it if anything bad happened to you?" His voice cracked.

"Yes, I know." It was exactly how I'd feel if something happened to him.

"And I'm mad because you didn't come to me."

"I wanted to. I did. But Ce-" I almost mentioned Celia, stopping myself right before I did. I didn't think it was a good time to add that secret to the mix. "But I didn't want you to have to get in the middle of my mess."

I pulled away, looking aimlessly for a tissue.

Hudson pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. Who the hell carried handkerchiefs? There was still so much to learn about this man.

"Don't be silly," he said, dabbing at my eyes. "First of all, I own The Sky Launch so I'm legally responsible for anything that goes on in regards to employees and the people they interact with."

I hadn't thought of that.

He ran his thumb gently down the side of my face. "But more importantly, if you're in a mess of any sort, then so am I. Not legally. But because you're mine. And I'm yours. And that means I'm tied to you in every way. Good and bad. If you can't see that, then we have no chance."

Oh, god. The enormity of it hit me. I'd put all we had in jeopardy, put us at risk. "I really f**ked everything up." I felt the color leave my face. "Oh, god, Hudson."

He tilted my chin up with one finger and kissed my nose. "You didn't f**k everything up. I can fix it. Now that I know."

"What will you do?" I had a brief flash of men in trench coats meeting up with Paul in a dark alley. Sad that the thought brought a smile to my face.

"I wouldn't do anything illegal, if that's what you're thinking."

Damn, he could read me so well.

"I'll offer Party Planners Plus a deal with Fierce in exchange for terminating the contract with The Sky Launch.

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