Hudson: Page 59

There's a creak in the background. I can picture him in my head, sitting back in his chair, his feet crossed on his desk in front of him. "Do tell me more."

Where in the world do I begin? There's no good place, so I just start talking. "It may not come as any surprise to you, but it has become necessary to remove Celia Werner from my life."

"No, really!" he gasps in mock astonishment. "Glad you've finally come around to see the light. That girl is f**ked up."

It's strange that there is still a part of me that wants to defend Celia. Except for her most recent actions, she'd done nothing worse than I'd ever done. And, as always, I can blame the way she behaves on me.

Stranger is that my father, who I would never describe as intuitive, seems to guess at my feelings. "She's not like you, Hudson," he says. "I know that you think she is, but she's different. She wants to hurt people. You just want to understand them."

I'm stunned at his insight, but I try to hide the shock from my voice. "You're right. She's not like me." It's a big admission, and I could spend more time trying to evaluate how I feel about this. But it doesn't really matter. "Celia's been stalking Alayna."

"Fuck. Are you kidding me? Jesus." He curses some more, things I can't make out, then asks, "Is Laynie okay?"

I grit my teeth. "She is. A bit shaken, but I have a bodyguard on her. She's safe."

"Thank God." My father's always been fond of Alayna. It's bothersome. Is his attraction to her fatherly or something else? Even if he came right out and told me, I'd likely have a hard time believing it.

But it's because of his fondness for her, and because of his loathing for Celia, that I know he'll help with my plan. "Celia hasn't broken the law yet and talking to her has done no good. I need another way to convince her to stop her game."

"And I'm sure you have an idea already in the works. Hit me with it."

As succinctly as possible, I tell him how I've already convinced GlamPlay to buy into Werner Media, and how, if combined with the shares I already hold, it would be possible to own the majority stock in Warren's company. "If I purchase GlamPlay-"

"Then you'll be able to boot Warren out," my father finishes.

"Right. I don't want to actually take control of Werner Media, I just want to have the power to do so. And since I need it to be covert, I need to buy GlamPlay under a different entity."

"You want to use Walden Inc." My father catches on quickly. I shouldn't be surprised. He was the one who taught me. "Of course. Tell me what to do, and it's done."

I spend the better part of the next hour working out the plan with Jack. He's smarter than I remember, quick to solve problems that come up during the conversation. It's...nice, actually. A bit like coming home.

Before we finish, another idea strikes me. "Anyone using the cabin this weekend?"

"In the Poconos? Not me. Mira's the only one who goes up there really, and she's so busy with her opening, she's not going to want to leave town. Are you thinking about going up?"

"Yeah. I think I'll take Alayna." The stress of the past few weeks is taking its toll on me. On her too. We need some time alone.

"Good idea. Do you need a key? I can have mine couriered over."

I have one somewhere, but rather than try to search for it, I take him up on the offer. "Thanks. I'd appreciate it. And Dad," I pause, not sure how to say what else it is I want to say. Finally I settle on, "Thanks for everything else too."

After I hang up, I stare at the phone for several long minutes. After the years of tension and resentment between us, I wonder, did we just reconcile? God, is there nothing that Alayna won't have a finger on in my life? I'm not complaining.

With Celia shit handled for the moment, thoughts return to the other major weight on my mind-Stacy. I'd had Jordan find her contact information first thing on the day after I learned about the video. Then I emailed her. And called. When she didn't respond, I emailed and called again. Every day. My messages were, well, threatening. Finally, yesterday, she sent me the video.

Today, I'm still processing what to do with it.

I turn to my computer and open the file. I've watched it several times now, but I'm compelled to watch it again. It's both worse and better than I thought it might be. It's not exact footage of my conversations with Celia regarding Alayna, for instance. But what it does show is also damning if a person put together the pieces.

I try to see it the way Alayna would. First, she'd be hurt. It's me kissing Celia. I wouldn't want to watch her kiss another man, and if it were someone I knew she had a history with-David, for example-it would be so much worse. So there's one reason why she should never see the video.

After that, she'd want to know why I was kissing Celia. I'd always said I was never in a romantic relationship with her. I wasn't. I could say that I lied before, that Celia and I actually did have a fling. But I've never been a fan of lies, and that's what it would be. If I told her the truth, that I was helping Celia with a scam, then Alayna will think I was still playing then. Even if she understands that I truly wasn't, she won't miss that the video takes place outside the symposium where I first saw her. She'll know Celia was with me that night.

How far of a leap would it be for her to go from Celia and me at the symposium to Celia and me playing a game with her?

Again, it's paranoid. But I would leap to that conclusion. I'm more analytical, sure. Still, Alayna's smart. I wouldn't put it past her. And that's just a risk I can't take.

Alayna can never see this video. Whatever I have to do, I'll have to convince Stacy to get rid of it. It has to be destroyed.

Chapter Twenty-Two

The bar at Lester's is much different than the type I usually frequent. There's a pool table and darts in the back corner. The patrons wear jeans. I'm the only one in a suit, let alone a suit that probably costs the entire amount that the register will take in tonight. The music blares from an old jukebox-hits from the nineties that seem familiar. I'd prefer a live band. Jazz or a piano player would be nice. But I'm not here for the ambiance. Lester's fulfills the two requirements I have at the moment-they have a good bottle of Scotch, and it's only half a block away from the loft. I'll be drunk when I leave here. Hopefully, the short distance will ensure that I pass out on my own property.

I shake my head at myself. Me, turning to liquor for comfort. It's quite comical. To think that only yesterday I was curled up with Alayna in the mountains, making love under the stars, flirting with the topic of marriage. Tonight, I'm here. What a difference a day makes.

I'd known something was wrong the moment I'd walked into the penthouse. I found her outside on the balcony. Drunk. Ha. She'd chosen the bottle as her friend as well. I hadn't realized the irony until right this moment, when I've just ordered my third this hour. We're so alike, she and I. And so different. She's made mistakes with us, but I fully believe hers have been with the best of intentions. I can defend my own evil ways-and I will if it comes to it-yet my excuses really hold no weight. How could I ever explain such a level of deceit?

I don't have the answer. That's why I'm sitting here, alone, in this f**king bar. I don't have the answers.

She saw the video.

I have to say it over and over to remind myself that it's not just a nightmare of what might happen, but is the actual fact of the matter now. She's seen it. And worse, she knows the lengths I went to in order for her not to see it. I'd practically bribed Stacy to get rid of it. I'd lied to Alayna. Outright lied. I thought I'd covered my ass, that she'd never find out. I was wrong.

God, was I wrong...

So I was unprepared.

I'm usually good on my feet. Preparation isn't mandatory. But I had no words for Alayna. Snippets of our conversation replays over and over in my mind. Looks can be deceiving, I told her. I'm not admitting anything. You haven't figured out anything.

Fuck, I'm such an ass**le. What else could I have said? Nothing. I have no answers, I said. The subject is closed.

And then...Jesus, I cringe at the memory of this..
.I blamed her for the lack of trust. Did I mention I'm an ass**le? Worse than that. I'm a horrible person. Willing to throw her under the bus to hide what I've done to us. What I'm still doing to us.

The bartender checks on me. I gulp the last of my glass. "Another," I say.

I stare dazedly into the mirror behind the bottles. The reflection that meets me looks like f**king death. What does Alayna even see in me? How does she not see me for the vile creature that I am? I don't blame her for pushing me further tonight. I would have pushed her if the roles were reversed. Because it's evident that I'm hiding something. I'm hiding everything.

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