“Not for me.”
“But for me it is.” How could he not understand? The vastness of it built in me like champagne bubbles in a newly uncorked bottle. “It’s huge! And you don’t even know me! It’s completely inappropriate and unprofessional and unprecedented and inappropriate. And if I’d known it was from you, I never would have accepted it.” This couldn’t be only about getting in my pants. I could have been won over by much less, as ashamed as I was to admit that to myself.
Hudson took a deep breath, trying to remain patient. “It’s not inappropriate at all. It was simply a gift. Think of it as a golden hello.”
My voice was tight as I strained to keep myself from screaming in frustration. “But you don’t give gifts like that to women who work for you unless you’re running an entirely different kind of club.”
“You’re overreacting, Alayna.”
“I’m not!” Finally his previous statement registered. “And what do you mean a golden hello? You mean, like a signing bonus?” Several of my peers had talked about the bonuses they’d been offered when they’d accepted their six-figure positions after grad school. Cars and stuff like that.
“Yes, Alayna.” He tossed his hand in the air. “That’s my agenda. I would like to hire you.”
He couldn’t have startled me more if he’d asked me to strip for him. Or maybe that’s what he was asking. What exactly did he want to hire me to do? “I already work for you and I’m happy where I am.”
“Again, I don’t feel that you do work for me. I am not your boss. I own the establishment that you work for. That is all. Is that clear?”
Semantics. But I understood what he was attempting to do, separating himself from me and my job at The Sky Launch, so I nodded.
“This wouldn’t affect your employment at the club.” He removed his arm from the couch and sat forward. “Maybe hire is not the correct term. I’d like to pay you to help me with a problem. I believe you’d be perfect for the job.”
The whole conversation had my head spinning, but he had my attention. “You win. My curiosity is piqued. What’s the job?”
“I need you to break up an engagement.”
I coughed, wondering if I heard him correctly, knowing I had. “Um, what? Whose?”
Hudson leaned back, his dazzling gray eyes flickering in the strobe lights. “Mine.”
Hudson tapped one long finger on the table in front of him. “Close your mouth, Alayna. Although it’s quite adorable to see you flabbergasted, it’s also very distracting.”
I closed my mouth. A million questions circled through my mind, too quickly for any to take shape. And somewhere behind all that, I registered that he’d called me adorable. I needed a drink, something stronger than iced tea. Hudson scooted his Sancerre toward me and I took it, grateful.
The wine gave me back my voice. “I didn’t realize you were engaged.” I blushed then, remembering all the dirty thoughts I’d had about Hudson and how I’d believed—okay, hoped—he had been flirting with me. I took another swallow of wine.
Hudson glanced out the window, maybe hoping to hide the torment that flashed across his face. “I’m not really.” He turned back to me, his expression now reserved and emotionless as usual. “That’s the problem. Neither Celia nor I are at all interested in the arrangement.”
This relaxed me, for some reason. But it did little to clear anything up. “Then why not just break up with her?”
He sighed. “It’s not that simple.”
I gave Hudson my best dumb-it-down-for-me-dude expression. Apparently, it worked.
“Her parents have been friends with mine for decades. They have a specific plan for their daughter’s life and they do not accept her choice to not marry me. If she broke it off, they’d cut her off emotionally and financially. That’s not something I wish for my friend.”
His explanation prickled me. Were we living in the early twentieth century with arranged marriages and shit? God, rich people lived such strange lives. I picked my words thoughtfully, careful to not show the extent of my irritation. “Never mind that parents shouldn’t be controlling their grown daughter, they don’t control you. Do they?”
Hudson’s eyes blazed. “No. No one controls me.”
His emphatic response had my body turned on. That command and authority, it was so…hot. I licked my lips, and then delighted as he zeroed in on the action. I hadn’t imagined it. He was reacting to me. Maybe not as forcefully as I reacted to him, but the energy between us was real.
I crossed my legs attempting to ease the need between them. “I’m missing something.”
He nodded. “I suppose you are.” He retrieved the Sancerre from in front of me and finished it off in one quick swallow. Knowing we’d shared the glass sent another tingle to my lower regions.
“Alayna, if there is anyone in the world who has any power over me, it’s my mother. My mother knows that I am…incapable…of love. She worries that I will…end up alone. A marriage with her best friend’s daughter, at least, insures that won’t happen.” His words were measured and even. And just like every time he spoke, he hypnotized me with his voice.
“It would make my mother very happy to see me marry Celia. If it comes to Celia losing her entire life, then I’ll willingly enter into a loveless marriage. However, I’d hate to rob her future of happiness she might find with someone else.”
I shook my head, confused, overwhelmed, dazzled. “Where would I come in?”
He raised his brows. “Ah, see, if Celia’s parents believed I was in love with another woman—”
“They wouldn’t want her to marry a man who was in love with someone else.”
“Exactly. And my mother would be so thrilled that I’d found someone I was happy with, she’d stop worrying about my future.”
The idea of betraying someone who only wanted Hudson to be happy bothered me. But I was also extremely attracted to the sweetness of this hard, virile man in front of me caring enough about his mother and his friend to go to such extreme measures.
I also saw enormous potential for me to be made the enemy in the scenario. “So I’m supposed to be the floozy you’re in love with.”
His lips curved at the edges. “No one would ever mistake you as a floozy, Alayna. Even when you dress like one.”