That damn trouble outfit again. I was burning it when I got home. Mention of it made me suddenly cold and defensive. I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back—away from Hudson Pierce. “Why don’t you hire a real floozy to put on your charade?”
He smirked. “My mother would never believe I’d fall for a floozy. You, however, have particular qualities—qualities that would make the story quite believable.”
I didn’t want to play this game anymore. My answer was no. But I couldn’t help myself from asking, “What sort of qualities?”
His eyes darkened, and I was caught up in them. “You are exquisitely beautiful, Alayna, and also extremely intelligent.”
“Oh.” I dropped my hands to my lap, stunned. It was a good thing the wine was gone. I’d have slammed it, and I still had a shift to work.
Hudson broke the intense eye contact. “And you’re a brunette. All three make you ‘my type’ so to say.”
The absence of his heated stare was both chilling and releasing. I could think again, make coherent sentences. But I also wanted it back with a fierceness I couldn’t explain.
“I sense your hesitation, Alayna, and I understand. Perhaps this would be a good time to discuss payment.” I admired how he could move from moments of magnitude to straight business with such fluid ease. Me, I had whiplash. I didn’t even have time to wonder what someone got paid to fake a romance before he continued. “I understand you have a substantial amount of student loans. I’d like to rid you of that debt.”
I laughed. “That’s way too much, Hudson.” He had no idea how much I’d needed to get through school. No idea how heavy of a burden they were on me now.
“Not to me.”
“It is for me.” I sat forward, challenging him. “It’s eighty thousand dollars.”
“Eighty four thousand two hundred and six, to be exact.”
I froze. How did he know that?
As he often did, he answered my unasked question. “I own the bank that holds your loans. I looked them up today. It would be very easy for me to have them written off. No actual money would exchange hands, if that makes you feel better.”
“That’s an awfully generous payment.” Too generous. And just like I jumped to buy a lottery ticket whenever the pot got particularly high, I wanted to jump on his offer. But nothing that paid that well ended in good.
“It’s worth it to me to see this project succeed, Alayna.”
My answer was no. I’d already decided. It had to be no. There was too much risk at entering into an arrangement—any arrangement—with him.
But I couldn’t help but want to know more of the details. “What exactly would you want me to do?”
“Pretend we’re a couple. I’d invite you to several gatherings where my mother would see us together. I’d expect you to hang on my arm and behave as though we’re madly in love.”
“And that’s all?” I couldn’t imagine it would be that hard to pretend to be in love with Hudson. And that was the problem with the whole damn thing. Pretending to be in love with someone who already affected me so intensely was a big fat trigger for obsessing.
“That’s all.” His shoulders had visibly relaxed. He thought I was taking him seriously, that I was considering his ridiculous idea, and I almost wondered if I actually should.
I swallowed. For eighty thousand dollars there had to be more he expected. Since he wouldn’t spell it out, I tiptoed around the topic myself. “This pretend relationship—to what extent would I be expected to perform?”
“Don’t pu**y foot about it. You’re asking about sex.” His eyes darkened again. “I never pay for sex, Alayna. When I f**k you, it will be for free.”
There it was, the promise that I’d both longed for and feared. His stark declaration had me squirming in my seat. I had never been so aroused and so confused all at once. We were at my work, for Christ’s sake! I had to start my shift in less than half an hour, and all I wanted to do was respond to his crude remarks with equally naughty behavior.
Somehow I forced my mouth to speak. “Maybe I should go.”
“Do you want to?” It was an invitation to stay.
“I’m n-not sure,” I stuttered. “Yes. I think I should.” But I didn’t move. I couldn’t.
Hudson took advantage of my weakness, pressing me to indulge him with reasons. “Because you’re uncomfortable with my proposition? Or because I told you that I’m going to f**k you?”
His profession had no less impact the second time. “I’m…yes. That.”
He cocked his head, contemplating me with puzzled eyes. “But I‘m certain that’s not a surprise to you, Alayna. You feel the electricity between us. Your body language expresses it quite well. I wouldn’t be surprised to find you’re already wet.”
My cheeks heated.
He flashed a wicked grin. “Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t you know I feel the same?” He shifted in his seat. “If you were to carefully read my body, you’d see the evidence.”
I knew then that he was hard. My sex clenched with the knowledge. If my brain hadn’t completely turned to mush I’d be in his lap by now, taking his length into my hands, sucking him off with my mouth.
Hudson seemed to find my misery fascinating. “Let’s table my proposition to hire you for a moment and discuss this other thing further. Please understand that they are very separate from each other. I’d never want you to think my sexual desire for you was in any way part of a sham for my parents and their friends.”
Ridiculous giddiness flowed through me. Hudson Pierce desired me. And I was going to wreck it all with my flabbergasted reaction. I furrowed my brows in concentration. “I’m—I don’t know how to react to someone stating they desire me.”
He frowned. Even with his lips curled down they begged to be kissed. “Has no man told you that before?”
I fumbled with my glass, caressing the beads of sweat that still accumulated from the pile of remaining ice. “Not in so many words. Actions sometimes. Certainly not so bluntly.”
“That’s a shame.” He reached across the table and stroked a thumb across my hand, his touch making me dizzy. “I plan to tell you every chance I get.”
“Oh.” I pulled my hand away. It was too much, too fast. Maybe I could end up in Hudson’s bed and it would be all right and I wouldn’t freak out.