Now I wondered what would have happened if I’d gone. Would Hudson have tracked me down? Was it entirely coincidental that he’d made an offer on the club I worked for around the same time as the symposium?
“Is that the only reason you called, Alayna?” His all-business words held a hint of a tease.
“No.” I closed my eyes and clutched onto the side of my desk for support. Accepting his offer was harder than it should be. I couldn’t help but feel it was too easy of an out—like I was selling my soul to the devil.
But I also felt a surge of excitement, a thick electric wave of freedom. “Your proposition—I’d like to do it. I’m saying yes.” Remembering his other proposition to seduce me, I clarified. “Your offer to pay my student loans, I mean.”
His chair creaked again and I imagined him standing, his hand thrust in the pocket of an Italian suit. Ah, yum. “I’m very happy to hear that, Alayna.”
I shook the vision out of my head and waited for him to say more. When he didn’t, I said, “So what happens now?”
“I have time in my schedule at four-thirty. Come to my office at Hudson Industries then and we’ll finalize the details.”
I’d get to see him in—I looked at my watch—two hours. My heart sped up. “Sounds nice. I mean, good. Sounds good.”
He chuckled. “Goodbye, Alayna.”
“Bye.” I hugged the phone for several seconds after he hung up, mesmerized by this stranger’s effect on me, wondering if I’d be able to pull off the scam he’d concocted, hopeful I’d be able to thwart his promised advances.
All right, maybe I didn’t hope for that last one, but I wanted to believe I did. For my sanity’s sake.
I also thought about the symposium, considering the possibility that Hudson Pierce had gone to greater lengths than he’d let on to set up this facade for his parents.
Maybe the thought should have scared me. But it only intrigued me more.
Two hours turned out to be barely enough time to prepare for seeing Hudson. I spent a long time in the shower, shaving my legs and underarms and cleaning up my Brazilian, chastising myself as I did since there was no way Hudson was going to see my lady parts.
Then I stood in front of my closet for what felt like hours. I’d be going straight from Hudson’s office to the club to meet with David then a full shift of bartending after that. I needed the perfect blend of smart and sexy with a dash of f**k-me-please—for work, of course. Finally I settled on a belted teal and black shirt dress. It was shorter than I would have liked for the business part of my plans, but still longer than most of the dresses I wore at the club. I pulled my hair into a low ponytail and kept my makeup to mascara and lip gloss. I looked good—fresh and natural.
Having been too distracted to ask Hudson where Pierce Industries was located, I had to Google it. Turned out the offices were near the One Worldwide Plaza, a straight subway shot to the club. From my apartment, I took a cab, not wanting to get sweaty. And, hey, I was getting eighty thousand dollars—I could afford a taxi to the West Side.
I’d been by the beautiful copper-topped granite and brick building many times, but never inside it. Pierce Industries took the top several floors, and I recognized some of the other tenants listed in the lobby as Pierce Industry subsidiaries. I got directions from the security guard and took the elevator to the top floor.
The lengthy ride gave me one more chance for a silent pep talk. Three years sober, Laynie. You cannot fixate on him. You cannot obsess.
But as I checked in with the pretty blonde receptionist, I felt an aching stab of envy because she got to work close to Hudson on a daily basis. God, I was already in trouble. He didn’t make it into the Oh, f**k category of attractive men for nothing.
“Miss Withers,” the blonde said after notifying her boss I’d arrived. “He’s ready for you.”
I checked my watch—four-twenty-two. How long had Hudson been waiting? Did I get the time wrong?
The thick double doors behind the receptionist’s desk opened, seemingly by themselves. She must have pushed a button somewhere. “Right through there,” she said.
I stepped tentatively into the office. Hudson, who sat behind an expansive modern executive desk, stood when he saw me. “Alayna. Come in.”
When I caught a full view of him, I froze. In his well-lit office, I truly saw Hudson Pierce for the first time. And he was gorgeous. He wore a pin-striped three-piece suit with a crisp white dress shirt and a plum and white striped tie. His black thick-framed glasses, which should have screamed nerd alert, had me slipping in my panties. He looked sharp and smart and commanding and…wow.
I swallowed. Twice. “Am I late?”
“Not at all.” His sexy voice made my knees buckle and I suddenly regretted my high-heeled Mary Janes. “My last appointment finished earlier than I’d anticipated. Have a seat.”
Determined to appear poised and with it, I straightened my stance and strode to the chair he gestured at in front of his desk.
“Hmm,” I said, looking around after I was seated. The generous office space continued the modern décor throughout. Behind his desk were floor to ceiling glass windows giving a breathtaking view of Midtown. “Nice place. Not what I’d pictured, but incredible.”
Hudson unbuttoned his jacket and sat down, brows raised. “You pictured my office?”
My cheeks grew warm. Now he thought I’d been thinking about him. I had been, but he didn’t need to know. “I thought you’d be more traditional. But the modern really suits you.”
A small smile crept on his face. “Actually, I have a designer. I have no idea what’s modern or contemporary or traditional. She showed me pictures of things she thought I’d like and I nodded.”
I grinned, knowing he was attempting to put me at ease, but my stomach bunched into knots. Hudson’s office was unfamiliar territory for a nightclub bartender and we were meeting to discuss an unusual business deal. And he was so f**king hot, he dazzled me.
“I hope you don’t mind if we get to business first.”
“Of course not.” If business was first, I wondered what would follow.
Nothing. Nothing would follow because when we were finished I would politely thank him and leave his office.
Ha ha, right.
“As I said earlier, I’m very pleased that you’ve accepted my offer. Before you officially agree, though, I want to make sure you understand exactly what I am asking of you. We tabled this discussion last night…” He paused and I suspected he was recalling the reason the discussion was tabled. At least, that’s what I was thinking about. “So I neglected to mention a key point.”