He glanced at me over his shoulder before he switched lanes. “Why does my driving surprise you?”
I shrugged, securing my seatbelt. “I figured you always had a driver.” Not that he needed one. He navigated city traffic well and watching him handle the wheel was hot.
“What’s the fun of having a cool car if you don’t get to drive it?”
At the next stoplight, Hudson peeked at me over his Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses. “You look gorgeous, Alayna. As usual.”
His voice oozed pure seduction, and I pulled at the hem of my blue shift dress, wondering if it had always been as short as it suddenly seemed. “Are you buttering me up so I’ll let you choose what I try on?”
“I’ll choose what you try on anyway.”
“Of course, you will.” He was paying, after all.
We drove in silence for a few minutes, exchanging occasional glances that held the entire weight of our attraction. Under certain circumstances, the flirting and tension would be fun, but not when I felt so off-balance and unsure.
I had to get my declaration over with. “Um, Hudson, could we keep today to shopping only?” I hoped to God he understood what I meant without spelling it out.
He did. A brief flash of disappointment crossed his face—or maybe it was my imagination. His voice seemed stiff when he said, “Whatever you want, Alayna.”
Immediately, I regretted saying anything. The fun flirty mood vanished, and Hudson became reserved and withdrawn. I considered taking my words back, but really, how could I do that?
“We’re going to Mirabelle’s,” he said after a few minutes, not looking at me.
“Mirabelle, your sister?” Hudson’s sister, Mirabelle owned a popular designer boutique in Greenwich Village. It was the type of place you could only get into with an appointment, but from what I’d seen from window-shopping, the woman had mad fashion skills.
“Yes. Her friends are throwing her a baby shower today and so I’d hoped she wouldn’t be at the shop. However, when she learned I was bringing my girlfriend in for a fitting, she insisted on being there to meet you. Which means we’re officially on the job. Is that a problem?”
“Um, no, of course not.” My palms started to sweat. It occurred to me that the hours I spent worrying if I had any impulse to stalk Hudson online should have been spent actually stalking him online. Then I’d maybe have some more info about the supposed love of my life. “What if she asks me things? About you? About us?” And how would we be able to pull off the image of a happy couple when the tension between us was palpable?
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be there. Follow my lead.” Hudson reached under his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Frankly, you’re unlikely to get a chance to speak at all. Mirabelle is somewhat of a talker.”
“But…what do I do?”
“Just be my girlfriend.”
“Oh my god, Hudson, you told me she was gorgeous, but I had no idea!” The perky brunette who stood in front of me was clearly Hudson’s relative. They shared many of the same features—chiseled cheekbones and strong jaws and matching hair and skin tones. Where Hudson was broad and muscular, Mirabelle was petite, her small stature accentuated by the round belly that protruded in front of her.
Mirabelle continued talking as she scanned me up and down, circling around me and Hudson, who had held my hand since grabbing it right before ringing the service bell. “She is going to be so much fun to dress. She’s got my favorite body type—all boobs and h*ps and—“ She paused as she raised my already short dress. “Fantastic legs, Hudson!”
Hudson’s wicked grin appeared as he squeezed my hand. “Yes, I’m well acquainted with Alayna’s physical assets.”
Heat ran to my face.
Mirabelle hit her brother playfully. “You’re such a bad boy.” Then she faced me and gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. “Oh my goodness, I’m talking about you in the third person. How could I be so rude! I’m so excited to finally meet you, Alayna! Hudson has told me so much about you!”
She threw her arms around me in a generous hug. I glared at Hudson over her shoulder, wondering what he’d said about me and how I’d let myself walk into this moment so unprepared. He shrugged in response and let go of my hand, no longer giving me an excuse to not embrace her back.
By the time Mirabelle released me, I’d realized I needed to stop fretting and get into character. I swallowed and gave her a wide smile. “Glad to meet you too. But call me Laynie.”
“And you can call me Mira. Huds is way too proper.” She wrapped her arm around mine, reminding me of the annoying popular girls in high school who walked down the halls with their hands clasped with their girlfriends. Though admittedly, it wasn’t as annoying when you were the girl being clasped. “Okay, okay, okay, I can’t stay long today which I regret immensely, so let’s get started. I already have a million ideas for you.”
I hadn’t had a chance to look around, having been accosted by Mira at the entryway, but now I surveyed the shop. Though small, Mirabelle’s held a wide range of women’s clothing and shoes. The walls and furniture were all brilliant white, giving the room an air of elegance while letting the clothing on display pop like art.
“Are we shopping only for Mom’s event?” Mira asked, her forehead creased as if pondering where to start.
Hudson kept his hand at the small of my back. Despite knowing that the gesture was part of the show staged for his sister, the electricity that always accompanied his touch ran up my spine. “Specifically for the fashion show, but let’s see what else we can find. Whatever Alayna loves, we’ll buy.” He gazed at me with a look that could only be described as adoration. God, he was good.
Mira’s attention was on us so I made sure to return Hudson’s stare, fighting to not lose myself in his intense, gray eyes. “Aw, thank you.” I added sugar to my usually unsweetened tone. I turned to Mira. “Hudson spoils me. I don’t deserve him.”
Hudson began to protest but was interrupted by a buzz on his phone. “Excuse me.” His eyes narrowed as he read his text.
Mira ignored him and gathered clothing over her arm. “This and this, oh and this will be perfect on you!” She called toward the back of the store. “Stacy, can you start us a room?”
A tall, skinny blonde appeared out of an office in the back. She took the clothing Mira handed her. “Which room do you want to use?” Although she spoke to Mira, Stacy stared longingly toward Hudson. Longingly enough to make me wonder if they had a history or if Stacy wished they had a history.