Then I met Hudson’s stare and two things happened simultaneously. First, my arousal went full boil. Second, my brain finally made the connection it had missed before. Hudson Pierce was the suit.
Without meaning to, I scanned his body. The full view of him was even hotter, especially in the better lighting. Again he wore a suit, two-piece this time, a light gray that I’d almost call silver. It fit his lean body in such a sexual way that it felt obscene to look at him.
When my eyes made it to his face—his strong jaw, even more pronounced than I’d remembered, begging to be licked and kissed and nibbled—I found he was checking me out as well. The knowledge of this made my already warm face flush deeper. Though his gaze wasn’t as intense as it had been when I’d first met him, his pull was just as strong, and I knew—absolutely unequivocally knew—that he desired me as much as I desired him.
David spoke first, his words coming at me through a haze, barely registering. “This is Laynie.” I suspected his eyes hadn’t left my bosom. “Um, Alayna Withers, I mean.” Normally I’d be ecstatic that I had him so mixed-up and that his pants were visibly straining, but I was thrown by the new owner. More precisely, by how insanely he affected me.
“Hudson Pierce.” Hudson’s smooth, low murmur had me clenching my thighs together, my panties pooling with moisture. And if I thought he’d claimed me with his eyes the night we’d met, the surge that ran through me as he shook my hand deepened his possession. Almost like an invisible handcuff reaching out to bind me to him permanently. “Good to meet you properly, Ms. Withers.”
“Alayna,” I corrected, surprised at the low ache in my voice. “Or Laynie.”
He dropped my hand, but his touch lingered on my skin, in my veins.
Pieces began to fit together. That was how he’d known my name. He’d probably come that night to check out his would-be staff. But that didn’t explain his possessive staring. Maybe he was the type to think of women as objects. Maybe he took the definition of owner to a whole other level. The thought made my skin pebble in goose bumps.
And underneath that, panic crept into my gut.
I could not be this twisted up over my boss, the head honcho, the guy who would determine my fate at the club. Freaking out over him would end in serious consequences.
I placed a hand loosely over my belly, encouraging a deep diaphragmatic breath to calm my growing anxiety.
Hudson tilted his head and studied me. “I’ve heard many things about you. And witnessed your work.” He paused, moving his gaze up and down my body once more, scorching my skin as he did. “But none of what I heard or saw prepared me to find you wearing this ensemble.”
The color drained from my face. I wasn’t sure where he was going with his statement, but from his tone, I felt chided. “Excuse me?”
“I would think a graduate of Stern looking for a career in management would be more appropriately dressed.”
As quickly as I paled before, now I flushed, equal parts embarrassed and enraged. Sure my top was revealing, but he hadn’t seemed to mind when he ogled me only a moment before.
Or maybe his ogling had merely been wishful thinking.
Shit. I’d imagined it all, hadn’t I? That whole knowing he desired me—god, how had I so completely misread him?
Even in my error, I couldn’t take his criticism without responding. Whether Hudson owned other nightclubs or not, I had no clue, but he was certainly wrong about what acceptable attire was. Eye candy was expected at a club. Hot girls drove in customers. “What I’m wearing is quite appropriate for a club staff.”
“Not for someone working toward manager.”
“Yes, even managers. Sex sells, Mr. Pierce.”
“Not at an elite club. Not at the kind of club I intend to run.” His authoritative tone resonated through my head, but then he lowered his volume and the words resonated through my bones. “You must know that women have a difficult time in the business world. You need to work to be taken seriously, Alayna. Dress sexy, not like a floozy.”
I clenched my jaw shut. Normally I’m the type to argue well past the point of winning or losing—I’d had several heated debates in more than one of my graduate classes—but now I found myself flustered and at a loss for words. Hudson was right. I had ideas for the club—ideas that required people to trust my business savvy. I’d learned at Stern what it took to impress people and, to my credit, I’d hesitated when I’d purchased the corset, wondering if the open middle that revealed my midriff from the insides of my br**sts to my belly button was too revealing. His words validated that fear.
Worse, I realized that what I’d thought was desire was something so much different. He wasn’t claiming me, he was judging me.
My stomach dropped. There went any chance at promotion. How could I have been so stupid? Dressing for a guy instead of my career? Stupid, stupid, stupid!
I looked to David and discovered he was equally petrified at the transaction. “Um, yeah, Laynie,” he said, attempting to recover. “Is that new?”
It didn’t matter what David said. The glimmer in his eyes told me he appreciated my outfit. But he was with his new boss. He had to keep it professional.
And truthfully, I cared more about Hudson’s opinion at the moment than David’s. David was a category one attraction, after all. The kind of guy I didn’t emotionally invest in. Hudson, on the other hand, was…
No, I wouldn’t think about him like that.
I ran my tongue across my dry lips. “It is new.” I hoped I didn’t sound as ashamed as I felt. “I apologize. I misjudged.” I also sort of hated Hudson Pierce. Even though he was in the right. He was an ass**le with wandering eyes, just like all the other suits I’d ever met.
“I’ve got that lace pullover in my locker,” Liesl offered. “It should tame you.”
“Thanks. I’ll take it.”
Liesl whispered in my ear as she brushed past me toward the staff break room. “Though, if you ask me, you look damn fine!”
“Now that that’s taken care of…” Hudson turned his attention to David. “I’ve changed my mind about returning this weekend.” David visibly relaxed. But Hudson’s next statement had him stiffening again. “I’ll be back tomorrow. I can’t be here until nine. Could you spare time for me then?”
I fiddled with the napkin holders, even though I’d already stocked them, not sure if I was supposed to be part of the conversation or if I should get back to my duties.