“Great. Then you can come by at eight.” I entered the info into my calendar. “You can see the club when it’s open.”
“I’ll be there.”
“See, Norma?” Hudson winked at his employee. “The kids didn’t need us after all. They worked everything out on their own.”
Hudson’s playful jab at Norma fueled my angst. Why had she been invited to this meeting anyway? Just because Gwen was her sister, Norma didn’t have to be included. And how had Hudson even known that Norma had a sister that managed a club? Were Norma and Hudson closer than he’d led me to believe?
At the height of my obsessive disorder, I suffered greatly from paranoia. Sure, it returned from time to time, but not to any significant extent since I’d met Hudson. Was I being paranoid now or were my questions valid? And if it was just paranoia, why was it returning now?
It was Celia and her f**king mind games getting to me. It had to be that. I couldn’t backslide because of her. Otherwise she’d win and I wasn’t having that. I had to get a grip.
I stepped out of the way while Hudson ushered the Anders sisters out of his office. Mentally I tried to calm myself, taking deep breaths and reminding myself to communicate rather than jump to conclusions. Perhaps I needed to pencil in another group therapy session for later in the week. Anything to end the rising panic.
When we were alone, I couldn’t hold back any longer. “Why exactly was Norma here?” I added a smile and a light tone so that it didn’t come off harsh, but how could it sound like anything other than an accusation?
Hudson locked the door before turning toward me. “She arranged to have Gwen meet with me. I’d never met her and Norma wanted to be here to acquaint us. Why do you ask?”
“Just curious.” I leaned against his desk, needing the support. “How did you know that Gwen worked at Eighty-Eighth?”
He walked over to me in several easy strides. “Norma’s mentioned it.”
“Just in casual conversation. Between a boss and his employee?” I folded my arms in front of me. Not the best pose for remaining aloof.
Hudson put his hands on my elbows. “Alayna, you’re acting unusually jealous. While it’s always a turn-on, I have a feeling it’s a symptom of something else today. What’s going on?”
I shrugged, not wanting to jump into the Celia issue until I’d cleared up the Norma issue. “It just seems strange that you would know such personal details about one employee when you have hundreds—thousands—of people working for you.”
“Hundreds of thousands.”
I didn’t even crack a smile. “Even stranger then.”
Hudson released me and put his hands in his pockets. “What exactly are you asking me, Alayna?”
I already hated myself. The person standing here facing the man I loved was not the person I wanted to be. I didn’t want to question or worry or be paranoid.
But my gut was twisting and churning and the words flew out of my mouth like vomit. “I’m asking why you know personal details about Norma Anders’ family.”
“You’re asking what kind of relationship I’ve had with Norma. The answer is strictly working.”
“Have you ever kissed her?” My voice shook and I had a feeling if I uncrossed my arms, my hands would be trembling as well. My mind was already filling with images of them together. It was crazy what I could conjure up—detailed scenes of passion. The only thing that could possibly stop the flood of imagination would be his assurance that it never happened. Even then, there was a chance the images would remain.
“I don’t make it a habit to kiss people I have working relationships with.”
He’d kissed me when I worked for him. “Yes or no, please?”
“No, Alayna. I’ve never kissed her. I’ve never f**ked her. I’ve never anything with her.” His tone was smooth but emphatic.
I returned his level expression even though I was an irrational mess inside.
My seeming composure egged him on. Or he sensed that I was a thread away from falling apart. He ran a hand through his hair. “Since she’s in the Financial Division, Norma handled the transaction when I purchased The Sky Launch so she knew I had the club. The other day she asked if there were any management positions available there. I told her no, but that I’d keep Gwen in mind. I didn’t want to tell you about her because I was afraid if you knew, you’d take that as a reason not to be the manager yourself. It’s as simple as that.”
“That makes sense.” And the slightly manipulative way he kept it from me was totally typical Hudson. In my heart I knew he was telling the truth, but my head—it was in overdrive.
So which did I believe? My heart or my head?
He met my eyes and held my stare for several seconds. “There’s nothing with her, Alayna. I’m with you. Always. Okay?”
My heart. I believed my heart. Always.
This was Hudson. He loved me, even if he stubbornly couldn’t say the words. I trusted him. What had he ever done to tell me otherwise?
I shook my head, ashamed of myself. “I’m sorry. I’m being stupid.”
Hudson tugged me into his arms. Finally, I felt calm. I breathed him in—the scent of his soap and aftershave filled me with a soothing balm. There was nowhere that I’d rather be than right there in his embrace.
He ran his hands up and down my back and kissed along my temple. “I know you wouldn’t be like this if something hadn’t happened. And you came in here upset. What’s going on, precious?”
I clung to him, my hands digging into his jacket. Now that he was holding me, I didn’t want to let him go. This was where I was safe.
“Alayna, talk to me.”
I turned my head so my words wouldn’t be muffled in his clothing. “It’s Celia.”
Hudson pushed me away to meet my face. His eyes were wide with concern. “What did she do?”
“She’s following me.”
His brows furrowed. “What do you mean, following you?”
“Like, showing up where I am and going wherever I go. Following me.” I showed him the picture on my phone and explained how I’d spotted her tailing me while I ran errands and added that Jordan had seen her that morning. Plus, she’d been on the boat the night before.
I feared he’d say I was overreacting, that he wouldn’t believe me like the time before. I had a picture, but what did that show? Would he think I was the one who’d followed her?