Would he ever let me in?
Hudson brought his index finger up to his face and rubbed the tip along his chin. “But that’s not all, is it? Your record says you violated the order.”
I felt my face flush. “I, um, I did.” God, talking about it was embarrassing. Even thinking it made me want to crawl in a hole. Of the stupid, idiotic, insane things I’d done, this had been one of the worst. “I became friends with Melissa.”
He nodded once, immediately understanding. “His fiancée.”
“Yeah. I joined her Pilates class and became buddy-buddy with her. So she started inviting me out with her and her friends. Eventually I ended up at a party that Paul was at too. He was livid. And he had to decide if he wanted to ignore it or report me. If he reported me, Melissa would find out about the one-night. I wouldn’t leave things alone, so he reported it. And she broke things off.”
“He deserved that.”
“Maybe.” I wasn’t so sure. Yes, he’d cheated on his fiancée, but that didn’t make up for my role in things.
“He deserved worse in my book.” Though Hudson was guarding his reaction to my story, his casual crumbs of support in my favor helped put me at ease. “And Paul’s the only one this happened with?”
No. Not even close. “He was the only one who went to the police.”
“I see.” Hudson was quiet for a handful of seconds, absorbing. Finally, he furrowed his brow, and looked me eye-to-eye. “Why would you think that this would change how I feel about you?”
“Are you kidding? Aren’t you worried I’ll become that hung up on you?”
“I’m hoping you become that hung up on me.” He draped his arm around my shoulder. “Paul was a f**king ass**le who didn’t realize what he had in front of him. I do. Get hung up on me.”
“I am hung up on you!” I turned to kiss his shoulder. “But careful what you wish for. If I go crazy on you, you’ll want me gone.”
He turned his cheek to nuzzle against the top of my head. “I’d never drive you away. Not on purpose.”
It was sweet—being held and told that I was wanted. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Yet, I still felt Hudson didn’t understand the severity of the things I’d done.
I sat forward and turned my entire body to face him, pulling my legs underneath me. “But what if I started to doubt you? That’s happened before, too. Where I didn’t trust anything my boyfriend said to me, no matter how innocent they were. And then I snooped and invaded privacy and people got hurt.”
“Then I simply have to make sure that you never have any reason to doubt me.” He swept his hand out in front of him. “Snoop away. I have nothing to hide from you here.”
And there was my ticket back to where we’d started the conversation. “You’re hiding your past.”
He groaned. “I’m not hiding my past. There’s simply nothing worth talking about. It’s ugly. Why would you want to focus on the bad things?”
“It’s not focusing; it’s sharing and then moving on.”
He shook his head.
“I told you mine. That’s not fair.”
This time I got a steady glare.
“Come on. Anything. One thing.” I felt desperate. Opening up had been hard, and I wasn’t even getting the reward that I’d counted on.
I stared at him with wide, pleading eyes.
“One thing and you’ll leave it alone?”
I nodded enthusiastically.
“Okay, one thing.” He sighed. “It was a game. Always a game. And my favorite was the same one I played on Celia. Make a woman fall for me, and when she did, I was done.” He paused, and for half a second I feared that was all he was going to say.
But then he went on, his eyes glossy with memory. “There was one time, though, I wanted to see if I could make someone fall for someone else, someone they had no interest in. I knew this guy, Owen, who was a real ass. A complete man-whore. And this woman, Andrea—a girl, really. She was in my tennis club my second year of college. Very shy, simple, homely. I discovered she had a thing for me. Having a thing for me was very dangerous.” He stared pointedly at me. “Still is.”
I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s not. Go on.”
“I set her up with Owen. Not just on a date, more. I played silent matchmaker. Got them together. I convinced Owen he was doing me a favor by taking her out a few times. Meanwhile, I’d fill him with all these stories of how amazing Andrea was, how her true beauty was inside. And it happened—they fell for each other. Completely. Sincerely.”
I blinked. Twice. “That’s a beautiful story.”
“Then I f**ked her and showed Owen the pictures.”
“Oh, my god.” My hand flew instinctively to my mouth. I hadn’t been prepared for that and immediately felt ashamed. I’d been trying to be supportive. He’d tried to shock me. He won.
Hudson carried on as if I hadn’t reacted. “Andrea tried to tell Owen it was a mistake, that I’d tricked her, which I had. I didn’t rape her—I never raped anyone. But he wouldn’t listen to her. They were both…broken, is the best way to describe it. Andrea left school in the middle of the semester. I never heard anything about her again.”
“And Owen?” My voice sounded much feebler than I would have liked.
“He went back to sleeping with anyone with two legs. Last I heard he’d gotten HIV. I don’t know. I lost track of him.”
He studied me, the same way I’d studied him a moment before, and I knew he read me. Saw what I was feeling. I couldn’t be stoic as he’d been. I couldn’t hide my emotions.
His features grew dark. “I told you, you didn’t want to hear it. I told you—”
“Just give me a second to process,” I stuttered, ashamed that I needed the delay. I’d said his past wouldn’t change how I felt about him. Did it? I pushed past the horror of the story and focused on Hudson, the man who had committed the horror. Did knowing these things change how I felt for him?
My pause was too long for him. “See, Alayna? See why your past means nothing to me? Compared to me, you were an angel. You hurt people because you loved too much. I hurt people because I could.”
I jerked my eyes to his. No, my feelings for him hadn’t changed. If anything, they’d grown deeper. How lonely, how sad, how broken did a man have to be to feel compelled to destroy the people around him? And how strong and worthy was that same man to attempt to be someone different in the aftermath?