“Do you hear her, Hudson?” Sophia stood and faced her son’s back. “She threatened Celia. In front of everyone.”
“Mother, stay out of this.”
I held on to Hudson’s words like a lifeline.
“Hudson, you have to get rid of her. She’s dangerous. Celia tells me she has a record. Why on earth would you let her into your life when you knew these things about her?”
“Shut up, Mother.” Hudson spun, brushing past both women. He stopped in the center of the room, finally looking at me.
I clung to his eyes with mine, trying to get my balance as the world tilted around me. I couldn’t read everything in his expression, but I could see definitively the one thing he’d told me so many times—I’m with you.
Sophia’s voice sounded muffled and far away as I remained in the safety of Hudson’s gaze. “It makes sense why she’d be obsessed with Celia. She knows you belong together, Hudson, and she’s jealous. Celia was pregnant with your baby. She can’t compete with that, no matter—”
Jack let go of my arm. “Aw, shut the f**k up, Sophia. It wasn’t even Hudson’s baby. It was mine, you ignorant bitch.”
Then my connection with Hudson was lost as all hell broke loose.
Celia’s skin went ashen.
Hudson’s face blazed with anger. “Goddammit, Jack.”
If I hadn’t been so dizzy from the accusations that had occurred before, then I would have been more of a participant in the scene. Instead, I was frozen, watching in horror as the secret unfolded at lightning speed.
“It’s my business to tell,” Jack said, “and I’m tired of this lingering lie.”
“It wasn’t a lie we told for you,” Hudson said.
“I never thought it was. It was to protect Celia’s ass. And I’m sure some of it was you protecting your mother’s feelings. Heaven knows why you care about how she feels when she obviously cares nothing for how you feel.”
“I don’t understand.” Sophia sank into the sofa.
It was Celia’s turn to be comforter. She sat next to Hudson’s mother. “Sophia, I’m so sorry. It was a mistake. I was drunk. It was a long time ago.”
Jack laughed. “You weren’t that drunk. And I know what you’re all thinking, but she seduced me, not the other way around.”
“Your baby wasn’t Hudson’s?” Sophia didn’t want to believe it. I could hear it in her tone.
Celia continued to plead for forgiveness.
Jack headed to the bar and began making a drink as he spoke to no one in particular. “Hudson stepped up because he knew her father would freak about the age difference, though Warren’s had some pretty young little mistresses himself. Granted, it’s different when it’s your daughter. Anyway, Hudson said he felt responsible for some reason or another. Never could figure that one out.”
He turned to face the room, glass in one hand, decanter in the other. “But I’ll tell you what, and I can’t prove any of this, but I’d bet my life that the whole thing was a set-up. She knew Hudson would claim that baby. That’s the only reason she came knocking on my door to begin with. To trap him.”
“That’s low, Jack,” Celia seethed.
“You’re one to talk.” I said it under my breath, not wanting to draw attention to myself.
She caught my words anyway. “Let’s not forget why we’re here. Not to discuss the past but to discuss Laynie’s future.”
“I think that topic is on hold for the moment.” Jack brought the glass of amber liquid to his wife.
Sophia took it from him, her hand shaking. “You and…Celia?”
“Don’t act so surprised. We haven’t been faithful to each other for years.”
Sophia took a long swallow of her drink. Then she stood and threw the rest of it in Jack’s face. “You coldhearted ass**le. I’ve always been faithful.”
Jack wiped bourbon from his eyes. “One word for you sweetheart—Chandler.”
“Chandler is yours. I don’t know why he doesn’t look like you. I’ll get a blood test to prove it if you want me to. And despite the myriad of affairs you’ve had over the years, I would never have thought you’d stoop so low to sleep with your son’s girlfriend.”
“She was never my girlfriend!” Hudson said at the same time his father said, “She was never his girlfriend!”
The scene had moved from shocking to uncomfortable.
Brian sidled up next to me. “Wow. This family is f**ked up.”
It was strangely comical, those words coming from my brother’s lips. Our own family with our alcoholic father and distant mother and me—the sister with a mental disorder—had always seemed the definition of f**ked up. The Pierces, though, made us look like the Brady Bunch.
I gave Brian a wry smile. “Tell me about it.”
Totally f**ked up. And why I was still there was beyond me.
So I left.
My hands shook the entire ride down the elevator. I didn’t know where I was going, only that I had to go. Hudson and I could work things out later when it was only the two of us. There was so much to sort through, but I knew in my heart of hearts that we were okay, that we were as connected as our eyes had been when we stood in the living room with chaos surrounding us.
I paused in the middle of the lobby, wondering if I should call Jordan for a ride. But where would I even go?
“Alayna!” Hudson called after me. He must have taken the other elevator down.
He’d noticed I was gone. It warmed some of the chill that had settled over me.
“Why did you leave?” he asked when he reached me.
“Isn’t it obvious? That was a madhouse and I didn’t want to be there anymore.”
“Yes, that it was.”
“I, um…” There was so much to say, but only one thing important to me—to us. “Why didn’t you defend me up there? Are you that mad about the David situation? It’s me supposed to be mad at you, remember?”
He met me with silence.
“Wait—” The truth burned into me with sickening certainty. “You believe her.”
His jaw twitched.
I’d thought—when our eyes had met, when we’d connected—I’d thought it had meant he was on my side. I’d been wrong. And it was like a knife to the gut.
Hudson put his hands on my arms, echoing the way his father had grasped me not fifteen minutes before. His touch felt…wrong. Cold where it was usually warm.