“Right? What a way to find out your husband cheated on you.”
“Not even because of that. Jack’s infidelity is old news. That he was with Celia is a surprise. I thought he had better taste than that.” Maybe that was why Hudson hated it when his father touched me. He was afraid Jack was after me, too. If Hudson had only told me the truth about Celia and his father, I could have tried harder to…
I let the thought die. It was no good thinking about the things Hudson hid from me. It only led back to the things I’d hidden from him. If we’d both been honest from the beginning, maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we were in now.
“Anyway, I meant because Sophia was so set on that pregnancy being evidence of why Celia and Hudson should be together. Like, she brings it up all the time. Nearly ten years later, she’s still pining over this miscarriage. For this match that didn’t happen.”
Brian chewed on his lip, something he always did when he was concentrating. “You know what I think? I think she knew all the time that there’d been something between Celia and Jack. You know how you just know things like that sometimes. She probably thought if Celia was with Hudson, then maybe somehow that would punish Jack or maybe even help her win him back or something. It’s obvious she loves the guy.”
I leaned my head back against the wall. “That’s very insightful. You actually make me feel kind of sorry for the lady.” I scowled. “Stop it. I prefer hating her.”
Brian laughed and I felt lighter with the sound. It was good to hear him be something besides angry. He was like Sophia in so many ways. Hardened because of the things life had dealt him. He was the one I felt bad for. “I’m really sorry you got dragged into all of this.”
He nodded in acceptance of my apology. “I’m really sorry I haven’t been here for you.” He kept his eyes on his hands, his fingers playing with the drawstring to his PJs. “I guess I was wrong to cut you off like I did. It didn’t help you like I thought it would.”
“I hate to say this, but it was probably the best thing you could have ever done for me.” Funny thing about 20/20 hindsight. “Despite how it looks at the moment, I’ve been doing pretty well.”
“That’s exactly how it looks. Good job, good boyfriend…” He met my eyes. “I know you didn’t do those things that Celia says you did.”
My brows rose. “You do? How?”
Brian gave me a no-nonsense look. “First of all, calling and hanging up? That’s so not your style. You’re much more creative than that.”
I smiled genuinely at the strange compliment.
“Second, you’ve never messed with women. And, third, no matter what shit you’ve pulled, you’ve never denied it. That was one reliable thing about you—you were always willing to admit your mistakes. Plus, you look…good. You’ve never looked this good before. Not since they died, anyway.”
It was the look of feeling loved. That was the change in me. I wondered how long it would last. “Thank you, Brian. It means a lot to hear you say that.” More than he could possibly know.
But just because Brian believed me didn’t mean I was out of trouble. “So what do I do now, Mr. Lawyer?”
“About Celia Werner? Nothing. She doesn’t have anything to press charges for and she says she’s not pursuing a restraining order.”
“Because a restraining order would keep her from Hudson too.” I frowned. “As long as he’s with me, that is.”
“Is that why she’s saying all this stuff about you? Is she in love with him?” His question was tentative, as if he were afraid the subject would hurt me.
“Maybe. I’m not sure if she’s in love with him or if she wants to mess with him. People warned me not to trust her. It makes me wonder if she has a rep for doing shit like this. I’m not sure.”
“All I can suggest is to stay away from her now.”
“No kidding.” Actually, Celia’s scam had me wondering about her and Hudson in a different way. It couldn’t be entirely coincidental that they were friends and both of them had instances of manipulating people. More and more I believed they’d played their games together—as partners or as competitors, I didn’t know. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.
“Oh.” Out of the blue I remembered what Brian was in town for to begin with. I dug into the purse still hanging loosely on my shoulder and found my old apartment key. “I need to give you this.” I held it up for him.
He leaned forward but stopped before he took it from me. “You sure you don’t want to keep it? I could sign another year lease. In case things don’t work out here.”
“Which is very possible at this point.” I flipped the key along its ring. It felt heavier than it should, and I wanted it out of my hands. At the same time, I had to be smart.
Brian studied me. “I told him, you know. Hudson. That I knew you didn’t stalk that girl.”
My eyes met his. “What did he say?”
“Nothing. He’s a very hard man to read.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding. “Yes, he is.” What had I expected? For Brian to convince Hudson of the truth and that everything would now be hunky-dory? Even if Brian had changed Hudson’s mind, would I be able to forgive Hudson for not believing me when I said I didn’t do it? Lauren had said that if I wanted to stay with him, there would have to be forgiveness. How much could I forgive?
In that painful moment, when I wanted Hudson back so bad that every fiber of my being ached with longing, I would have forgiven anything and everything. And that wasn’t necessarily the best thing for me.
Good thing he was out of the country. Hopefully I’d be stronger by the time he returned.
I leaned forward and dropped the key in Brian’s palm. “No. I don’t want another lease. I don’t want you taking care of me anymore. It’s time for me to do it myself. If things don’t work out here—” My voice caught and I had to swallow before I could go on. “I’ll have to get something cheaper. Which is fine. I could find some place closer to the subway. Maybe I’ll get a roommate or something.”
Brian nodded. He could tell that moving wasn’t what I wanted, but there wasn’t any point discussing it. What mattered was that I had options. I’d be okay.
We sat in comfortable silence for several minutes, before I got the strength to try to make it to bed. “I’m gonna go collapse now.”