Shit, shit, shit. I didn’t want to see her, didn’t want her to see me.
Her heels clicked as she walked down the hall toward the bedroom. “Alayna, is that you?” She peeked into the room and found me pressed against the wall, still dressed only in a towel.
“Wow.” Her smile brightened as her eyes moved up and down my body, taking in my lack of clothing. “I didn’t expect you to be here.”
This was ridiculous. I was acting like I’d been caught doing something wrong, but I hadn’t. I had every right to be there and, as far as I knew, Celia did not.
I straightened my back and stepped away from the wall. “I didn’t expect you either. Hudson didn’t say you were delivering the books.”
Celia shook her head. “He didn’t know. He ordered them through my office and my schedule was open today, so I thought I’d make sure they got here okay and help unpack them if need be.”
“You have a key.” It was honestly the only thing going through my mind at that point, and I hated how pathetic I sounded mentioning it. I had a key too, after all.
She leaned her shoulder against the door jam. “I do. Since I did the interior decorating. We’re always updating, and we thought it was easiest for me to keep a key.” Her eyes glanced over to the unmade bed, sheets in disarray from my night with Hudson. When she looked back at me, her smile seemed wider. “I did buzz though before I came up and there was no answer.”
“I was in the shower.”
“I see that.” She winked, and I knew she was saying that she was seeing more than me wrapped in a towel. She was getting the whole picture.
Well, good. I was glad. Then I wouldn’t have to feel like a jerk when I spelled it out for her. Hudson and I were together now. Whatever anyone else had ever planned for Celia and Hudson, it was moot. I was the one he’d chosen. End of discussion.
Except that discussion had only occurred in my head. Some things probably still had to be said out loud.
Celia seemed to be thinking the same thing. “Look, let me get finished with the delivery guys and you can get dressed. Then we can chat or whatever. It seems we have some catching up to do.”
She shut the door behind her, and I let out a deep breath. I wasn’t sure why Celia’s presence was giving me so much anxiety. She wasn’t a threat to me. She felt like one, though. I’d been jealous of her since I’d met her. As Hudson’s oldest friend, she knew him better than anyone. He told her things. He kept her secrets. She’d been the only one who knew about Hudson and me pretending to be a couple. It was an intimate friendship they had.
Hudson had insisted that friendship was the only thing between them. I had to trust that or the envy would tear me apart. The whole charade had started in the first place so that Celia and Hudson’s parents would stop trying to pair up the two. If there really had been something between them, then why would I have been brought into the middle?
I’d only discovered the day before that the reason the Werners and Sophia Pierce were so keen on playing matchmaker was because they thought Hudson and Celia had been together in the past. They thought Hudson was the father of the baby Celia had miscarried. But he wasn’t, and they had never been together. The truth was worse—Hudson had played Celia, had tricked her into falling for him, had sent her spiraling into depression and wild partying. So when she’d ended up pregnant, he felt responsible and claimed parentage.
In a way, Hudson had been responsible. But he wasn’t the man of his youth anymore. He wasn’t so responsible that his games had to follow him for the rest of his life. I couldn’t believe that. Otherwise I would have to believe the same about the things I’d done to others. Certainly even people like us—people who had been so broken that we destroyed others around us—deserved happiness of our own. We didn’t have to spend our entire existence making up for our mistakes. Did we?
I brushed the guilty thoughts out of my mind and quickly changed into a dress I could wear to the club later. I threw my wet hair into a bun and took a deep breath before opening the door.
The delivery men had already left, and I found Celia straightening a row of boxes into an orderly line. There were dozens of boxes, many more than I had anticipated. “Damn. He went all out, didn’t he?”
Celia looked up from her task. “He always does. But as I’m sure you’ve noticed, he has lots of shelves to fill.”
I scanned the room for the first time. A large mahogany desk sat at the far end surrounded by a curved wall of windows. Two armchairs and a long sofa created a sitting area in the middle of the room. A beautiful marble fireplace graced the center of one wall with a large flat-screen television set centered above it. The rest of the wall space was filled with shelves. Shelves and shelves—a booklover’s dream. Except that only one small section near the desk had any books on it.
“Uh, yeah. These boxes are barely going to put a dent in that shelf space.”
“He ordered more, but this is what was already in stock. The rest should come in the next few days or so. And, yes, he’ll still have a lot of empty space. Maybe you can help him fill the rest.”
Was that supposed to be a leading statement? Was she trying to get me to open up about Hudson?
If she wanted to know, she’d have to come out and ask. I responded to her statement with a simple, “Maybe.” I joined her in pushing the boxes into a line against the wall, doing a count of them as I did. Twenty-seven in total. Guess I knew how I was spending my afternoon. Unpacking books—the thought had me more excited than it should.
I nudged the last box into line with the others and turned to find Celia staring at me, arms crossed over her chest, one light brow cocked. “So. You and Hudson.”
“Yeah. Crazy, right?” Celia had only ever been nice to me. Why was this so awkward?
“It’s real then? You’re really together?”
“We are. No more pretending. It’s the real deal now.” It felt strange to say that. With other relationships my declarations were most likely exaggerations. Was I exaggerating now?
No. I wasn’t. This was real.
“Since when?” The question didn’t sound disbelieving, but curious. Excited, even. “I was with him Monday and he didn’t say anything had changed between you, though he did seem awfully lovesick. I thought he was being moody about his business-whatever that was going on. But now that I see you here, I’m thinking it was about you.”