Hudson (Page 41)

Hudson (Fixed #4)(41)
Author: Laurelin Paige

Why her? Why now? Has therapy actually changed me? Is that why she makes me feel the way she does? Because as scared as I am to admit it, that’s exactly what’s going on with Alayna—I’m feeling. She makes me feel. What, I can’t say. I’m not familiar enough with these sensations to explain any of it.

It strikes me as funny. Why, after all my life of never feeling anything for anyone, this woman shows up and throws all my truths out the window. It’s ironic. Comical even.

So I laugh. Then I attempt to put it into words, for both our sakes. “I’m drawn to you, Alayna. Not because I want to hurt you or make you feel a certain way, but because you’re beautiful and sexy and smart and, yes, a little crazy maybe, but you’re not broken. And that makes me hopeful. For me.”

And, God doesn’t that feel f**king good to say? It’s raw. It’s real. It’s the freest I’ve ever been.

I glance at her and know from the way she’s watching me that I have her attention. I have her sympathy. At another time in my life, this is the moment where I’d inwardly celebrate. This is the prime moment to take advantage of someone else.

I could reach out to her, and I’m willing to bet she’d let me do what I’d like with her. Only a day before, I probably would have. I regret that now. “And maybe I’ve been a bully. But I’m a dominant person. I can try to change things about me, but the fundamentals of my personality are never going away.” That acknowledgment brings another rush of freedom, and I realize that Alayna likely gets this as well as I do. “You of all people should be able to understand that.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice cracks. “I’m sorry. You didn’t judge me and I judged you.”

Her apology returns me to my prison. The reprieve from my guilt was brief. Now I remember that no matter what I feel or intend or wish to have happen between her and me, we got here because I set her up. My remorse is so heavy, I can’t speak. All I can do is nod once.

She assumes my response is acceptance. “And I exaggerated when I called you a bully. I haven’t done anything I didn’t want to. And your whole confident, domineering thing is actually kinda hot.”

I want to smile. But I won’t let myself. There’s still too much at stake. I squeeze my eyes shut, focusing all my strength and will on the thing I want—need—most. “Alayna, don’t quit. Don’t quit me.”

And I don’t mean the scenario I’ve hired her for. I mean me. I want her to have as much faith in me as I do in her. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever desired, and I’ve never desired anything more.

She looks away, and I already know her answer. “Hudson, I have to. Not because of this, well, not only because of this, but because of my past. I’m not well enough to be with someone who has his own issues.”

“You are, Alayna. You only tell that to yourself because you’re scared.” It’s me I’m talking about, but I suspect she feels the same.

“I should be scared. It’s not safe. For either of us. You should be scared, too.”

If she only knew how scared I am. I’m terrified of what I’ve done—of what I’m doing—but more than anything, I’m terrified that I will lose whatever it is that I have with her.

But maybe she’s right. This is what I want for her—to be strong like this. I let out a heavy breath and think about what she’s said. And I realize I don’t agree. “I don’t believe that. I think spending time with another person who has similar compulsive tendencies can provide insight and healing.” Because in this brief time with her, I’ve had more insight and healing than I’ve had in three years with Dr. Alberts.

Alayna leans her head back against the seat and stares at the ceiling. I’ve given her a lot to think about, I’m sure. I’ve given myself a lot to think about. But the only word that keeps repeating in my head now is please. Please don’t let me lose this. Please don’t let me lose her.

“I won’t quit.” Her words jump-start my heart. She turns to face me. “But I can’t have a relationship with you, Hudson. All I can give you is the fake. I have to protect myself here.”

I’m sick with disappointment. “I understand.” I say it again to myself, hoping this time I accept it. “Thank you.”

And since she’s ended us—ended the only part of us that matters—I pull myself together, closing myself off. Shutting her out.

Then she places a hand on my knee and leans in. “Hudson, you’re not broken.”

I begin to falter when I catch sight of her cle**age. What I see under her dress surprises me. “What are you…? Is that…?” I swear she’s wearing the corset I’d admonished her for the day we’d first properly met. Though it was inappropriate for work, I’d mentioned how much I’d love to see her in it again, privately.

She blushes. “Yes. I’d worn it for you.”

“Wow. That was…that was very thoughtful of you.” The moment is inopportune, but I’m instantly hard. Actually, I suspect that everything I’ve bared and everything she’s said has helped contribute to how much I want her now. She always turns me on. But now I need her in a way that is all-consuming.

Yet, I can’t have her. Even though her eyes flicker with the same need, I know that I’ll hurt us both if I don’t respect what she’s asked for.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

As if she has anything to be sorry for. “I know. I am too.” I remain caught up in her gaze for a minute. Everything I want to see is there, including the way she sees me.

But it’s not real and it can’t last. I have to move on. “This may be poor timing, but I need to get back to my mother’s show.”

“Sure.”

“And since you’re supposed to be sick, you will need to go home.”

I direct Jordan to drive to Alayna’s apartment and discover we’re nearly there already. It’s a good thing—I can’t be with her much longer without going crazy. But I also wish I could gather every second until she leaves me and stretch them infinitely.

“When is our next show, boss?” she asks.

Celia and I had planned the symphony to be the next event on our agenda. She went off script today, so I don’t feel obligated to stick to our plans. Even though the damage has been done, I’d also like to keep Alayna and Celia as far from each other as possible.