I step backward, away from her, as if I can distance myself from the hell I’ve put us in.
But she follows, charging into my arms and kissing me with the same determination that I’d earlier thrust upon her.
I can’t resist. And there’s no point, really. We’re both damned no matter what.
“Alayna.” I take what she’s giving me, take it greedily. My hand kneads her breast as I lick into her mouth. My other arm pulls her closer. She says my name. She tells me she needs me. I don’t need to hear the words. I feel it in her kiss, in her body as she yields to me.
I’m quick to remove her panties and lay her on the couch. My gaze never leaves her as I undress. She’s gorgeous like this—all spread out for me, her cunt glistening with her arousal. And even beyond the erotic visual, there’s beauty in the significance of her capitulation. Even in her pain, she looks to me for comfort. Just as I look to her.
I can’t delay our connection any longer. I lower myself on top of her and drive in. I’m relentless with my speed, with my force. I’m focused only on release, mine and hers, my thumb rubbing against her cl*t as I pound into her. Our sex is primal and raw. It’s a mirror of our circumstances—we shouldn’t want each other, but the pull that draws us together is stronger and baser than anything we can control or contradict. I have no words for this connection, and so I shower her with the only sound that makes any sense—her name, spilling from my lips, repeatedly, reverently. Then it’s the word that announces my release as I come inside her in a savage explosion. She echoes my cl**ax with her own, crying out while she clenches around me.
I collapse onto her, burying my head into her neck. My c**k twitches inside her as it calms. She’s warm and safe, and as our breathing settles, I relax into her. This is the first time in my life that I can remember being completely at ease. Despite the lack of resolution in our predicament, I’m free in her arms.
In the sanctuary of this moment, disclosure comes naturally. “I wanted to win you. But I didn’t want to hurt you.” I tighten my grasp around her. “That’s the last thing I wanted.”
With this simple admission, my load lightens. There’s so much that I still carry in guilt. I can almost imagine what it would feel like to relieve my entire load, brick by brick, confession by confession.
Alayna runs her hand through my hair, her fingers sending sparks of electricity through my scalp. “That’s part of relationships, H. People get hurt.” She kisses my head. “But you can make it better, too.”
Though her relationships may have been atypical, Alayna has much more experience at this than I do. I realize that many of the questions I have can be answered by her.
I’m not used to asking for help, but I lift my head to meet her eyes and plead, “Tell me how.”
She cradles my face in her hands, her thumbs skimming across my skin. “Let me in.”
“Don’t you see I already have?” I’ve let her in further than anyone’s ever been. She’s broken walls that I didn’t even know were standing. She doesn’t even realize.
Or it’s just not enough.
She closes her eyes and swallows. When she opens them again, a tear runs down her cheek. She moves out from underneath me, pulling her panties on as she stands up.
There’s my answer, then. It’s not enough. But this is all I can give—for her protection as well as for mine. And I’m still stuck between a rock and a hard place. Where does this leave me with Celia? Where does this leave me with Alayna?
I sigh as I tuck myself back in and zip up my pants. I’m back where I was to begin with, where the best decision is to end this.
And I can’t.
So I fight for her instead. Even though I don’t know how. Even though it’s the worst possible thing I can do.
I stand and cross to her. I wrap my arms around her from behind and can feel her pulling against her desire to lean into me. She stays put though, and I speak gently in her ear. “Why do you act like I’m running?”
“Because you shut me out. Isn’t that the same as running?”
It’s exactly the same. I’m hit with the sudden recollection of Alayna in our bedroom at the Hamptons. I’d been asleep, and she’d been out swimming. When she returned, she’d been upset. “What about you? What about how you showed up in our bedroom crying and couldn’t even tell me why?”
She tenses in my arms. “That was different.”
What could be different? I wrack my brain trying to come up with a scenario that had hurt her. Then with sickening certainty, I know—my mother.
I turn Alayna toward me. “What did she say to you, Alayna?”
She wars with herself for only a moment before answering. “That I was insignificant. She called me a whore.”
Fuck. My anger is reignited, directed at my mother now. Time and time again, I’ve come to Sophia’s rescue. Now I can’t think of a single reason why. “My mother’s heartless and cruel.” For so long I would have added like me to that phrase. In this moment, I don’t feel anything like her.
I lift Alayna’s chin up to meet my gaze. “You’re not a whore, Alayna. Not even close. And the magnitude of your importance in my life can’t be put into words.” It’s the nearest I can come to a declaration of emotion.
As if she can read my subtext, she adds, “She also said that you can’t ever love me.”
My hand drops from her face. I’m stunned. That my mother would tell her that, for one, is appalling to me. And enlightening. But more importantly, I don’t know how to respond. I can’t refute the statement, not without admitting that I’m learning how to love because of her. And I can’t say that until there aren’t any lies between us.
So I say the only thing I can. “I’ve told you that before.”
She pulls out of my arms. “Well, she told me again.” She spins back at me. “So there, I opened up. Are you happy?”
I’ve hurt her. Again. It’s not what I’d meant, but I’m torn. I’m helpless. “Alayna…”
But there’s nothing I can add to make this better. I’m drowning in my secrets, and I feel all of it coming to a head. If I can’t walk away, I have to tell her the truth. Every bit of it. Yet the words stick in my throat.
With tears smearing her face, she implores, “How could you not think I’d fall in love with you, Hudson? Even if you didn’t mean for it to happen, how could I not? Does that mean anything to you at all?”