Main Simply Complicated

Simply Complicated

Who could have known the best way to meet a guy is to move in next door, physically assault him, and then get a job at his company?
Ever since veteran Hudson Finnegan returned from his latest tour abroad, he’s been a real pain in the backside. He doesn’t even enjoy hitting up the club like he used to. His walls are thick. But Laurel’s head might just be thicker.
After an accidental altercation outside of their apartment doors, Laurel interviews for his assistant position. Making an offer he can’t refuse, to let her prove herself by the end of the day or reject her.
Lorelai, Hudson’s mom, walks in on her son berating Laurel in front of the entire office and devises a plan. She’s never seen her son show such emotion before. Laurel must be the key.
An alliance is made between them both and a plan masterminded to get under Hudson’s skin to make him lose his marbles. It’s time for his walls to come crashing down.
Could Laurel execute the mission without getting too close?
Language: english
File: EPUB, 193 KB
Download (epub, 193 KB)
 
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

The Lies We Hide

Language: english
File: EPUB, 460 KB
2

The Billionaire's Lie

Language: english
File: EPUB, 158 KB
Simply Complicated

Ashley Zakrzewski





This book is a work of fiction. Any references to real people are used fictiously. The names, characters, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2019 Ashley Zakrzewski

All Rights Reserved.





Acknowledgements



I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout my author journey and believing me. I could not have gotten this far without you.





Chapter 1

Laurel

From the shower, I could hear it echoing throughout my apartment. Probably my mother. I continued washing my body, lathering the soap, when it started ringing again. I hurriedly washed my body off, wrapped a towel around my wet body, and ran to the phone. It was a call I never expected to receive.

“Hello?” I said, out of breath from running across my apartment half-naked.

“Is this Lacey?” the woman asked.

“Yes, this is me. Can I help you?” I asked, wondering why this lady was calling me.

“This is Mandy from Memorial Hospital. Your sister has been admitted and is in bad condition. She has you down as her emergency contact.”

I fell to the ground with a hard thud, not caring about my bareness. What happened? My sister lived in Texas and was going to college there. I knew she never should have moved there by herself.

“What happened?” I said, my voice shaking.

“Honestly. We are not sure. Do you live nearby?”

“No, ma’am. I live outta state. I’ll try to get on the next flight out.”

“Okay, we will call if we need anything before you get here. Fly safe, and I’m sorry about the circumstances.”

“Thanks,” I said, hanging up the phone.

I never expected to receive this phone call. I mean, who really did? The tears kept coming, and I couldn’t make them stop. The hospital didn’t have any idea what happened to her. How the hell could they not know?

I went to my closet to get dressed and pulled on a pair of sweats and my old college t-shirt. As I sat down at my desk and opened up my laptop, my first instinct was to call my boss. Let him know I wouldn’t be coming in tomorrow and possibly for the rest of the week. Hopefully, they would understand. I shook my head, deciding just to call them from Dallas. I had been there for ten years and never used all of my vacation. Surely, they wouldn’t dock me. I still had a week’s vacation under my belt, but usually, we had to give a two-week notice. Under the circumstances, I think they would let me use it.

I searched for the next flight out. Wow, $746? Well, I didn’t have a choice. I grabbed my credit card out of my wallet and booked it. I hated Texas, but I couldn’t let my sister sit in a hospital by herself.

I closed my laptop and headed straight for the closet, lugging out my suitcase, and started loading it up with essentials and clothing needed for the trip. I had to pack more since I didn’t know exactly how long I would be there. I couldn’t come home until I knew she was okay.

I took out my phone and ordered an Uber to take me to the airport because I didn’t want to pay parking fees or abandon my car there. Turning the thermostat up and grabbing the suitcase, I headed downstairs to the car waiting for me.

The Uber driver was helpful. He took my suitcase from me and loaded it into the back.

“Flying out, huh? Vacation?” he asked in a foreign accent.

“No, I wish that was the case. My sister is in the hospital in Dallas. I just found out.”

The cab driver stopped the car, turned around, and from his frown, I could tell he was devastated to have asked the previous question.

“I’m so sorry. Forgive me. I hope she is okay.”

He continued driving through the endless traffic until we finally pulled up to the terminal. The older gentleman stepped out of the car, grabbed my suitcase, and apologized again. I shook my head to let him know it was okay, then I was on my way.

After going through security and boarding the plane, I experienced an overwhelming sense of fear. My sister had no health issues that I knew of. The last time I spoke to her on the phone, she informed me about the new guy she had been dating. He sounded like a decent guy who was going to school and had plans for himself. She seemed happy, but where was he? Why wasn’t he at the hospital with her? I took a sleeping pill, so I could sleep for the remainder of the flight instead of having a wandering brain. Nothing good ever came from that.

The next thing I knew, I woke up to the bounce of the plane as it landed. Welcome to Dallas. I went straight for the baggage terminal to retrieve my bag and headed to the hospital by getting a cab waiting outside the terminal.

As I walked inside the hospital, I approached the front desk. The air was sterile and cold.

“I’m here for my sister, Lacey. Is Mandy here?”

“Hey, I’m Mandy.” She looked at me and smiled. “Nice to meet you under the circumstances. Come with me, I’ll take you back to her.”

I followed behind her, wondering what she would look like. What had happened?

“I want to warn you. She’s beaten up pretty bad. There is a lot of swelling and bruising. Take a deep breath,” Mandy said as she opened the door.

When I walked into her room, the waterfalls started up again. I had never seen her like this before, and it made my stomach turn. She looked utterly helpless, lying there, beaten and bruised. Who would do this to her?

“How does no one know what happened? How did she get here?” I asked, pointing at her broken body lying there in the hospital bed.

“I’ll get the doctor. He’ll be able to tell you more than I can. I’m sorry,” she said, leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.

I demanded answers. Someone had to pay for this. I clasped her hand in mine, bowing next to her bed.

“I’m here. Please don’t abandon me.” I cried.

Lacey was many years younger than me, only twenty-one, and worked full time at a security company on the side to help pay for her college classes. Maybe someone there would know something. I walked to the desk in the hallway.

“Excuse me? Could I see my sister’s things?” I asked politely.

The nurse handed me a bag with everything that was on her when she was brought in. Optimistically, she had a phone in there somewhere, so I could reach out to her work. They must be wondering where she was and why she hadn’t shown up for work in a couple of days. I powered her cell phone on, and there were six voicemails. Initially, I thought I shouldn’t listen since they were private, but I needed to. The first three were from a friend named Alexa, but the last three were from a man named Hudson, who claimed to be her boss, wondering where she had been. I dialed the return call number.

“Where have you been?” the man on the other end asked.

“This is Laurel, Lacey’s sister. She is in the hospital.”

“What on earth happened to her?” he asked.

“We are unsure. She was beaten and bruised bad and is in a coma.”

“Which hospital? I’ll be right down.”

Most bosses wouldn’t rush down to the hospital just because their employee was there. I hoped she wasn’t foolish enough to fool around with her boss. Number one rule in the workforce for a woman: Never sleep with your boss.

It’s possible Hudson knew something, anything that would assist us. There was no telling when she would wake up, but we needed to know what happened to her sooner rather than later. I stayed sitting next to Lacey, turned on the TV, and hoped she would wake up soon. All I could do was pray and wait. I never let go of her hand, so she would unconsciously know someone was there with her.

I guess I fell asleep, dozing off then startling myself awake. I woke to a man standing next to my sister’s bed. “Who are you?” I asked, darting up from the chair, my hands out to the sides, protecting my sister. After all, I had no clue who did this to her, and for all I knew, it could be him.

“Sorry, I just got here but didn’t want to wake you. I can imagine how hard this is for you. I’m Hudson.”

This was Hudson? Holy crap. If my sister was sleeping with him, it was understandable why. He was nicely dressed in a well-tailored suit with a military cut, straight teeth, and just a little stubble.

“Do you know why she is in this place?” he asked, peering at her.

“Absolutely not. I was hoping you could inform me,” I replied, looking at him anxiously.

He must know something. Why else would he rush down to the hospital?

“The doctors said they don’t know what happened to her. She has been unconscious since she got here. No answers until she wakes up.”

“Until? So that means they think she will?”

“They seem to think she received a concussion during whatever happened, which caused the brain to swell. Her body naturally went into the coma to defend itself. Once the swelling goes down, she should wake up.”

He flashed me a genuine smile. I didn’t think he had anything to do with this. If he did, he hid it well. He seemed genuinely concerned about my sister.





Chapter 2

Hudson

Hearing Lacey was in the hospital upset me. There wasn’t any attraction there, but she was an exceptional employee, very hard-working, and got things done on time. The least I could do was visit her and figure out what was going on. Her sister, Laurel, was fascinating. Her long chestnut hair came down to the small of her back in waves. Don’t even get me started on her body. I nibbled my lip, examining her up and down when she wasn’t paying attention.

I must remember my rule. I only had one. I was not to sleep with the client’s or employee’s family members. My rule was absolute and had kept me out of drama and complications. Observing her, though, compelled me to want to throw my rule out the window. I didn’t want to marry her or anything, but I wouldn’t mind her coming to bed with me. It could be fun.

I sat with her for a couple of hours, getting to know her and Lacey better. I didn’t know much about Lacey, even though I ran a background check on all my employees before hiring them. Most of the time, I just paid attention to the criminal background, but I received so much information. I could probably find out her bank account number if I needed to. My computer guys were extremely good at their jobs. It helped in the security industry.

When my contract with the military had been completed, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life. All I knew was the military, but then my dad had a brilliant idea. He offered to help me start a security company. He introduced me to a couple of folks that helped me establish the company five years ago. It had flourished massively since then.

I didn’t spend too much time at the hospital because if I were Laurel, I would want to spend some alone time with my sister. I couldn’t blame her. She was too nice to kick me out, but I got the subtle hints she had been dropping. “It was delightful to meet you.” I shook her hand and left her to her sister.

When I got back to work, the guys were asking about Lacey. I didn’t want to tell anyone at the office until I knew exactly what was going on. When she didn’t show up for work, most were worried. It just wasn’t like her to be late or miss work altogether. Laurel gave me permission to tell the employees. Instead of walking around to everyone, I sent out a company email.

Company Memo:

Lacey has been in an accident and is currently in a coma. The doctors do not know if she will make it or not. They say she is young, so the chances are better that she will pull through this. If you would like to send her anything, please let me know, and I will take it to her.

Within minutes, I got several responses for flowers and cards. One thing I could say about my employees was they care for one another. It was incredible to observe them react so instantaneously to the email. Within a couple of hours, I had flowers and cards surrounding my table by the window. I wanted to wait for a while before making my way back to the hospital.

Over the next couple of hours, I continued my day as usual. I attended meetings, had lunch, and replied to all my outstanding emails before leaving for the day. I hoped she would be awake by now. Fingers crossed. She was so young and had an full life ahead of her.

Walking through the hospital doors, my hands full, I ventured to Lacey’s room. I heard talking inside when I knocked. “Come in,” Laurel called out.

I opened the door to find Lacey awake. She was all banged up but speaking clearly. I was sure she was in a lot of pain by the looks of her. “Damn, that didn’t take long. You are a fighter,” I said while putting all the cards and flowers down.

Lacey smiled but didn’t reply. It was tremendous to see her awake. She reminded me so much of my little sister; in fact, they were around the same age. I didn’t know what I would do if this had happened to her. I would be at a loss for words. I didn’t stay long because I didn’t want to eat up the time Laurel had with her sister. From the yakking going on, you could tell they hadn’t seen each other in a while.





Chapter 3

Laurel

When Lacey finally woke up, I was ecstatic. She was a little groggy, but she was back. I couldn’t fathom what I would do if I lost her. Sure, we have had our ups and downs, but what siblings haven’t? I still would never wish her any harm, especially this. I didn’t want to bombard her with questions, even though I had so many. Who did this to her? Why? How did she get here? “Do you need anything? A drink? Food?” I said, getting up to get the nurse.

“No, I’m fine right now. How long have I been here?” she asked, looking around the room. I could tell she was freaking out.

“It’s okay, sis. Calm down. Everything is going to be okay. No need to panic; the point is you are awake. That’s all we have wished for,” I said, sitting back at her side with her hand in mine. A tear tried to make an appearance, but I narrowed my eyes and calmed down before it did.

“We? Who is we?” Lacey said, looking around, scared.

“Hudson. Your boss. He had been wondering why you didn’t call in or show up for work. He came down to visit you, and some friends from work even delivered you flowers and stuff, “I said, pointing around the room with a smile.

“Has he been here?”

“Who, Lacey? Has who been here?” I didn’t distinguish who she was talking about. Was she talking about her boyfriend? “If you are referring to your boyfriend, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t know what he looks like, but I haven’t moved from your side besides to go to the bathroom and grab coffee, so I don’t believe so.” I tried to calm her down. She was working herself up, which was causing her blood pressure to rise, and the machine started beeping.

“The police will be here to ask you about what happened. I tried to have them wait, but they insisted,” the nurse said as a police officer walked in.

I could feel the vibe in the room change. Lacey looked worried and scared which she shouldn’t be. They wanted to help her and figure out what caused her injuries.

“Ma’am, I know you have been out of it, but we need some questions answered. It won’t take long, but I need to make a report,” he said, waiting for her response.

“I understand. Go ahead,” Lacey said, pushing herself up on the bed to sit up.

“What caused your injuries?” The police officer put pen to paper, waiting for an answer so that he could jot it down in a hurry.

“Drew. He found out I went out for drinks with some friends from work and freaked. When I got home, he was waiting for me. Initially, I thought he was just furious, but then he flung me to the ground and started kicking and striking me. Frankly, I don’t remember much. I’m sorry,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

“Ma’am, do you have his last name? I will need to get this report written up and filed so we can take action against him.”

“Drew Clayton. He lives here in Dallas, just around the corner from the new Italian restaurant on Cleveland Avenue,” Lacey responded, trying to give him as much information as she could.

I couldn’t believe that asshole did this to her. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions before I had heard her side of the story but now hearing it made me want to vomit. To think, some man did this to my sister. It made me sick to my stomach.

“How did you get here, ma’am?” the police officer asked urgently.

“I don’t remember. The last thing I remember is him kicking me in the face. After that is a blur.”

The police officer finished his notes and thanked Lacey for the information and walked out. I didn’t even want to hear anymore. I couldn’t imagine experiencing something like that. I would be terrified. The unusual thing was that he must have transported her here. How else would she get here? This caused me to feel sicker. The miserable asshole beat her unconscious and then transported her to the hospital? How did no one see him? It made no sense.

Over the following week, Lacey improved. All her tests came back good, and her doctor cleared her to go home. To be honest, I knew she couldn’t wait to leave. Hospitals were never fun, especially when you must stay in one for more than a week. Hell, I was thrilled to sleep in an actual bed and to be able to take a warm shower and put on pj’s.

I pulled the car around to pick her up. As I got out, I heard Lacey complaining that she must be wheeled out in a wheelchair.

“Ma’am, it’s hospital procedure. Do you need help getting in the car?” the nurse asked.

“No, I can do it myself!” Lacey snapped at the nurse.

She didn’t like feeling helpless. I didn’t blame her. Lying in that hospital bed waiting to be released couldn’t have been easy for her. Starting back to college in a couple of days, things needed to get back on track. I wanted to try and help her the best I could. I didn’t want her to feel like I was overstepping my boundaries, but I wanted to make sure she was okay. She couldn’t be mad at me for wanting to be a good sister.





Chapter 4

Laurel

“Laurel, I don’t know if I like you moving so close to me. I mean, I love you, but you don’t even have a job yet. I don’t want you barging into my business.”

My sister gave me no credit. I would never do that. Was I protective of her, yes, but that didn’t mean I was going to follow her around like a puppy. Gosh.

“Listen, Lacey. I won’t overstep my boundaries. I’m capable of it. I expect you to do the same while I’m staying here.”

I set my grocery bags down on the bed, admiring how big the apartment was for the rent. My apartment back home cost twice as much with half the space. However, I’d always kept my spending under wraps. I had enough in savings to tide me over for a couple of months at most.

“Classes and studying keep me busy. I don’t have a social life. Please don’t make things harder.”

I wasn’t her mother. I wasn’t here to babysit her and hold her hand through life. I didn’t know I was going to lose my job when I had flown out here to take care of her. I would go back, but there was nothing left for me. The single thing that detained me there had been my job. I’d thought about splitting a couple of times but didn’t want to leave. They compensated me well, and my task hadn’t been overly stressful or demanding.

“Well, tonight, let’s just order pizza and watch some movies.”

Lacey wasn’t hugely keen on that idea since we had just gotten here from stopping at the grocery store.

“I just spent a shit ton of money on groceries, and you want to order a pizza?”

“Just because we just bought it, doesn’t mean it has to be eaten right away. That’s why they are called groceries.”

After eating pizza and binge-watching movies, Lacey was ready to leave. As I got up to escort her out, my phone dinged.

Shawn: I miss you

Shawn and I dated for about a year but broke up about a month before I came to Dallas. The breakup was not a difficult decision. About a week ago, he called and asked if we could manage a long-distance relationship. I turned him down. I didn’t do long distance. It never worked. Shawn was kind, but I never saw a future with him.

The whole point of my coming here was to help Lacey, and a boyfriend didn’t weigh into that equation. Not to mention, I must find a job within the next month; I cannot deplete my entire life savings and become homeless. Dallas was radically different than the small town in Georgia that Lacey and I grew up in.

I waited to hear Lacey’s door close before heading back inside. Suddenly, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. What was going on? I sensed someone, but no one was nearby. I wanted to check on Lacey, make sure she was fine. I grabbed my purse and keys off the counter. I shut my door and swung my purse, using the momentum to hit as hard as I could. I knew someone had been observing me. Standing a few inches from me was a man. I quickly kneed him in the groin. He groaned and fell over, cupping his precious jewels.

He got up quite lively, his hands gripping around my waist and hoisting me like a rag doll. Spinning around, the man pinned me against the wall and gripped both my wrists. He was fit. I studied my attacker while trying to breathe. I felt like I possibly could be having a panic attack, complete with sweaty palms, an adrenaline rush, increased heart rate, and labored breathing. The defense classes my dad made me take when I was a teenager would finally come in handy. I had to remember to thank him later. The only problem was the man that had me pinned was by far the hottest man I had ever seen in my entire life. Not to mention, he was my sister’s former boss. Who would have known I’d run into him again? Like this? If I had seen him before kneeing him in the groin, maybe my reaction would have been slightly different, although it would still involve his balls. My eyebrow raised with the thought of it.

He was so close to me, and I felt his breath on my face. I took my time observing him. Dark-brown eyes and a few days of stubble gave his face a touch of masculinity. He had multiple scars on his face that told me he was no stranger to being attacked.

I kept projecting images of him in between my thighs with that stubble tickling my skin. My whole body tingled with electricity. This sensation wasn’t unfamiliar, but it only happened when I was on the brink of an orgasm.

If it hadn’t been for already recognizing him, I might have propositioned him.

“What the hell is your problem?”

His breath smelled like grapes, distracting me from his question while his eyes darted down to my mouth. In the past, I never handled these situations correctly. I had never been pinned to a wall by a man I had just kneed in the groin. Hudson being angry made me exceedingly uncomfortable right now. I needed to gain control of myself. His body being pressed up against mine didn’t help.

“You can’t sneak up on me and expect not to get kneed. Defending myself is what I was doing,” I explained with a half shrug, my hands still pinned above my head.

“I wasn’t sneaking up on you. It looked like you were going to the apartment next to mine, which has been vacant for months. It made me suspicious.”

A nervous chuckle escaped. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was intense. Don’t grind against him. Do not request him to bang you in this hallway right now.

“I’m going to let you go, but don’t assault me again,” he warned, inspecting me for a few seconds before releasing me. I shook my hands, trying to get feeling back in my arms. Who knew how long we had been standing against the wall like that? It felt like an hour. A mighty thud sounded from the floor above us.

His black pants looked a little dirty, and his tie was loose. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone, giving me a glimpse of a tattoo on the upper left part of his chest. The poor guy had bags under his eyes. He likely just got off work and came home to an insane woman assaulting him. I was such a bitch.

“What kind of pizza do you like?”

Hudson looked at me like I’d just struck him across his face. His brows furrowed.

I kept inquiring what he liked until he ultimately provided me an answer. Pepperoni. A good thing because I had some pizza in my apartment. I felt terrible and wanted to make it up to him. No way I would have attacked him if I had known it was Hudson.

I picked up his keys off the floor and unlocked his door. His apartment was a typical unmarried man’s home. Leather couch, huge TV, and not much else. The one thing I could say about it was that it was clean. Heck, it was more polished than my house was most of the time. I looked around for any clue that a woman lived here. No decorations, pictures, or frilly curtains. He was definitely single.

He excused himself to utilize the bathroom, so I took the opportunity to go next door and gather the pizza. I made it back before he even realized I ever left.

“You sure you don’t like meat lovers? Most men like meat, right? Large sausage for you.”

“You need to leave,” he yelled, going as far as pushing me gently. I hadn’t forgotten where the exit was yet.

“Certainly not. I’m free for the rest of the night. Heat up the pizza, my treat. I feel horrible.”

“Believe me, you got lucky. You wouldn’t have placed a hand on me if I had been prepared.”

I laughed. “You let me knee you? Wow, the kinky sex life you are hiding,” I said with a wink.

All I could think about was him binding me up, showing off his muscles, and making me scream. Thank God, he didn’t catch sight of me looking toward the bedroom.

“Do you use plates or just eat out of the box?” I asked but didn’t receive a reply.

We both ate in absolute silence. To say it was uncomfortable was the understatement of the century.





Chapter 5

Hudson

So, I had an unknown neighbor. The room next to me had been vacant for some time. I had been used to not dealing with noisy neighbors. Especially ones who liked to attack unprovoked and take a shot at my balls.

I was thrilled none of my friends were there to witness that because I’d never hear the end of it. My job might be a little dangerous, but I’d never hesitated. I spent years serving in the military, and they demonstrated how valuable a few seconds were during a crisis. However, Laurel shoving pizza down her throat and watching TV on my couch, I could not have prepared for and probably never would.

“I think it’s time for you to leave.”

Her eyes gazed down into my lap. It twitched.

“You always carry a gun?” she asked intently.

It sounded like a sexual innuendo, and my lower half agreed. Her eyes stopped at my ankle, where my gun was sitting in its holster.

“Ordinary people don’t carry around guns on their ankles. Are you an assassin?” she asked like she was seriously considering that I was an assassin. I couldn’t help but laugh on the spot.

“Have you observed many assassins?” I asked while continuing to laugh at this woman. She was hilarious.

“Of course not. Only in movies but they ordinarily have ankle holsters,” she said as her one eyebrow shot up. I tried to keep myself from smiling. No need for her to know I thought she was mildly amusing. Her long, chestnut hair was pulled up into a high bun, showing off her glowing complexion. Her top was practically painted on, hugging a set of perky breasts that would fit in my hands nicely.

For a moment, I thought about kissing her. I didn’t care that her mouth was filled with food. Knowing my rule, I stopped myself. I was not banging my next-door neighbor. It would only end tragically for both of us. That didn’t stop me from thinking about how amazing she would look naked underneath me.

I didn’t escort women back to my apartment; shit, I didn’t sleep with anyone within a 15-mile radius and never exchanged phone numbers. I had no desire to run into any of my hookups. Besides one girlfriend in high school, I had never slept with the same woman twice.

I had a feeling Laurel would be down for a mild night of mind-blowing orgasms, but it would be impossible not to run into her.

One thing that intrigued me was she made her craziness visible. I would love to taste her, but it wasn’t worth the consequences.

“Time for you to go,” I said while thrusting her toward the door. Then I pushed her out the door and latched it in her face. Her presence was placing me on edge.

A few minutes later, I heard her knocking but not on my door. We shared a bedroom wall.

“You know what’s cool? We can talk without ever having to see each other.”

I couldn’t move. If she heard me, then maybe she would start talking again. After about ten minutes of quiet, I had to take a shower and get ready for bed.

Hudson Securities, the private security firm I owned, was growing so fast that I could barely keep up, but I shouldn’t complain. We could now be more selective about the jobs we took on, but it was still difficult to turn down the crucial ones.

My current client, a senator, came to me wanting personal security for their anniversary dinner. The pay was outstanding, and it was a steady job. It had turned into a lot of jobs for that particular family. The monumental downfall, his wife desired me. Every time she stopped by, she came into my office and practically threw herself at me. Running out of subtle ways to decline her invitations, my employees now warned me when she came into the building, so I could hide out in the bathroom. It was a little childish, but I didn’t want to lose her husband’s business.

Tomorrow, I had a couple of interviews to replace Lacey. If it hadn’t been for her, our records would be a mess. The problem with working with all men was that they couldn’t keep shit organized. Before Lacey, my oldest sister was the office manager. When she quit, her exit was loud. She was done putting up with “man-children.” Ever since then, the pay went up, and the guys were coached to be more respectful.

Walking into work at the crack of dawn the following morning, I was dreading the day ahead of me and still thinking of Laurel.

“Morning, boss,” Justin, my best friend since high school, greeted me with a mocking grin. We enlisted in the military together straight after graduation. I chose the Navy, and he decided on the Marines. No matter what, we always kept in touch. When his contract ended, I offered him a job. The military transformed us both, but our friendship always remained the same.

A vision of Laurel popped into my head. I couldn’t make heads nor tails of what happened last night. Many times, I had to hide a laugh or smile. I realized I did startle her, so I’d cut her some slack. My first thought when I woke up was of her, even though I continue to fight it.

Powering on my computer, I needed to get ready for the day. Paperwork consumed me for the first hour of my day until my first interviewee was set to arrive. I was extremely frustrated; they never showed up for their interview.

I wanted to write DO NOT HIRE, but I couldn’t find her resume in the five hundred papers scattered around my office. I preferred my life to be tidy, and right now, it was cluttered.

Someone was knocking on my office door. I hoped it wasn’t her. Although it wasn’t one of my employees because they just walked right into my office. Getting up to open the door, my back ached. Sleep didn’t come frequently, and when it did, it didn’t last long.

I opened the door to a squeal. What the hell? This had to be a joke. “Umm. Laurel? What are you doing here?”

“I’m your new assistant, silly.”

I was considering telling an employee to escort her out of my building. “My new assistant? You are that confident?” My voice cracked, redirecting it up a couple of octaves.

“Yes, after last night, I figured I wouldn’t even have to interview.”

“Wow, I’m going to stop you right there.” Laurel’s brows shot up at the interruption. “I’m sorry you got the incorrect impression, but I don’t do the friend thing.”

“Friends?”

“There is no way I can employ you.”

“Just give me one chance,” she pleaded with me.

“Absolutely not.”

“Give me today to prove to you I can do the job. I’ve been doing this for ten years. If by the end of the day, you still don’t think I’m right for the job, then I won’t fight it.”

I’ve never been foolish, yet here I was, considering her offer. “You won’t bug me at home either?” A slight bit of regret came over me. Did I desire her to leave me alone? Affirmative, accepting her in my life would be a mistake. Hurt flashed through her eyes as she agreed.

One look and only a few words were all it took for her to get under my skin. Her presence put me on edge. For the second time, I flung my door in her face.





Chapter 6

Laurel

What was it about Hudson that transformed me into the most inferior version of myself? Okay, I’d always been outspoken and more than a little crazy on my own, but usually, I was more competent at hiding it. Not with him. I’d vomited all my inferior qualities out since the day I made contact with him. I had no filter around him. No sign of it coming back either. I was blunt, but it had at no time been a problem for me. I didn’t blurt out offensive or hurtful things. One thing about me, I had many quirks. Why must I sabotage myself?

On my lunch break, Lacey called, and I filled her in on what happened last night. She laughed nonstop for the next ten minutes. I wanted to punch her. Why was it so humorous? Why didn’t she tell me he was my neighbor? I could have been more prepared.

“Laurel, I swear your life should be a sitcom.”

I’d always been able to hide my craziness until at least the fourth or fifth date. I always waited to unleash it. “I got to get back to work. It could be my first and last day.”

“How’s the first day?”

I didn’t want to talk to her anymore after she laughed hysterically at my situation last night, but the clock showed I still had ten minutes. I didn’t remember to bring lunch, so my stomach was gurgling loudly. “Did you know he has a prosthetic?”

“Absolutely not. Although you have occupied more time outside of the office with him than I have.”

“I detected it last night during our debacle. The metal stroked my thigh. I almost asked him about it last night but refrained.”

“Good. Only you would ask someone you barely know a personal question like that. Well, hopefully it gets better. One piece of advice though: only speak to Hudson if he invites you in his office. He hates to be interrupted.”

“Thanks, sis. Time to go.”

Before lunch, I managed to get Hudson’s office cleaned and all of his papers organized. Optimistically, it would influence him. It was the first thing he mentioned before my time started here.

As I was leaving the breakroom, Andrew walked in. They all seemed to be put off by my flirtatious personality, but no actual flirting was intended. Depending on Hudson, they may never see me again after today.

Walking back to my temporary desk, I ran into Hudson, almost knocking him down. “Boss, I’m sorry. I didn’t you coming around the corner.” I glanced down and noticed his coffee had spilled all over his pants, making him look like he peed himself.

“Damn it, I have a meeting in half an hour. I can’t go like this!” he yelled, pointing at his crotch.

What he didn’t realize was he just invited me to stare. “Would you like me to stall for you while you go home and change?”

“Absolutely not. I keep a suit in my office just in case. I’ll go change.”

Walking into his office, I could tell quickly he was upset. “What the fuck happened here?”

“I tidied up a bit. This morning you said you wished your office was cleaner, and now it is.”

“Who said you had permission to go into my office?”

I tried everything in my power not to roll my eyes, but I failed. He should be appreciative, not upset. All his files had been alphabetized, the floor cleaned, and all objects dusted. His office looked immaculate. Why was he so livid, nostrils flaring and face beet red? “Calm down. I wouldn’t have done it had I known you were going to be so upset. However, you never told me I wasn’t allowed in your office.”

He was becoming unstable and getting angrier by the second. When he started yelling at me, heat traveled up my spine and flushed my face. I wanted to scream at him so badly, but I wanted this job.

“Hudson Lee Finnegan!” A woman yelled his name. I turned the other way to find an elderly woman and one around my sister’s age.

“Mom, what are you doing here?”

I couldn’t keep my laughter inside. Hudson darted his crazed eyes at me, informing me to shut up without using words. I couldn’t help it. You could tell he listened to her. A few of the guys were laughing and mocking him now.

“Why are you yelling at this poor young girl? I raised you better than that.”

He apologized to his mom and then to me. His mom gripped my arm and steered me to the breakroom.

Once she sat down, I urged her to reveal to me all his most embarrassing moments. Instead of giving me what I wanted, she said, “I got a message from Andrew saying a woman walked in and demanded a job. I wanted to witness it for myself but seeing him yelling at you is great.”

“You enjoy the fact your son was yelling at me?” My resting bitch face gave up my anger.

She smiled. “My son doesn’t convey emotion. In fact, since he’s been back, he hasn’t lost his temper until you showed up. He’s quite the control freak too. Most of us do anything to rile him up, but he doesn’t laugh or smile.”

Taking all this in made me very depressed. Emotions were part of human nature. How could he function? “So, are you saying he is always this broody?”

“Yes!”

She couldn’t be serious. Did this mean he despised me so much that he gave up his control to yell at me? Knowing all this new information made me feel like utter crap.

“A girl as pretty as you should never frown. Show off that beautiful smile.”

I knew Lorelai was trying to cheer me up, but it didn’t work.

“Can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll ensure you maintain this position if you keep accomplishing what you are doing. You being in this place is encouraging him to show emotion, and you have made more progress in one day than we have in years.”

Thinking about her offer seemed wrong. What happened if he blew up? What was I supposed to do? I needed this job.

She already knew my answer because she said, “This is going to work. I know it.” She geared me up with things he despised but also loved. She didn’t just want me to piss him off but make him happy too. Lorelai snatched my phone and programmed three numbers into it. “I’ve added myself as well as Kate and Christina.”

When we parted ways, I no longer felt sorry about driving Hudson crazy. His mom had me pestering him. I just didn’t want to let her down. There was no more worry about losing my job or finding my filter around Hudson. This was where I wholeheartedly dug into my top-secret mission.





Chapter 7

Hudson

Nothing could make me feel like less than a man when my mom stormed into my building and called me by my full name in front of all of my employees. She even demanded I hire Laurel, even though I can’t stand her, and she told me that she would inflict pain if I fired her. I was thirty-four years old and operated my own successful company, yet my mom still advised me what to do. Some would tell me to grow a pair, but they hadn’t met my mom or at least hadn’t seen her angry.

My father advised me very early on that you treated women with respect but even more so, you learned to pick your battles. Over the course of the preceding thirty years, I’d never chosen to battle my mother. That was because she always won.

If my mom wanted me to hire her, then it was done. I felt a little bad for going apeshit on her earlier, but she had invaded my space. Before today, I didn’t think I had ever even raised my voice at a woman. I knew I needed to apologize, but that didn’t mean it would happen.

I ran a background check on all my employees—it was procedure—but I wanted a more thorough one on Laurel. I hit up my guy to see what he could find. Results would require more than a couple of days.

It was getting late when I finally left the office, but when I got to the apartment building, I tried to be as quiet as I could so Laurel didn’t overhear me. I’d dealt with enough of her craziness today. Who knew, she could assault me again. When I got inside safely, a breath of relief spilled out.

After taking a shower and eating, it was finally time for bed except I felt like I was yearning for something. On the other side of my wall, she was vacuuming and doing dishes. Why was I irritated she wasn’t banging on my wall? All I wanted was peace, but did I or was I lying to myself?

I heard the shower and her faintly singing. How had I never noticed how thin the walls were? Oh yeah, because she was my first neighbor since I had moved in. I couldn’t help it. At that point, I was not thinking with the right head. All I could picture was the water hitting her perky breasts and massaging soap all over her body. I tried to stop but I couldn’t.

I wished instead of my coarse hands, it could have been her. I pictured closing my mouth on her. After this, I wasn’t sure what happened, but the next thing I knew, my alarm was blaring. I rarely missed work, but today I was considering it. I didn’t feel like I had slept at all. At long last, I said fuck it and got dressed. I was sure Laurel would make me regret my decision.

Last night, I took care of myself while thinking of her, but that was all it could be since she was now my employee. Why did I have to be physically attracted to her? I wouldn’t lie. I kept telling myself I didn’t want to see her but at the same time, I did. The fact that I couldn’t even think straight when she was nearby scared the shit out of me. I needed my control back. This meant she needed to go.

The fact my mom liked her made this even harder. I needed to uncover something that made her look bad. That was going to be a challenge, but I’d never shied away from one.

As I neared the building, I thought through all the things I’d learned about Laurel. The most prominent thing about her was she wasn’t intimidated easily. When I blew up on her in front of everybody, she never blinked which meant she was incredibly confident. Usually, being confident was a turn on, but she followed it with craziness. I needed her to fail which meant I needed to find her vulnerable spot and utilize it to my advantage.

This transported me back to my second tour where I oversaw finding and bringing back a person wanted by the government. We couldn’t just jump up and go. Absolutely not, we had to plot a plan and then follow that plan to a T, so it didn’t backfire. They couldn’t figure out we were coming. The element of surprise, sneaking in quietly while everyone slept, was how the mission was completed without any casualties.

This was how I needed to handle this situation with Laurel, gain her trust and act surprised when she screwed up. Now, I needed to be nice to her and get on her kind side for this to work. A plan was required to make it to the end game. I could work on this later. The elevator was taking me up, and I needed to be nice so cue my drama acting from high school.

When the doors opened, Laurel was sitting at her desk which was right in front of my office.

“Good morning, boss. Here is your coffee, black with two sugars, like you prefer.” She greeted me with a smile.

I needed to be nice which meant I needed to thank her, but I didn’t. I grabbed the coffee and walked straight into my office. Laurel got up and followed me. “Sir, don’t forget you have a conference call at nine. Around noon, after lunch, I will let everyone know that’s when you will begin your callbacks.”

Wow, she was on top of her game today. Her hair was down in messy curls, and she was showing off in a black skirt. I couldn’t help but notice how amazing her ass looked today. I stopped myself from staring because I needed to prepare for my meeting.

“Much obliged. That would be perfect.”

A genuine smile lit up her face, but I felt awkward. Why was it that only a few minutes had passed, and she had left me feeling drained and empty?

Focus. I couldn’t think about her right now. I needed to be productive and prepare for my meeting, not think about hot, little brunettes!





Chapter 8

Laurel

I received a text from Lorelai requesting me to meet up with her at a coffee shop around the corner from work. Hudson wouldn’t even notice I was gone while he was in his meeting. I pondered what she wanted to meet about. Had she changed her mind? Surely, she couldn’t have changed it that quickly. When I entered the coffee shop, I saw Lorelai with Hudson’s sisters, I presumed. One of them was with Lorelai yesterday. She introduced us as I sat down. His sisters looked nothing like him. They were identical to Lorelai or at least what I would assume she would have looked like many years ago. “So, what is going on? Have you changed your mind?” I asked the question, but I didn’t want to hear the answer. I needed this job. What would I do if it fell through?

She laughed. “Of course not, sweetie. We wanted to conspire with you and discuss some ideas.”

This made me a little more at ease. I wondered what crazy plans she or his sisters had come up with. I couldn’t wait to hear. Although I needed to try and hide my craziness. People didn’t always take to me so quickly. I was a great deal to take in all at once.

Christina seemed quirky like me. She was the younger sister. She didn’t have a filter, whereas Kate seemed more like Hudson. This caused the situation to be a little more uncomfortable, talking about it in front of her. I couldn’t tell if this was how she was or if she was faking it to make me nervous.

Lorelai started talking about ideas of how to stir things up for Hudson. Her motives were utterly genuine. I felt like I could become close to these women. They were all so down-to-earth. Nothing like Hudson, that was for sure. She asked me how I was doing working for Hudson. “It’s going fine besides the fact he’s an ass. He’s so uptight. Maybe I should book him for a deep tissue massage. Work out some of those knots.”

“I know, maybe I’ll do that. Slip it into our next conversation over dinner. He will loathe it, but it might do him some good.”

His sister knew how much of a pain in the ass it was, having done it herself for a year. Over the course of the next hour, she told me multiple stories about things that had happened in the office while she had been his assistant.

“Let’s get back on track here. Your brother is off his wagon when this woman is nearby. I don’t know why, but he is. With her working so closely with him, he is bound to let go of some emotion,” Lorelai explained to her daughters.

“Wow, that doesn’t make me feel very good. I don’t know what it is about me that irks him so badly.”

They grinned and ensured me that it wasn’t a shocking thing. Sure, not to them but it was for me. I didn’t need the man blowing up on me all the time. Who knew how long I could keep my mouth shut? I didn’t take shit from anybody, especially egotistical, arrogant men.

Lorelai had invited some of the guys from the office to help with the plan. They shifted chairs over, squeezing into our table. For the next two hours, everyone was shouting out ideas and coming up with plans, but I was not paying attention. It wasn’t that I minded doing this for Lorelai, but why did so many people have to be involved? Inevitably, one of them would spill the beans, and then I could lose my job.

From what I could tell, no grand plans were made. Finally, I decided it was time to leave. Hudson would be out of his meeting shortly, and I needed to be there. Hopefully, not a lot of people called while I was gone. If so, I would never hear the end of it.

I made it back about five minutes before Hudson’s meeting was over, which was just enough time for me to listen to voicemails and write the names and numbers down for him to return after lunch. He would never know I had been gone for the last two hours, conspiring to make him combust.

“I am going out for lunch. You can set my messages on my desk. I’ll return them when I get back. This means I am permitting you to put the messages on my desk, not rummage through anything.”

He said it like I wanted to go to his office and go through his things. Well, he was right. I wanted to know more about him. He spent most of his time at work, which meant this was the best place to find out personal things about him. I already knew how he liked his coffee, but what did he like to eat? I knew he enjoyed pizza since we had eaten it together, but what else? I thought about following him while he went to get food, but I didn’t want to seem too stalkerish. I stayed at my desk and searched the internet to pass the time.

About an hour later, Hudson returned with a to-go box and a man. I wasn’t sure who the man was, but it must be a client. I didn’t greet him when he came in. I figured if he needed something, he would ask. The man was in his office for about two hours, and many people had called to ask when they would be hearing back from him. “Hudson?” I asked as I knocked on his office door.

He hollered at me to come in. I could tell he was upset, but this was critical. I knew he had a client inside, but his other clients mattered too. “Sorry to bother you. I have a couple of clients asking when they can expect a call back from you. It’s on the brink of time to go home for the day.”

“Let them know I will call them back shortly. Tell them I am in a critical meeting right now,” he said and then motioned me to get out of his office.

Sometimes I wondered why people even liked him. He was such an ass. Next, I thought who the hell was the guy in his office? Was he that big of a client that Hudson could blow off the others? He was the boss, but that wasn’t a smart move from my point of view.

Five o’clock came, and I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for him to return his messages. He was a big boy; he could handle that by himself. I tidied up my desk, clutched my purse, and hiked it out of there. The man was still in his office, and no calls had been returned yet. I decided it wasn’t a job that was on the line when he didn’t return the calls. I can’t hold his hand like a child. I don’t get paid enough for that. I jumped in my car and headed home. As I parked and walked up the stairs, my phone rang. “Hello?”

“Where are you?” Hudson asked.

“I’m just getting home. What do you need?”

“Well, none of these calls got returned. I will need you to call them in the morning when you get in and schedule the best time to call them back tomorrow.”

Jeez, why couldn’t he call them before he left the office? Maybe he shouldn’t have had that man in there for almost four hours. His day had been unproductive, but instead of refusing to do it, I smiled and replied, “Yes, sir.”

I put my key into my door and peeled off my heels before I even made it to the couch. Why does being a woman have to be so damn painful? I liked wearing heels because they always gave an outfit that extra oomph. Every day, I complained about wearing heels when I got home, then I turned around and put them on every morning. Go figure.

My night was short and uneventful. I cooked up some pasta and ate in front of the TV, bingeing my latest show choice, then I passed out before nine o’clock. I’m such an old lady.





Chapter 9

Hudson

Like yesterday, I woke up with Laurel on my mind. Sure, I needed to get rid of her, but she had been doing a great job. She answered all my calls, rerouted them to the correct person, filed correctly, got me coffee every morning, and heck she even tried to make sure I did my job. She hadn’t been pushy since that first day, much. I think maybe she received the hint when I yelled at her in front of the whole office. Stay out of my personal space.

I needed to find someone to help me plot out a plan. Maybe my buddy, Chris? He was the only one that wouldn’t have doubts about double-crossing a woman. He was already running an extensive background check on her for me.

Once I got to work, I headed directly to his office where I discovered him eating his breakfast and checking emails. Ordinarily, he was here all the time. It was like he never left. No matter what time I came in or left, he was always here. I guess it was an excellent thing he was rewarded a salary, or I’d be bankrupt. “Have you discovered anything?”

“Results haven’t come in just yet. What do you need it for?” Chris asked.

“I’m trying to get rid of Laurel. My mom conned me into hiring her.”

He didn’t seem to want to get involved in my plan. I couldn’t force him to do it ethically. It wasn’t something he had to do for me.

“Do you have it out for her?”

I sighed. “No, I just don’t like my mom making me hire a woman that I didn’t want to hire in the first place.”

“I have only heard good things about her from the other guys. What has she done wrong?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. I couldn’t possibly tell him the story of finding out she was my neighbor. Although, her being my neighbor wouldn’t be a secret for long. Someday, she would become close to someone at the office. Forget it. I didn’t want to bring him into it.





Chapter 10

Laurel

My rapidly growing attraction to Hudson was overwhelming. He remained a dick but such a hot one. I grasped what the end game was for Lorelai, but I didn’t expect it to impact me.

Since the first time I encountered him in the hospital, there had been an attraction. To be honest, I had tried coming up with ways to visit him at Hudson Industries, but I couldn’t come up with anything until I heard from Lacey that he was hiring an assistant. Well, then, of course, I assaulted him in the hallway of our apartment. Not an excellent impression. It didn’t stop me from picturing his body pressed against mine while his hands held my wrists above my head, and my thoughts only got dirtier from there. I wouldn’t lie when I say I fell asleep that night after pleasuring myself while thinking of him. That did make my interview a little nerve-racking because I didn’t know if he heard me through the thin walls.

Now, per Lorelai, I was to rile him up and try to get him to evoke emotion. She wanted her baby boy back. She told me stories of him before he entered the military. He had been a social, upbeat person, but now he was brooding and uptight. I guess the military could do that to someone, but surely, we could fix it. Bring the old Hudson back.

Working with him on a daily basis made it hard, especially when he was furious because it was hard to tell if the look in his eyes had been lust or anger. Whenever I was inches away from him, butterflies took over my stomach. I couldn’t help it.

Sitting down at my desk, acting normal, I made a record of all the voicemails left since we went home last night and put them on his desk. I didn’t disturb anything while in there per his request. I could follow basic directions. I wasn’t that crazy.

He walked past me, and I smelled his cologne, which made the butterflies appear again. Go the hell away. Today he was wearing a navy suit. I wanted to take him out of that. You don’t know how much I wanted to unbutton his shirt with my teeth and grip him to see what sound he would cry out. Woefully, my nipples became erect and were now visible through my shirt. “Good morning, sir,” I said while sitting down at my desk. I needed to stay busy today. Keep my mind occupied.

A few hours later, I was walking back from lunch when I rounded the corner, knocking him to the ground again, except this time I fell on top of him. I could feel the metal of his prosthetic but also the swell in his pants. Someone was getting aroused. This made me tingle. Do not have an orgasm right now. Get off your boss.

It was easier said than done. I couldn’t help but kiss him. Of course, I overheard someone coming and immediately got off him. We both went back to our desks, but he closed his door. What did I do? Why did I do that? Damn it, Laurel. Keep your shit together. I wanted to apologize to him for doing that. If someone would have caught us, who knew what the office gossip would be. Instead of knocking, I walked right into his office.

“Get out!” he yelled at me.

Hudson was standing there shirtless.

“You like what you see?” he said while buttoning up his shirt.

I did. I liked what I saw, for sure. His sculpted abs and defined shoulders. I wanted to run my hands all over his body, just once. Would he let me?

“Can you blame me? I’m a woman. It was kind of hard not to stare at you while shirtless.”

I picked up his shirt which I noticed had a stain on it. He must have spilled his coffee on it. I’d get it cleaned.

“I want to make something clear right now; nothing can happen between us. I’m your boss. It violates many rules, including one of my own.”

The kiss had been a mistake. I made my way out of his office and kept busy at my desk. I didn’t want to look at him. When five o’clock hit, I rushed out the door to go home. I didn’t want to run into him there either. My feelings were hurt, but I accepted his reasoning. He was right. He was my boss, and it broke many rules.

That must have influenced him because he didn’t show up to work for the next couple of days. Where was he? All the employees said it wasn’t like him to miss work. In fact, in the last two years, he hadn’t missed but one day. Suddenly, I was here, and he missed several in a row. That didn’t look good. I hadn’t even seen him around his apartment.

Even though he hadn’t been to work, I received an email every day with tasks to do in his absence. All I could do was complete the tasks and sit around. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t complain about getting paid to do nothing, but you can only watch so many videos before you are just bored out of your mind.

Sitting at my desk, I got a sudden thought to look him up on social media. There was no trace of him anywhere. An adult man that didn’t have social media? That was odd. Everyone had social media.

I got this bright idea to make a profile for him. I wouldn’t catfish anyone or post, but he required one. How else was he going to socialize with people outside of work?

I went home, threw on some comfy pants, and took my seat on the couch. I couldn’t say Hudson’s mistake conversation hadn’t hurt my feelings, but was he not coming to work because of it? We were both adults. I wasn’t going to tell anyone about what happened. Was he concerned I would?





Chapter 11

Hudson

One thing I had to say about my family was they liked to stay close. They sometimes reminded me of the 80s’ family sitcoms. My parents tried to have us over for dinner every Sunday night to catch up, like so much happened in a week. It didn’t.

The thing I hated most about these dinners was that they would try to rile me up, especially my sisters. Most dinners ended up with me leaving before dinner was over. Yeah, that made me a dick but whatever. I didn’t care. I shouldn’t have to put up with that around my family. Sure, they had good intentions, but it was for them, not me. My family wanted me to be happy, but I was fine. So what if I wasn’t grinning all the time or running around with friends every night. I was content with my life the way it was.

My time in the military had transformed me. I could agree I was not the same person when I came back. Most aren’t. I left with both my legs and came back with one. Things like that tend to affect people. The first year with the prosthetic was depressing. I felt ashamed, didn’t want to go in public, and never left my house. I felt emasculated. Who would want to date someone with one leg? It wasn’t just the prosthetic; it was all the things I’d seen happen with my sisters, friends, and complete strangers. When you turned on the TV, there was always something horrifying happening somewhere. Whether the reason for that, it was constant.

I didn’t talk a great deal to my family about the reason I was this way, no need to take them down too, but fighting overseas took its toll on me. Most people focused on the good and tried to forget the bad. I was the opposite. I only saw the bad things happening because they overshadowed the good. The only good thing I hadn’t forgotten was the fact that I was an owner of a company.

While in the military, everyone couldn’t wait to get back home to their families. Most of them had wives and kids, but I didn’t. My life was the military. I’d never fantasized about going home as they did. That made me odd, I know, but at least I was candid. Military life provided me with structure. I might not know what was going to happen every day, but I was damn sure trained to handle almost any situation that was thrown at me. Each mission had an end goal. I would achieve that goal and then move toward the next one.

Before the military, senior year, I had to decide what I wanted to do after high school. I could go to college. Although up to eighteen, my parents had made most choices for me, they couldn’t choose the path I was going to take next. It was up to me.

I longed for structure again. I wanted to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. That was why I joined the military straight out of high school. Of course, my mom wasn’t thrilled. I joined anyway.

All my life I’d never really voiced my fear of not knowing what was coming next. What would happen to me tomorrow? Soldiers didn’t talk like that. When I got honorably discharged from the military, I had nothing. I didn’t go to college, so I couldn’t fall back on a degree. I couldn’t do anything extensive because of the prosthetic. That’s when the idea for Hudson Industries came in, and now here I was. The man I was today.

Honestly, my company was the best thing that ever happened to me. I could employ veterans who were like me, who didn’t have anything to fall back on besides their military experience.

It was the one piece of my life that made the best sense, and I was bypassing it because of Laurel. In a horrible mood, I made my way to my mother’s house, waiting to enjoy the smell of freshly cooked southern comfort foods.

“There you are! You’re late!” my mom screamed across the house.

“Can I help you with anything?” I asked, but I always got the same reply. She was not a woman that wanted help in the kitchen. It was her kitchen, leave her be. I made my way into the den when I heard, “Rolls are in the oven, Lorelai.”

Laurel walked into the den with a smile. I almost smiled right then, but why? This woman drove me nuts, but she always made me smile at the sight of her. How could it be both ways? Was I going crazy? My mom followed her out and asked, “Why don’t you give her a tour while I finish up dinner?”

Why did my mom invite her to dinner? Something was going on, but I did as she requested. First was my mom’s garden in the backyard. There was something about Laurel that riled me up but always calmed me down at the same time. I never knew what reaction she would elicit from me next. I wasn’t sure how I should feel about it. I needed to start up a conversation. There had been enough awkward glances and silence. “So how has Lacey been doing?” I wanted to know, but I also really wanted to talk to her.

“She’s good. Back at school. All the bruises and cuts are healed. That asshole hasn’t contacted her.”

“Asshole? Did you find out what happened?”

“He beat the daylights out of her.”

I didn’t know she was beaten. Poor Lacey. She was a sweet girl; she didn’t deserve that. “How is she handling it? She hasn’t been by.”

“She hasn’t told our parents. Doesn’t want to worry them.”

I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like for her. For someone you trust and have a relationship with to treat you like that. There was one of those bad things again. “Did she press charges at least? Please tell me she did?” I asked with genuine concern for her safety.

“He’s in jail and awaiting trial. I don’t know how she is going to face him, but I think after the trial, she will be able to move on and become herself again.”

At that point, we were interrupted by my mom. “Dinner is served. Come dig in.”

One thing about my mom, you come when you are told. She devotes hours to preparing the food; you never made her wait for it to get eaten.

“Don’t tell anyone about Lacey. She doesn’t want anyone to know. I don’t even know why I told you. Shit.” Laurel’s arm touched mine, and I bit my lip.

The dinner went fine. I stayed the entire time. Everyone was shocked. I tried to pick out hints as to why she had been invited to dinner, but I gave up. Seeing her outside her norm, or the office, Laurel was not that bad. Oh no, she was growing on me.

Laurel and I left at separate times. Hell, if I had known she was coming, then we could’ve carpooled. What the fuck was I thinking? No, no carpool. This woman was having a funny effect on me. Did I like her or not? Did I despise her or not? I couldn’t seem to make up my mind.

When I got home, I headed directly to the shower. I imagined what she was doing on the other side of the wall. My dirty side got the best of me. Was she in the shower, letting the lukewarm water penetrate her delicate skin?

Enough! I turned off the shower and draped the towel around my waist. I got a peculiar feeling she was standing outside my door.





Chapter 12

Laurel

His door swung ajar, and I froze. Was this a dream? Come on, haven’t you ever had a dream of a man answering his door in just a towel before? I have many times, especially about Hudson. Although, the real deal proved considerably more interesting. I didn’t say a word. I was way too busy examining every inch of his body that I could see. Broad shoulders, abs, and scars. Scars from his time in the military, I was certain.

As I moved down his body, no prosthetic.

Without even comprehending it, I traced one of the scars on his pec. I wouldn’t have done it if I had thought about it first. He had already made it very clear that we weren’t becoming anything. Why was I torturing myself with this man?

Examining his body again, I heard the door click behind us. When did we move? He didn’t tell me to stop or leave, nor did he yell at me yet. Was this progress we were making? “So, what are you doing?” I said, trying to lighten the mood.

“Standing here half-naked, allowing a girl to check me out. Not awkward at all,” he said sarcastically.

This was the first time I’d ever heard him have a sense of humor. I liked it. The way he had said it made it seem playful. I could tell he felt vulnerable.

“I forgot my prosthetic. Let me go put that on. No one besides family has ever seen me without it,” he said, turning away to head toward his bedroom.

“You don’t need to. Be yourself. You don’t have to put it on because of me.” I wanted to let him know it didn’t bother me. Who cared if he had a prosthetic? I didn’t. He was still sexy even without it. I didn’t want him to feel vulnerable with me like that. He didn’t need to shut down when around me. I desired him to open up and be the sarcastic guy.

Wait, did he say no one had ever seen him without it? What did he do when he fornicated with women? Leave it on? I mean, I couldn’t say I knew how that worked, but it looked excruciating to have to wear.

“What about your girlfriends or people you have slept with?” I wanted to punch myself in the face because it was none of my business. “Never mind.” I didn’t want to look at him. I was straddling boundaries that he explicitly asked me not to cross and for a legitimate reason. “What happened?” I asked as I retraced his scars.

His eyes were shut, his jaw clenched. “Demons caused this, right? Things that haunt you from the military? How do you not let that consume you? I can’t imagine what you endured over there.”

“How do you figure?” he replied.

“You run your own company, employ fellow soldiers. Not saying you are perfect, but you are a good person.” He probably didn’t want to hear it, but it was true. It had taken me until now to realize it.

He just stared at me.

“I can’t control how you feel about yourself, but that’s what I think.” I couldn’t stop talking. Why couldn’t I just shut up? For some reason, I was nervous which was making me ramble. Fuck.

“How do you feel?” Hudson asked me, looking sharply into my eyes.

I grasped what he was asking. “It doesn’t matter. You have made that clear already.” I wanted to kiss him so badly. He was right here, half-naked, and I should, but I don’t. If he made the first move, then that was on him, but he had requested me not to overstep boundaries, so I wouldn’t.

I turned the other way to leave, but he restrained me by grasping my arm and spinning me around, forcing my eyes to meet his.

“Tell me; I want to know, Laurel. Please?” he begged.

He was caressing me tenderly with his calloused hands, gazing into my eyes. I didn’t want to break eye contact because who knew if I would ever get the chance to be this close to him again. “I think you are the hottest, brooding, depressed man I have ever met. Once you let someone in, she will be a lucky woman.” I hit him with a quick kiss on his cheek and headed for the door. I didn’t want to make too big of a deal about this. I wanted him to know he was worth something. A woman that cared for him wasn’t going to think less of him because he had a prosthetic. Yes, he could be an ass, but he could be tender and loving too. He just proved that to me. I wished he didn’t. I couldn't stop thinking about him, and now this. Fuck me!





Chapter 13

Hudson

Three days ago, I had made a dreadful mistake. Laurel caught me without my prosthetic, which was rare, and shirtless. My scars were out in the open for anyone to see. I didn’t reveal them because I didn’t want to discuss the reason for them. No need to relive those memories. Sure, I have slept with women in the last two years, and my shirt was off, but they represented nothing. I wouldn’t ever see them again. Most of the time, the lights were off, and that made it easier to hide.

Until Laurel, trying to nudge me out of my comfort zone and evoking emotions I haven’t felt in a long time. That night, I had wanted to tell her to go away, leave me alone, anything to have a peaceful night, but then when I opened the door, she was checking me out and not freaked out by what she saw. I wasn’t going to lie; women scare me. Not only did we open up our hearts to them, but sometimes they could be judgmental. I didn’t want to hear any woman tell me how ugly my scars were or feel pity for me because I had a prosthetic.

Laurel didn’t do any of those things. She admired me and took her time while I stood there half-naked in a towel. However, when her hand grazed over the worst scar of all, on my chest from when the IED went out and blew shrapnel into my body in multiple places, she didn’t blink.

I had become a pro at building walls and keeping them up to keep everyone out. Laurel, somehow that night, brought a couple of those walls down.

I wanted to have someone, I did, but I feared rejection. Who didn’t? I feared having a woman look at me like I was broken into pieces because of my scars and prosthetic. I didn’t think anyone could look at me without pity, but she did. At that moment, she did.

Ever since that night, she was all I could think about. She was a forthcoming book, nothing hidden about her, so why have I been refusing to read her? She’d been giving me the option all along, but I had been ramming her away because of my fear of rejection.

It is possible I could learn a thing or two from her. She seemed to consistently be in a cheerful mood, never frowned, besides the few times I caused it. She seemed to be so happy, and it made me realize how little I lived.

For all one knows, my mother was right; I needed to get out more. Go out with friends, date, and try to find happiness. Whatever definition I give joy. She wanted the old me before the military. I didn’t think I could give that to her one hundred percent. Some things maybe but not wholly. I could never be that innocent young man again. I was not naïve, bright-eyed, or outgoing anymore. It’s just the aftereffect. The things seen when on missions cannot be unseen.

Laurel made me realize I still can live and show compassion. This made me hopeful. It might not happen with Laurel but with someone eventually. I didn’t know if I wanted to expose myself to more pain. Deep down, I knew having sex with Laurel would be a huge mistake. It would cause a rift between us and cause problems at the office.

Some girls wanted to fix guys like me. I was not a fixer-upper house. I didn’t need to be fixed or mended. I felt like part of me thought that no matter what I gave her, it would never be enough. The problem was part of me wanted to take the chance, but the other part was completely against it.

I didn’t enjoy attending parties or hanging out in a restaurant for hours, carrying on a conversation. I liked to stay in, put on comfy clothes, and watch TV. Parties had never really been my forte. When people were out partying, they got stupid; they lost control. I never wanted to do that. I enjoyed staying in control.

Laurel was the opposite. She was outgoing, sociable, and loved to converse. She didn’t care what anyone thought of her, perfectly happy in her shell. I wished I could be that way, but it was just not in me.

Really? Are you going to sit around and talk about what could happen? You could go on for days. Just make a damn decision already.

I had not completed a single thing on my to-do list this morning. My mind had been elsewhere. As I was heading out for lunch, Chris hindered me. “Here’s the file you requested.”

At that point, I couldn’t even believe I had asked for it. It felt inappropriate to expose it. Any information I needed to know about her was in that file. If I had received this a week ago, the file would have already been demolished. “You detect anything that could impact us?” I asked him.

“Certainly not, sir. But you can look for yourself and decide what it is you are looking for exactly.”

Why was I not ripping it open to find out more about this woman? It was because she had gotten inside my head. Feelings had developed. All along I’d known better since the moment I laid eyes on her in the hospital. I never expected to see her after Lacey had gotten out until the night she assaulted me. That’s when this all started.

“I’ve got a call. I must take it. Thanks.”

I was sure he thought I was foolish. Why did I say it had been urgent, then I didn’t even open the file? Hell, I didn’t even know myself. This was new to me too. I didn’t know how I should feel. Relieved? Upset? My emotions were going haywire, which was just not like me. She made me think. Hesitation was also not like me. I just got shit done.

I searched for Laurel but had no reason to do so. She wasn’t at her desk, where she should be. I went downstairs to check the breakroom, but she wasn’t there either. In fact, most of my staff was gone. Where the fuck were they?

I took the elevator back up to the second floor, and I found them all back at their desks, acting like they hadn’t left. My face had gone red, and all I could see was red. They were not supposed to leave all at the same time. She should have let me know she was taking lunch, so I could man the phones while she was gone.

“Where the hell have you guys been? I was just here, and none of you were. Did you all decide to take lunch at the same time for some reason today?” She walked up to me and handed me a bag. Inside was lunch.

“I saw you in your office going over something. You were so focused, I didn’t know if you were going to have time for lunch before your meeting, so I picked you something up. Hope that’s okay.” How sweet of her. None of the other employees had ever brought me lunch or thought of me like that. I almost flashed a smile, but I didn’t. I kept it hidden. It wasn’t easy.

The darkness inside me wanted to come out, but I didn’t let it. If I wanted to continue to be myself, getting rid of her was my only option. My heart quivered when I thought that way, but it was true. One way or the other, I was exposing myself for hurt. “Can you come with me, please?” I said to her. I didn’t even look back to see if she was following me. The food smelled delicious, making my stomach grumble. I didn’t want her to think I liked her gesture too much, so I flung it on my desk and sat down.

When she came into my office, her eyes gave away the thought that she believed she was in trouble, but she wasn’t fearful. I couldn’t help it, but my fists were clenched, and my jaw was rigid. I didn’t mean to intimidate her, but that was just me. I liked having control over situations. I did not have control over my entire office going to lunch at the same time. Hell, if it hadn’t been for me going to find Laurel, I wouldn’t have ever even known.

I had every intention of propelling her away, but I couldn’t while staring into her eyes. She wasn’t showing concern but lust. I knew she was thinking about naughty things right now. Both of us in my office with the door locked. What could happen? My mind took me there as well. I couldn’t help it.

She was standing there in a navy wrap dress, her hardened nipples visible through it, and her curves accentuated to the best of the dress’ ability. I took her in from top to bottom. Her heels were white and gave her some extra height of about four, maybe five inches.

The next image in my head was her dress around her waist, with my hands ravishing her body. Her skin was silky, and she giggled as I kissed her thighs. I could feel myself getting hard which meant she could see it. My breathing started to become labored which was giving it all away.

She wasn’t innocent. Her breathing had been labored. Her vision must be considerably more inspiring than mine to get her hot that fast. I wanted to throw her on my desk so bad, but she was dangerous. I should open the door and walk away. If we followed through with this, there was absolutely no way back. I either fucked her or discharged her. Wow, that sounded so wrong on so many levels but not in the creepy boss way. I would never want her to think that she had to sleep with me to keep her job. I would never seek a woman to do that which was why I had made a rule to never sleep with employees.

I couldn’t contain myself. I needed to feel her skin and her tongue against mine, more than I required an assistant. I could find another assistant. Another Laurel, not likely. I had never come across another woman like her. She was one of a kind. No women had ever made me question my rules.

Before I could think about it anymore, or doubt my decision, I moved closer and put my lips on hers. Initially, I was watching for any hesitation from her, but none came. She was completely relaxed, almost to the point of falling to the floor, but I caught up.

She slipped one of her legs in between mine, and my hard dick pressed against her abdomen. Instead of forcing me off, she let out a moan. This girl was going to be trouble. I recognized that from the get-go.

What happened next was going to determine which path we were going to take. I could fuck her, and then we would have to have a conversation, or I could stop here, hoping it would ruin things between us completely. We were in my office, for gosh sakes. Everyone had seen her follow me in here. I could already tell she was not quiet, so fucking was not an option. I would have to take her home for that. Home? What the fuck? So quick to change that rule, aren’t you?

I stopped because I knew it was the reasonable thing for now. I didn’t want to be a huge douchebag. What did I say to her? Before I could barely open my mouth, she was already out of my office.





Chapter 14

Laurel

I didn’t know why Hudson always felt the need to avoid me after our moments. It made me feel insecure, although I hid it very well. Underneath, I entertained so many questions. Did he regret it? I didn’t. To be honest, it had been one of the most epic heated kisses in my life and made all the others look sad.

All this time, I couldn’t tell if he liked me as a human being or was just putting up with me because of Lorelai. She did put her foot down and tell him I wasn’t to be fired, but he was the owner. He ran the show. In theory, he could do whatever the hell he wanted, no matter what his mother told him.

I knew there was a sexual attraction there. We both could tell that at the hospital. You could despise someone and still be sexually attracted to them. It didn’t mean a thing. I didn’t want to have sex with a man that hated me. Although, at that moment, if he wouldn’t have pulled away, we very well would have ended up going there. There were things I wished I could fix about him, but I knew that was never going to happen.

Lorelai made me promise I would keep trying, but at that point, I was not doing it for Lorelai. I was doing it for myself. His happiness was important to me. All I wanted to do was see him smile, laugh, and have playful banter among friends. How had I become so emotionally invested in Hudson? I let my heart open up to him, and I shouldn't have, although you can't help who you fall for. It was just impossible. Deep down, I was glad he prevented us from going any further. I didn’t want to have random hookups with him. He mattered, and random was not what I wanted out of it. There was no denying it would have been passionate, but it was not the right time or the right place.

Hudson, instead of talking to me like an adult about the situation, was a coward and wouldn’t stay near me for more than a couple of seconds. Earlier, I brought him coffee, and he just said thank you and requested me to leave. He hadn’t come out of his office, except for meetings, for days.

He required me to stay because a box arrived with a desk inside. This was a huge box. Instead of trying to put it together myself, I urged a few men from the office to help me. The desk was beautiful once put together. It was an L-shaped desk in cherry oak and had multiple drawers to arrange stuff in. Another box contained a brand-new state-of-the-art phone. This one could handle up to twenty incoming calls being placed on hold. Did he plan on getting busier?

Right now, I only ever had two or three on hold at a time maximum. Ambitions, I guess. I wanted to thank him, but he had proven he needed space. Nothing good could come from me prying into his corner. Someday, he would realize talking was needed. He would come to me.

A couple of calls came in, and that was impressive, but then they kept flooding in. Since when were we so busy at once? I paged Hudson but got no answer. So one by one, I put them on hold and took messages. Only it didn’t stop. For the next two hours, my phone was blowing up, but most of them weren’t there when I returned to take a message. Finally, getting irritated, I threw my new phone on the floor and stomped on it. I wanted my old phone back.

Hudson decided to come out of his office at that moment. Clutching his phone and smiling, he said, “Wow, this is how you treat company property?”

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m putting this up on my page.” He offered me a dirty look.

Fuck. He knew. He knew it was me who made his profiles. I was fired, for sure.

“I’ll even send it to my mom, so she can see how her star employee is doing.”

Why was I so reckless? I was not normally like this. I didn’t act this way. I could only blame it on the fact that we did have a special moment, but he’d been treating it like no big deal. No conversation needed. It pissed me off. “Please, don’t. I’m sorry. I just got flustered with so many calls coming in. I just wanted the ringing to stop.”

It took me a couple of seconds to realize Hudson was laughing. Yes, laughing. Since when did he laugh? About anything? That was a breakthrough his mom would want to hear about tonight. It didn’t keep me from being pissed. He played me. Like a fool. “You messed with the wrong girl. Watch.” It came out of my mouth like more of a threat than I had intended. I was not going to say anything else. I was going to leave it be. He could draw his own conclusions. And he did. He laughed as I walked away with my purse and left the office. Little did he know, I was coming up with ways to fuck with him.

The next day, I came in like yesterday never happened. The only difference was I made sure to beat Hudson to the office. When he strutted in, I smiled brightly and offered him his morning coffee. I sat down at my desk and waited for his first sip. “EW—What the fuck? Laurel! What the hell did you put in my coffee?” he yelled frantically.

“No big deal, sir. I just put B-12 in there. It will just give you energy. It will help you get through your hectic day.”

He didn’t reply, but I knew he was furious. Good. Now he knew what it was like to get fucked with. I knew he purposely had people call into his line yesterday to get me flustered. I didn’t realize it until I got home, but I was not a dumb blonde. He should know that.

The next day, I filmed him chowing down on a burger and fries. However, I didn’t realize he caught me in the act. I needed to upload it before he got to me. I took off, not thinking he would run after me, but he did. He ambushed me in the breakroom and sternly told me to delete the video. “Not a chance, boss.”

He loomed over me, and I was bent over so he couldn’t get around me to get the phone held so tightly against my abdomen. He eased up a bit and started laughing. “Okay, how about this? I’ll delete my video of you if you do the same?”

Candidly, that was a clever idea. If he deleted that video, he couldn’t ever use it to get me fired. It had been the first and only time I would ever act that way at the office.

“What are you doing?” Lorelai said from across the room, a cheery smile on her face. She was witnessing Hudson’s laugh.

“Nothing, Mom. I’ve got to get back to work,” he said, placing a quick kiss on her cheek as he passed her. What happened next was weird. She didn’t say a word to me, just flashed me a smile and walked out, following Hudson. I was sure she wanted to take in all she could while he was in such a good mood. I was glad she was here to witness it. Her son wasn’t so unemotional after all. It just took a while to make him show it.

Hudson was sexy as fuck without smiling but when he did, oh did my body tingle. He looked exceedingly hotter when he was smiling and laughing, having a good time. He needed to let loose and live a little. A man as good as him deserved to smile. Heck, he deserved so much more. Hopefully, he agreed.

I headed back to my desk to talk to him, but his door was closed. Suddenly, a woman was practically on top of me. “Can I see Hudson?”

This woman was stunning, composed, every hair in place. Jealousy took over because I didn’t want her anywhere near Hudson. Her hourglass figure made me want to strangle her. However, when I saw Hudson’s face as he recognized her, all I saw was disgust. She was not competition.

She asked again, but I paid no attention to her. When the woman started talking to me like I was ignorant, that was when the problem started. She was shouting at me like I couldn’t hear her. All I could do was take deep breaths and remember I was at work. I would never again put myself in a position like I did with the phone. I needed to keep my shit together. Every so often, I had to remind myself that I needed this job.

The bad thing was I didn’t listen to my own advice. I didn’t respond professionally.

“Well, why didn’t you say so? Sit down in one of those chairs, and I will get him for you.”

Hudson had been waiting on the other side of the door for me. I didn’t even have to knock before he was jerking me inside.

“I am busy. I am not able to see visitors right now.”

Why did Hudson look scared? He was a badass and the boss. He could turn away anyone he wanted to. I couldn’t help myself because I started laughing hysterically.

“Seriously, get rid of her. She’s the one I told you about, Lyla. The one that if she comes in, you make an excuse because her husband is one of my most key clients, but I’m not interested in her romantically. She doesn’t comprehend that and keeps coming back for more attempts.”

I could tell he thought I was jealous, but I wasn’t anymore. Once I had seen him with disgust on his face, there was no reason to be.

“You are jealous, I can tell. Why?”

“Don’t give yourself that much credit. You are disgusted by her. She’s not competition. I’m not jealous at all.” I still had an inkling in the back of my head that maybe he did sleep with her. Maybe that was why she kept coming back? She wanted more. A lot of women were not okay with one-night stands. Maybe she was one of them. “If you slept with her, I won’t judge you. It’s your life. Just don’t lie to me about why I’m kicking her out.”

I could see his face turn red. “Something you should know about me is I don’t fuck people I know, employ, or that I would potentially see again. I don’t do complicated. I give them all the pleasure they want and then send them on their way. I make this clear before we sleep together. And no, I did not sleep with her. That would be problematic.”

“Right,” I said to him with a wink.

I knew what he was doing; he was giving me hints at his darkness. He wanted me to read between the lines and figure out that he was not the guy for me. This had been a warning to me. He didn’t want to complicate things, which I could understand, but they already were.. He was asking me to walk away, leave it alone, and not look back. I couldn’t walk away from Hudson. He needed me. He had shown so much improvement since I've been here. No way could I stop now.





Chapter 15

Hudson

I tried making her read between the lines and understand we will never work. I was not the man she needed. I couldn’t give her the things she needed, and she deserved that. I thought if I had been an asshole to her, she would leave it alone but no. It only made her push back harder.

Instead of walking away, she came closer, putting her lips on mine. When she did that, I lost control. She tried to pull back, thinking I was uninterested, but I didn’t let her. I pulled her closer to me and unleashed all of the pent-up sexual tension that had been building up since the hospital. That kiss was so much more intense than the first one in my apartment, hot and steamy. We were so close now that there wasn’t a body part that wasn’t touching.

Laurel’s breasts were touching my chest, and I was pressing against her abdomen. In the back of my mind, I knew there was a client outside waiting for me, but I didn’t give a rat’s ass. I didn’t want this to end. Her curves fit like a glove with my body. That kiss occupied me, envisioning what she could do with that talented tongue of hers.

I shifted my hand from holding her back to cup both her breasts, which were the optimal size to fit in my hands. She moaned into my mouth while I pinched and nibbled through her dress. I couldn’t possibly grow harder.

“Moan for me,” I whispered to her. I could tell by her breathing that she was already close. I was barely doing anything now; I couldn’t imagine how worked up she would get from actual sex. I couldn’t wait.

“Can you come like this?” Her nails dug into my shoulders as she let go, and her head tilted back. “There you go, baby. Let go.”

Her moans were muffled by my hand. I demanded her to moan, but I didn’t want the whole office to hear. Only me. Her moan sent me into overdrive, and I wanted to feel her, but I knew we had been here long enough. As her climax came to an end, her eyes searched mine for regret. I could tell that was what she saw because she frowned. What was crazy was that I didn’t regret it. That moment had been extraordinary, fuck, perfect even.

I could tell she was upset because she pulled up her dress, and right before she walked out the door, she turned around to look at me one last time. I wished I hadn’t been paying attention because that look almost made me cry. It made me feel like less of a man.

For the remainder of my day at the office, I focused on work. Not to mention the fact that the crazy girl called me and yelled at me for nearly thirty minutes. Why couldn’t she understand I was not interested? Her husband was one of the prestigious clients. I could not afford to jeopardize that. She was smoking hot, but her attitude was appalling.

I tried to focus on work, but I couldn’t help but think about Laurel. I made her come for me without even penetrating her. That made me feel alive.

The person that I have been blaming since the start was Laurel when she had done nothing but open my eyes to the things I deserved and wanted. Why had I been such an ass to her? When she left my office, I never intended to make her feel the way she did. I didn’t know how to talk to her about it. I crossed a line that should never have been crossed. I’ve always been so cautious until she came into my life.

The file Chris had given me hadn’t even been touched. Too much guilt came from thinking about even asking him to get the information.

She left abruptly after asking Lyla to vacate the office. I didn’t know what excuse she had given her, but she left, and for that, I was utterly indebted. I couldn’t have seen her; my dick had still been hard from my encounter with Laurel.

I was sure she knew I required space which was why she left. We did cross a line, but at that moment, I didn’t regret it, not even for a second. I couldn’t give her an orgasm and then hide like a coward. It would only make matters worse.

I finally decided to leave the office an hour early because of a huge migraine I had. I headed to my mom’s house. I didn’t normally show up unexpected there, but today was different.

We were by no means the ideal family, but no matter what happened, we were still close. My sisters would meet me there. The one thing I enjoyed about them was that they wouldn’t ask questions if I texted them and told them I needed them. They were just happy I was reaching out to them. We have had many conversations about my pulling away from the family since being back. It was not something I had intended on doing; it just happened.

I stopped on the way and grabbed some groceries, realizing I never ate today. “Hud!” Christina called out.

“Hey, Tina,” I responded with a smile and noticed a tear come out of her eye. I didn’t question why.

“Good to see you, brother,” Kassie said while pecking me on the cheek and taking the rest of the bags.

My mom was sitting at the table, in stunned silence because I never stopped by on the spur of the moment. I didn’t give her time to get upset; I snatched her into a bear hug and stroked the top of her head. “Hey, Mama.”

Tears flowed from her eyes. “My little man.”

I wanted to show Laurel I was not regretting our moment. So, I jerked out my phone and sent her a quick text.

Dinner at my mom’s. You are invited. In an hour.

I hoped she would come because I needed to talk to her about today. We needed to decide what we were going to do.

I’ll bring cheesecake for dessert. See you soon.

A smile took over my face, and they saw. I didn’t know if she had plans tonight but dropping everything to have dinner with my family was sweet. It meant a lot to me.

“You just gonna stand there or help with dinner?” Christina snapped sarcastically.

“How’s the new job going?” I asked while chopping the meat into thin slices.

It took me a minute to realize they were all staring at me. That wasn’t good.

“I got let go a couple of months ago. Still looking.” I didn’t want to push her for details. I felt bad enough for bringing it up. How did I not know about this? Was I that distant from my sisters?

“Sorry about the job. How’s school?” They were all staring at me again. What was wrong with that question? “I graduated two months ago.” What? My sister graduated, and I missed it? I didn’t recall anyone notifying me about it. That wasn’t something I would miss even with how fucked up I was.

“I sent you an invitation, but I know you have so much going on, so I didn’t think you would come.”

That made me feel like the worst brother in the world. Didn’t she think I would want to go? Of course, I would. Graduating from college was a huge accomplishment. I couldn’t help but hug her and apologize for missing one of the grandest ceremonies in her life. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t get the invitation. I don’t check my mail very often. That’s my fault. I wouldn’t have skipped it. You must believe me?”

I could tell by the look on her face that she knew I was being genuine. Did my family really think I was that distanced to where I wouldn’t attend my sister’s graduation? I was not that far gone. The doorbell rang, and my mother hurried to answer it herself. I knew who it was, and it made me smile. She came in with a blue box and handed it to Christina. One thing I knew about her, she was obsessive about sweets. My sisters and Laurel started cracking jokes. It was nice to see my sisters getting along with her. The doorbell rang again, and then I saw Jeremy and Chris. Who invited them? I looked over to Laurel who gave me a wink. She did.

Liam delivered Christina his box of pie, and she requested him to marry her. There she went, always scaring the guests with marriage proposals. It was weird having so many people sitting at my parents’ dinner table.

If this had been three months ago, I would have been highly uncomfortable, but now I felt content. Laurel was sitting next to me, and that kept me calm. I reached for her hand under the table, and her eyes widened with a smile. I knew right then that this was going to work. I needed to stop being so scared of what could happen and just let it. Not everyone was out to hurt me. Laurel sure seemed to care about me, and I needed to stop pushing her away. After many times, she kept coming back. She proved to me she wasn’t going anywhere.





Chapter 16

Laurel

It had been a week since the dinner at Lorelai’s. I was not sure what that dinner did, but Hudson changed. He was smiling, laughing, and just happy. It seemed like he had finally allowed some of his walls down. It is possible he realized that the people here care for him. We wanted him to be happy. Be himself. He could have said that brooding was him, but we knew that wasn’t true. Why did he try to hide his kind side?? It wasn’t exposing weakness. It was displaying strength.

We were currently sitting in Leo’s backyard around a fire. Hudson was going to be okay tonight because Leo was one of his close friends. They were in the military together before he got out. Presently, Leo was a police officer. Hudson didn’t hesitate to come, and that meant progress. Until now, he wouldn’t even go out to lunch with someone. It made him uncomfortable, but today he was sitting next to me with a smile on his face. He was having a good time with his friends. I almost teared up thinking about the man he was a week ago.

All I wanted to do was be close to him. We hadn’t made anything official or slept together yet. We were taking things slow. Neither of us wanted to get hurt, and the fact that he changed his whole persona overnight meant being careful was the best option for both of us.

Fear had never held me back. I was just not one to do that. The only thing that frightened me was the what-ifs. No matter what, what-ifs come up in everyone’s life, but I tried to keep them down to a minimum.

My most tremendous fear was the fact that Hudson at any time could want to go back to the way things were before. That would break me. I’ve had pierced hearts, but I had never been this emotionally attached to someone. I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. I didn’t know when I first met him that it was going to end up this way, but it did. I couldn’t be more indebted.

All I could think about was what my life would be like if I hadn’t gone for that interview. I would have never grown this relationship with Hudson. Lorelai would have never asked me to open him up and in return save my job. To begin with, I decided to help Lorelai because I could tell she was hurting and just wanted her son back.

Laughing transported me back to the party at Leo’s. He had lost his wife shortly after getting married at nineteen. They had been high school sweethearts, but she succumbed to cancer about six months after they were wed. Inside the house, photos of his wife were still present.

I headed to the bathroom, closed the door, and pulled down my skirt. Right when I did, the door swung open.

“Fuck, lock the door next time,” Andrew yelled, covering his eyes.

He didn’t see anything, but shortly after, Hudson was in the bathroom with me. He was upset, maybe even possessive. “He didn’t see anything.”

“Well, how do you know? I don’t want anyone else to see you.”

He was jealous. That made me feel good. He was concerned about other men looking at me. That meant he did care. I got up to wash my hands while he closed the space between us. I felt him on the small of my back as he draped his arms around me. “We have been getting close,” he said. He wasn’t lying. Ever since Lorelai’s dinner party, we had been hanging out every night. We still hadn’t slept together, but there was hand-holding and make-out sessions for sure. I was careful because I knew once I slept with him, I wouldn’t be able to walk away. There was no going back for me.

He planted a kiss on my lips, and I cupped his face and kissed him further. I got up on the counter and pulled him closer. I didn’t know what it was about being in this bathroom, but I wanted him bad. He kissed my neck and fondled my breasts, and I ran my hands up his shirt, feeling his chest.

I was wearing a denim skirt which didn’t make it hard for him to access me. He pried off my underwear and massaged me. A spark of sensations ran through me as soon as he caressed me. I didn’t want to moan too soon, but I couldn’t help it. He had already gotten me so worked up, and I needed a release. He kissed my neck as he slipped a finger inside. I moaned loudly into his ear which made him jump. I could tell he wanted me too. He eased inside, and I moaned some more. I didn’t know how long I could hold on. I demanded a release but not so fast. I wanted to enjoy his touch. I had been yearning for it for so long. The sexual tension between us was significant. I was sure anyone around us could tell.

He started going faster, and that was where I lost it. I had