You act so high and mighty, you and your perfect pregnant wife, Alayna. With your perfect child and your perfect home.
You weren’t always perfect. Your past is filled with misdeeds.
Does your wife know all your secrets?
Would she stand behind you if she did?
You think because she’s on bedrest you can protect her? How sweet.
Sleep tight, you two.
-An Old Friend.
The thing about being a person with a history of acting crazy was that I sometimes couldn’t tell myself if my thoughts and actions were sane.
When I was on the other side of it, completely “normal,” whatever that means, it almost felt like a different Alayna who spent days and weeks obsessing over the tiniest things. Someone familiar, but no longer me. And that Alayna felt the same way about normality.
I stared at myself in the mirror, at the light circles under my eyes—signs of motherhood. I was starting to develop wrinkles when I smiled, but otherwise my face still looked young and cared for, thanks to the best beauty products. My hair was a tangled mess from bed, but it had been recently cut and styled. My pupils weren’t dilated. My body wasn’t fidgeting. On the outside I looked healthy, in control, normal. Tired and worn out, maybe, but that was to be expected.
I looked exactly like the woman I was—Alayna Reese Withers Pierce.
The trouble was, both Alayna’s wear this face.
“There you are,” Hudson’s voice was gravelly with sleep. I met his gaze in the mirror as he came up behind me and placed a kiss on the top of my head. “Rough night?”
I shook my head. “One of them woke up at five. Took the bottle and was right back out.” I reached for my eye cream, to have something to do. I wondered how long I’d been staring at myself before he walked in.
Hudson didn’t really seem to be awake enough to notice that I’d been just standing there, wondering if I was okay, if my swirling thoughts were normal or symptomatic. He padded into the bathroom and shut the door, but called out, “Which one was it?”
The nice thing about having been with Hudson for so long now was that he wouldn’t judge my response. “Whichever one slept in the green and yellow frog pajamas.” Was I a bad mother for not being awake enough to realize which twin I had fed in the dark? He didn’t think so, at least.
Hudson had dressed them for bed the night before. He liked being part of the evening routine. It made him feel involved even when he worked all day at the office. And I enjoyed the break. I never knew what a luxury sitting down with a cup of tea was until the babies arrived.
“That was Brett,” he said coming back out of the bathroom. He headed over to his sink and washed his hands. “Should’ve guessed.”
I dabbed the eye cream under one eye as I glanced at my husband. “Are you saying our little girl has an appetite?”
“I’m saying our little girl will do anything to get more time with her mama.”
Seven years together and he was still a charmer. I couldn’t help returning his grin.
“You should get back to bed. Get some more sleep before they wake up for good.”
I could probably get in another two or three hours before Mina, our four-year-old, woke up. It was anyone’s guess with the twins.
But my head was spinning. I couldn’t sleep now.
“I’ll get there. Eventually.” I turned my focus back to the mirror so Hudson wouldn’t see the anxiety in my gaze.
Unfortunately, he knew me well enough. He didn’t have to see my face to recognize it was there. “You’re still thinking about yesterday’s news, aren’t you?”
I blew out a strangled sigh. Of course, I was still thinking about it. The question was, why wasn’t he?
The answer could very well be that my crazy was seeping back in.
So I didn’t ask. I let my huff be my complete declaration. Whether I was crazy or not, I still had a right to my displeasure.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hudson leaning against the counter, his boxers hanging low on his toned hips. “Alayna,” he said in that warning tone of his. “You need to talk to me.”
I huffed again, dropping the cream jar on the counter before turning to face him. “She’s going to be a member of our family, Hudson. Don’t you see why I’m concerned?”
“It’s not exactly close family. And, really, she’s been family all my life.” He was using his patient tone with me. The one that was calm and steady and even. The one that made my volume increase and my temper flare.
“Your mother was best friends with her mother. That’s not the same as your brother marrying her step-daughter. Now there will be legal ties. There will be Thanksgivings with her, and Christmases and summer vacations and baby showers.” I shuddered at the thought of Celia Warner around my babies.
Correction, Celia Fassbender.
“It’s not like she’s ever going to be alone with our children,” Hudson said reasonably. “I think you will be surprised how infrequently we really do interact with her. She lives in England, after all.” He pushed off the counter and headed over to the shower, turning the water on and sticking his hand in to check the temperature. “You were the one who told me not to overreact when they started dating, as I recall.”
That had been true. When Chandler had begun dating Genevieve and Hudson had realized her father was married to our arch nemesis, Hudson had tried to put his foot down. Told his brother no way. It had been me who saw how much Chandler felt for his girlfriend, and I’d convinced Hudson it was not our place to interfere.
But I hadn’t expected him to propose to the girl!
“It was supposed to be a fling!” I said, exasperated all over again. “Chandler was supposed to lose interest when he realized this wasn’t a Montague-Capulet situation. This wasn’t supposed to be permanent!”
“And now things have changed.” Hudson spun to face me, then dropped his boxers to the floor. “She’s different now. We don’t have anything to be concerned about.” He walked into the shower, and even if he didn’t mean for it to be, it felt like he intended it to be an end to the conversation.
“But you don’t know that she’s different now,” I shouted after him. “You’re just guessing. She didn’t do anything to show you that she’s different.”
“She fell in love,” he called over the steam. “That changes people. You know that.”
“Or she’s playing like she fell in love.” Which felt a lot more likely to me. Women like Celia didn’t fall in love. They played long games. And this was just her longest one yet. I was certain.
Hudson stuck his head out of the shower. “Come here.”
I folded my arms across my chest and leaned back against the counter stubbornly. “Why?”
“Just do it.”
I never could deny him when he talked to me that commanding way. With a reluctant frown, I trudged toward him, weighted down by my fears.
When I was close enough, he pulled me into the walk-in shower with him.
“Hudson! I’m in my nightgown!” I shrieked, as the water from the rainfall shower head poured over me.
“It’s covered with spit up.”
As if that was the reason he’d brought me in here. To wash my baby-stained clothing.
I glowered at him while he wrestled the nightdress over my head and tossed it to the shower floor behind us. That was better. With the physical weight of the wet clothing gone, it somehow felt like some of the weight of my anxiety had disappeared too.
The hot water beating down on my tense muscles probably helped.
And the way Hudson was rubbing the knot at the base of my neck.
I tilted my head to give him better access, even though I knew full well what he was doing. “You’re trying to distract me. You think I’m acting crazy. That I’m obsessing over this whole Chandler and Genevieve getting married thing and worrying too much about Celia.”
I thought about it longer than I needed to. It was what I’d been thinking about when he’d walked in on me. What I’d been thinking about all night long. “I don’t know. I can’t tell.”
He circled around behind me and moved his massage to both shoulders. “I’m not worried about it.”
I couldn’t see his eyes now to see if he was lying. Not that he would lie to me—he didn’t do that anymore. The only reason I wondered about his response was because, in my opinion, he should be lying. He should be worried. I would have been worried if I were him. After what I’d put him through the last six months.
But also, I was grateful that he wasn’t concerned. Because until I’d heard the news yesterday about Celia becoming a family member, I was pretty sure myself that I’d gotten better.
And it was pretty fucking amazeballs that my husband still believed in me.
I leaned back into his hands. “If you aren’t trying to distract me,” I asked, my eyes closed, “then why did you drag me in here?”
“Because I do think you need to give yourself a break. Stop being so hard on yourself. Make time for the things you enjoy—your books, your movies. Your husband.” He pressed the full length of his body against mine, and if I hadn’t caught his meaning from his words, I certainly didn’t miss the familiar feel of his erection against the base of my spine.
“It’s been five days,” I laughed, amused at how his tone suggested it had been five months.
“That’s even longer than I’d thought.” He pulled my hair to one side and nibbled at my ear.
Honestly, he was right–I hadn’t made enough time for me. For him. It was hard with three kids under four, but I was on an extended maternity leave from The Sky Launch, and I had nannies. There was no excuse for not being with him more often when we both wanted it. When we met, the idea of going five hours without his hands on me was unthinkable, let alone five days.
Besides, I did tend to obsess less when I was distracted.
The point was further made when his arms curled around me, one snaking past my once flat stomach to sweep his fingers over the round bud of my clit.
I sighed into his body, instantly becoming aroused. He could do that to me. I was Pavlov. I knew the reward that followed the ding of the bell.
“That’s it,” he murmured at my ear.
I responded in kind, rubbing my ass along his stiff cock. “I miss you.”
“Tell me I’m right,” he coaxed. “Tell me you want it. Tell me you deserve it.” He stooped behind me so that his crown nudged between my legs. “Tell me you aren’t going to forget about taking care of yourself again.”
“You’re right, I want it, I deserve it, I’ll take care of myself, now hurry please Hudson, please.” It came out as one long run-on sentence, my orgasm already beginning to peak just from his nimble fingers.
I didn’t have to ask again. Without letting up on his manipulation of my clit, he angled himself and shoved in, filling me completely with one stroke. He’d been inside me so many times now, he could find the way easily, and still, his first thrust always felt like an exquisite invasion. No matter how well I thought I remembered what the pulse of his cock would feel against my walls, it never failed to be a million times better.
I told him as much with an indecipherable whimper.
“I know,” he groaned. “You feel good to me too, precious.” He pulled out and pushed in again, fucking me in earnest. “I love it when you let me be good to you.”
I turned my head toward him, my lips parted, and he caught me in a fierce kiss. “Why is it we don’t do this every day again, H?” I asked when he let go of my mouth to suck my jaw.
“I believe the reason is called children.”
“Shh. Don’t talk about them. I’m about to come, and I don’t want to make it weird.”
He took my mouth with his again, ending conversation altogether, and deepened his massage on my clit so that I was exploding only a moment later, my knees buckling, rivers of warmth shooting through my limbs.
I was still shuddering when Hudson grunted out his own orgasm.
He held me for several minutes after, letting his breathing settle while I ran my hand along his morning scruff. This felt nice. If I could really have everything I wanted, I’d have him cancel his day and continue holding me just like this.
But Hudson Pierce had an empire to run. Sex in the shower would have to do.
“It’s been a while since you’ve fucked me good morning,” I said, turning to face him when he let go of me. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure. Though I’m hoping it’s not quite a good morning for you. Do you think you’ll be able to sleep now?” He reached for the body wash and poured a dollop in his palm before gently working it over my breasts and torso.
I bit my lip while I considered. My head did seem quieter. Not silent—I still had worries, thoughts chattering about Celia and my sanity and our children and…other things—but all of it came through in a fog now. If I couldn’t sleep, it wasn’t for Hudson’s lack of trying.
Still, I needed more reassuring. “Tell me again I’m not crazy and that you’d never let anything happen to any of us?”
He finished washing between my legs before he pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around my waist. “I’m not going to tell you that you aren’t crazy, Alayna. But I love you no matter what you are with all that I am. And there is no way in hell that I’ll let Celia Fasbender or anyone, for that matter, ever hurt you or our children. I swear on my life.”
“Okay. Then I can sleep.”
It didn’t matter if he was lying. All that mattered was that I believed him.