Heat: A Second Chance ROmance
Soldiers of Fortune: Book 1
“They’re fucking what?!” I almost drop the glass of champagne in my hand as I feel the floor practically drop out from beneath my feet.
My campaign manager Donald’s face is impassive and steely - pretty much like it always is even in crisis meltdown situations like this - with his bushy grey eyebrows furrowing slightly like they do when he’s got news for me neither of us want to hear.
“They’re pulling out, Reagan; entirely.” I see him reach out of habit for the phantom pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket that hasn’t been there for five years, the frown in his eyebrows deepening.
“All of it?”
He sticks a pen between his lips instead of his old vice and glowers at me. “Every damn penny.”
I swear fiercely under my breath, clenching my hand tight and digging my nails into my palm as the reality of the situation hits me like a wet blanket. “How fucked are we?”
Donald tenses his face. He hates when I swear, especially in public and especially in public when there are cameras everywhere. “Lower your voice, Reagan” He mutters through the pen in his teeth, looking at me like I’m an ill-behaved child in that way that drives me crazy.
In the movie version of my life, Donald is the kind and sagely grandfatherly type who guides me along a path of adorable metaphors and teary-eyed life lessons to victory. In reality, he’s cold, calculating, and robotically efficient at keeping me in line with his battle plans. But then again, kind grandfatherly types doling out anachronisms like they were candy don’t win elections, robots do.
“They were forty percent of our campaign.”
I can feel the breath leave my lungs as the room spins around me. My lips moving soundlessly as my brain searches for the words to possible use here. This simply can’t be happening, not after we’ve worked so freaking hard to get to where we are.
Donald glares at me as he furiously chews on his poor pen. “Maybe next time, you’ll stay on the damn speech I give you instead of going off on one of your ‘save the world’ tangents, Reagan. You know they’re going to jump down you throat for that kind of things because-”
His phone beeps and he frowns, trailing off as he shakes his head and mutters at whatever’s just popped up, but I can pretty much take my pick of what he was going to say anyways: ‘Because I’m a girl,’ or ‘Because I’m the youngest person to ever run for the State Senate of New York,’ or my favorite, ‘Because I’m the daughter of the late William Archer; billionaire philanthropist-slash-arms-dealer, depending on who’s opinion you ask.’
To most people, I’m either the next great American Dream for politics, or a nut-job, which plays nicely to the split media opinion of eager-eyed media darling or poor little rich girl, depending on which new station you like to watch.
I hang my head. Running was one thing, but dropping out like this is going to be a news anchor joke for years.
“So this is it then? We’re done, just like that?” I can hear my voice from outside my body, my ears ringing and my jaw clenching in that way Donald always tells me not to do in front of cameras because it makes me look aggressive. I look down at the trembling glass of champagne in my hand, suddenly wishing it was the size of a movie-theater cup.
“What?” My campaign manager takes the mangled pen from his mouth and briefly wrinkles his face at it, as if just noticing how gross a habit it is. He looks up at me, a stony look on his face, “No of course not,” he snaps, a bit more condescendingly then I need right now. “We’ve been approached by another new donor who sees a lot of promise in our campaign.”
I feel myself exhale for the first time in what seems like an hour and start to shake my head. “Well Jesus, Donald, you scared the living-”
“Now, you aren’t going to like it, of course, but try to let go of personal baggage for once.” He interrupts me, his voice low as he glares at me, “Try to remember that this is about more than just you?”
Instantly, I narrow my eyes as suddenly every one of my gut instincts start to tingle at the look on his face and the tone in his voice. “Donald-” I start to shake my head, my jaw clenching as I feel the anger and the heat rising in my cheeks. “No, absolutely not! It’s not even an option!”
Even though we’re off in the corner of the big open gallery of the museum where we’ve been throwing the now seemingly-useless campaign fundraiser, people around us turn to stare at my outburst. Donald shushes me again as if I’m some child acting out; “It’s our only option, Reagan.” He huffs, “Look, we all get that you don’t want your Father’s company’s money, but it is the only move here.”
Donald’s rolling his eyes at me in the obnoxiously patronizing way that makes my blood boil, and for the eight-hundredth time, I have to remind myself that he’s really good at this job, otherwise I’d have blown up in his face and told him where to stick it a month ago.
“Now, there’s a man here from Archer Holdings to meet with you, and he’d like to talk with you-”
“Ms. Archer, they need some shots with some of the museum trustees.” I’m still shaking my head furiously, my mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, when one of my staffers scurries over and starts to tug me by the arm; yanking me away from Donald before I can even come up with anything to say. I turn back, look over my shoulder to yell something like ‘We’re not done talking about this,’ but they’re already pushing me in front of the wall of flashing lights and clicking cameras and back into the spotlight where I can’t look like I want to break something.
* * *
By the time they’re done, my face is feeling sore from all the fake smiles, and my palms are slick from other people’s sweaty handshakes; the hazards of the campaign trail they never tell you about.
I’m extricating myself from the stuffy museum board of directors and scanning the room for another glass of champagne when I hear it - his voice; the voice from my past and the voice I haven’t heard in five years.
I turn and he’s just there, standing in the flesh right in front of me. I feel my breath catch in my throat as I suddenly look up into the bluest, most piercing eyes I’ve ever seen, and then I feel my pulse actually skip a beat as I fully grasp the man they’re attached to. He’s even more gorgeous than he was back then, in that unbelievable, magazine-model way.
His dark hair is slicked back to one side, and beneath those stunning eyes is a cocky grin stretched across a strong, chiseled jaw, marked on one side by just the faintest white line of a scar across his clean-shaven chin. He’s the same infuriatingly hot dichotomy he was five years ago. The perfectly tailored tuxedo and gleaming silver watch on his wrist screaming money, but the teasing glimpses of tattoo ink creeping out from beneath his French cuff sleeves or the neck of his linen shirt. His lips part as he grins at me.
I know those lips.
Suddenly Donald is there, beaming at this stunningly good looking man as if he’s the one running for a Senate seat instead of me. “Ahh, good, you’ve met!”
I’d almost want to laugh if my body wasn’t suddenly frozen in time where I stand.
Yeah, we’ve met.
I completely tune Donald out as I lock eyes with the brooding and handsome man grinning that goddamn smug smile at me that hasn’t changed a bit in five fucking years. He might be a little bit older and a little bit more polished looking now, but suddenly my body is remembering exactly how I know Hudson Banks.
I know how his body feels pressed against mine, how his hands feel on the skin at the small of my back, and how his lips taste. This time, we’re sipping champagne at a $5,000 a ticket political fundraising event, instead of moaning into each other’s mouths as he grinds that hardness into my thigh, making my whole body melt for him.
It’s been five years since that night; five years since I was at my lowest - drunk, confused, and grieving. Five years since I completely embarrassed myself by dragging this man away from the crowds at my father’s wake and attacking him like some sort of hot mess, and five years since he pushed me away from him and suddenly walked out, leaving me utterly mortified and even worse than I was before.
And in five goddamn years, I haven’t been able to get him out of my head.
Donald is smiling benignly at me as he fawns over the smugly handsome man grinning that cocky smirk at me. “As I was saying, Mr. Banks, as you may know, works for your father’s comp-”
“We’ve met” I say it with an icy tone, trying to look everywhere else in the room but Hudson’s eyes. “And this isn’t happening, Donald.” I shake my head, my jaw set as I grind my teeth together. I’m furious, and of course embarrassed like I was that night all over again, and all I want to do is walk away from this entire horrible exchange right now.
“It is happening, Reagan.” Donald’s voice is firm and he shoots me a warning look. “This is happening or there is no campaign-”
“Then fine, there’s no campaign. It’s been a pleasure working with you, Donald.” I spit out.
“Well, nice to see you haven’t changed at all, Ray.” He says with a chuckle. He’s got that fucking smirk on his face, that cocky grin that I once found unbelievably attractive, and then I feel my face burn red as I realize I still do.
He’s even more attractive now than he was back then; healthier, his eyes even sharper, those broad shoulders even stronger looking as they stretch the tuxedo just enough to show off. I’m remembering those shoulders now, and the way my hand felt hot against that hard, chiseled chest; his hands on my skin as I breathed and whimpered into his mouth.
My hand is shaking, and I grip the champagne flute tighter, willing it to stop. I do not get this way over guys, especially a prick who tried to take advantage of my grief; winding me around his finger before shoving me away, quite literally. Hudson Banks is a fucking head case. Some ex-military jock who somehow found his way into my father’s good graces and wound up running a whole division of his company. I shake my head again, suddenly realizing I actually would rather there not be a campaign than take my father’s money. Especially if it’s coming from Hudson fucking Banks, however stupidly good looking and sexy he looks in that damn tuxedo with those piercing blue eyes the color of a stormy sea.
I’m dimly aware of Donald hissing at me as I shove the champagne flute into his hands and walk away, ignoring the cameras, the stuffy museum trustees, my campaign aides, and especially the hot asshole in the tuxedo, as I march right out through the museum foyer and out the door.
She storms out of the foyer and through the double glass doors into the museum courtyard, and I’m shaking my head and following her.
Of course I’m following, like I’ve been following her for longer than she’s ever known and in spite of how damn bratty she gets.
It’s cold out here in the open-air courtyard, and the city lights and sounds are only slightly muffled by the four walls of the museum around us.
She whirls on me with a look of fury on her face, her mouth open ready to spit fire and brimstone and vitriol at me like I know she is, when suddenly she’s slipping on the ice under her heeled feet. I move faster than my brain even knows how to; years of training and reflex just making the body move on its own accord I guess, and I’m catching her before my head even totally registers that she’s falling.
Fuck, she feels amazing in my arms. She’s come out here without a coat on in that classic hot-headed Reagan way, and as my arms go around her, I can feel the heat from her skin against my palms through the low-cut open part at the back of her dress. Her hands clutch at my jacket lapels, one seizing my arm as she gasp and tumbles right into my chest. I close my eyes for the briefest moments, smelling her perfume or shampoo, or whatever voodoo magic she’s using to bring my head completely to a stop as I just hold for a frozen moment in time.
You know, smelling her, like a totally normal person.
“Put me down,” Her voice is high and whispered, but she’s not fighting or struggling against me. I’m still frozen, feeling her hand against my chest and my shoulder like that; her hair in my face and her scent just enslaving me.
“Hudson!” She sounds more insistent this time, and now she’s pushing at my chest. “The last thing I need is some photographer snapping pictures of me canoodling with some hot prick in a tuxedo.”
I pull my face back to grin into hers. “So, five years later and you’re still thinking about my hot prick, huh?” I smirk at her, still relishing the feel of her in my arms, and doing everything I can, even if it’s obnoxious, to keep her there even a moment longer.
Reagan rolls her eyes. “Emphasis on prick,” she huffs out, squirming out of my arms and stepping away from me.
“Hey, your words not mine, sweet stuff.” I wince inside, regretting saying it even before it leaves my mouth.
Why the fuck can’t I just be normal around her? There’s something about the way she talks to me - the way she’s always talked to me - that brings out the fighter in me when all I want to do is be normal around her. Well, that’s of course not the only thing I want to do with her when I’m around her, but I let that thought simmer away for the time being. It doesn’t help that she’s sexy as hell standing here in the freezing cold with her red hair looking wild and fierce and wearing that ridiculously hot black dress with her nipples poking through. I can feel my cock stir in my pants, and I shake my head, trying to tear my eyes away from her perfect tits in that perfect dress with her perfect nipp-
“In your dreams, asshole.”
You have no fucking idea, babe, I think inside, gritting my teeth and trying to will my erection to go away. Instead, like I always do with her, the snark comes out instead. “You know honey, Donald’s right about you.” I can see her bristling at the word honey and add that one to the list of probably slightly offensive names she clearly hates.
“You do have a hell of a mouth on you.”
She smirks at me, all sass and sexiness. “Oh, honey, you have no idea.”
I groan inside, feeling my cock go rock-hard inside my tuxedo pants. I don’t know if she means for it to come out as innuendo-laden as it does, but before I can even think about it too hard, she whirls to march away from me and suddenly she’s slipping on the ice all over again. I lunge again, catching her once more before she falls.
“Stop touching me, Hudson!”
“Well stop fucking falling then!”
We glare at each other for a second, and it’s taking everything I have to meet her eyes and not to stare at her trembling lower lip, or further down to where I can clearly see her nipples poking out of her sheer gown. Somehow, somehow, chivalry wins out over my dick, and I let her go, putting her back on her feet. She shivers, and before I know it I’m shrugging my tux jacket off and pushing it towards her.
“Stop it, I don’t want that.” Her eyes flare defiantly, all the while rubbing her arms with her chilly looking hands.
“It’s freezing out here”
“Well I’m fine!”
I grit my teeth and roll my eyes. “Have you seriously always been this fucking obstinate?”
“It’s my ‘political edge’,” she sneers out.
“Well, that’s one word for bitchy.” I cringe again inside, wondering how the hell I can go about murdering the voice inside my head that keeps insisting on letting everything out.
She frowns at me, reaching up to push a loose lock of hair behind her ear and just looking so damn cute standing there shivering. “Is there a fucking point to all this?”
Ugh, yes, if I could just stop acting like an asshole and ruining it.
I clear my throat. “Yes, actually. Archer Holdings believes in your campaign.” Christ I sound like I’m giving a board meeting address.
She purses her lips and clenches her jaw at the name. “Fantastic, well tell them to vote however their little hearts desire in the election. I’ll have my people send over some lawn signs and buttons if they’d like.”
“Cute” I mutter, seeing her frowning mouth turn up slightly at the corners.
“So, what, is my Dad trying to buy my love from beyond the grave or something?”
I grimace, feeling my muscles tense and hands clench, before I have to remind myself that she never knew William Archer like I did; like we did.
When he found me, I had nothing; less than nothing really. None of us did back then, until he dragged us back from the brinks of our own personal hells. And when I say ‘Nothing,’ I don’t just mean in the material possessions sense of the word either. When a man is broken inside as I was - like all three us were - there’s almost no coming back from it. In the very bottom depths of my own nightmare, with the shit I’d seen and the even worse shit I’d done, I’d given up on myself; almost.
“When a man gives up on himself, that’s when he’s truly gone” He'd said to me that first night, sitting in that shit-ass bar as he’d pulled the bottle away from my shaky hand when I’d reached for another drink. “And you don’t seem like you’re gone, not yet.”
‘But Goddamn close to it’ is what I would’ve said, looking at me that night.
I asked him later what he saw in any of us when he found us in that shithole of a slum-bar on the outskirts of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was curious about me when I asked him, but Bryce had been way worse than even I was back then with his addictions. William’s only response had been a single word: “Promise.”
‘Promise’ is what turned three shell-shocked, burned-out, drugged out soldiers for hire to the worst dictators on Earth into the disciplined new men of means we were today. We’d never be the man who saved us, but we’d pledged our lives to getting as close as possible.
And a promise - not just any promise but THE promise - is what brings me out here in the freezing cold, looking at Reagan Archer and wondering how in the world a guy who’d lived through the shit I’d lived through is having the hardest time in the world trying to figure out what the hell to say to her.
P A S T
“Reagan! Ray! Do not make me late!”
“What? I’m here, jeez.” I stomp down the stairs from the second floor landing with a scowl on my face, a scowl that only deepens when Quinn and my Aunt Kelly coo and aww and gush over the frilly, stupid pink dress I’m wearing as I make my appearance.
“Oh Reagan, you look adorable, honey!” Aunt Kelly gushes; clutching her hands together eagerly before digging in her purse for her camera.
I groan; “No! No pictures!” I make a face as the flash goes off regardless, setting my jaw even harder as I stomp the rest of the way down the stairs. I am fourteen years old, still very firmly in the grasp of my anti-dress tomboy phase, and I absolutely hate that I’m dressed up like a freaking cabbage patch doll.
“Well I love my dress!” Chelsea comes bounding down the stairs, and even Quinn rolls her eyes at the exuberance. Chelsea is ten and firmly believes she’s actually a Disney princess.
“Well you look very pretty young lady!” Aunt Kelly can’t help herselfas she snaps another couple of pictures, the flashes making me turn away and shield my eyes.
“Well I look stupid, stop it.” I groan, pushing her fussing hands away from the dress; “Why do I have to wear this dumb thing?”
“Because it’s my graduation, that’s why, Ray-Ray.” Quinn giggles and sticks her tongue out as I make a lunge at her, only to be held back by Aunt Kelly.
“Reagan!” She scolds, looking at my firmly. Aunt Kelly is one of those sweet motherly types who is incapable of looking mad no matter how hard she tries, and even at thirteen, I think I’m aware of this fact and impressed with her attempt anyways.
“She started it! I hate that name!”
Aunt Kelly turns and gives Quinn another equally as unimposing stern look; “Be nice to your sister, she is wearing the dress after all.”
“What’s the point? It’s not like Dad’s going to show up anyways.”
The silence that descends over the bottom of the stairs is palpable, and I instantly regret opening my mouth as Chelsea’s face falls and the tears start to well up in her eyes. Even always-cool Quinn looks like I slapped her in the face, and my Aunt’s face goes a shade whiter; “Now Reag-”
“Fuck you, Reagan.” Quinn spits at me as she turns and storms out the front door.
I don’t know it yet, but me and my big mouth have a long, illustrious future ahead of us.
P R E S E N T
Hudson gets weird when I mention my Dad, which only drives the wedge that’s already between us even deeper; the wedge being that I didn’t know my own father half as well as he did.
“Look, let’s go get a drink or something and I’ll explain.”
He can not be serious.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.” I remember the last time with him when drinks were involved, and immediately regret it as I feel my face grow hot.
“Will you fucking relax?” He snaps, looking irritated and still holding out his jacket to me even though we both know I’m not going to take it. “Look, this isn’t about us-”
“There is no ‘us’, Hudson,” I sneer. I know I’m covering for my own embarrassment with this bitchy act, but I can’t seem to stop myself. Besides, what other way is there to act towards Hudson?
“Yeah, no shit, babe.”
I glare at him.
“Listen, Red,” He scowls at me, his blue eyes somehow looking even hotter when they’re fierce like that. I make a conscious effort to look at his chin instead.
“Believe it or not, this is about your campaign, which people are actually interested in seeing work out for you.” He shakes his head at me, as if I’m some petulant child. “Get over it being your father’s compan-”
“Are you shitting me?” I can feel the fury rising inside as I cut him off and stare at him in disbelief. “You think this is just about me trying to act out or snub my Dad? Do I look like I’m fucking twelve years old?”
“Twelve year olds are better behaved, Princess.” He grins at me.
“Don’t call me that!” I snap shrilly. “I don’t want the money because I am not taking campaign donations from a gun manufacturer!” Half my damn platform is about cleaning up the streets and keeping firearms out of the hands of kids; how the hell did Donald okay this?
Hudson purses his lips - those perfect, totally kissable-
“We got out of all that, it’s nothing we do anymore.” He says evenly, his eyes staring into mine.
He sighs loudly, rolling his eyes at me. “Jesus, have you always been this ridiculous? Look, just come have a fucking drink with me and I’ll explain everything.”
I know the sneering face I make at him plays entirely into his calling me childish but I just don’t care. I turn back to the doors and see Donald standing behind them back inside the museum, giving me a scowl and shaking his head, and I can practically feel his disapproval from here.
“Fine; let’s go.”
* * *
“This is your car?”
He looks up from the passenger door he’s opened for me with a smug expression. “Yep.”
Of course it is. I roll my eyes, wondering for the ninth time since we walked out of my own fundraising event why on earth I said yes to this.
The sleek black vintage Charger is sexy as hell, but it’s just so overtly masculine and absurdly macho that I just shake my head as I slide into the passenger side of the bench seat. A car like this, of course, usually says that you’re making up for something else. I instantly feel my face flush scarlet with the memory of that one moment and the size of that thickness pressing against me as he kissed me.
Hudson Banks isn’t making up for a thing with this car.
I jump from my naughty daydream when his hand brushes my knee as he reaches for the shifter; “Easy there, hands-y,” I quip, shooting him a look.
“Oh, relax and put your seatbelt on, Senator.”
I’m about to respond when he roars away from the curb fast enough to take the breath from my lungs and send a surge of adrenaline right through my core as we tear off into the cold city night.
* * *
The place we end up going is way fancy; like, the kind of bar that’s got so much class you can hardly get away with just calling it a “bar” anymore. As we’re ushered in, I’m suddenly glad we’re dressed the way we are, with him in a tuxedo and me in my gown. Although something tells me when I see the hundred-dollar-bill that Hudson palms the maître-d that he’d be seated wearing nothing at all.
Images of Hudson’s chiseled, shirtless torso, and the big hint of what’s hidden lower flood my mind as we take a seat at the far end of the elegant bar-top.
“What are you drinking?”
“Huh?” I shake my head, feeling my cheeks burn as I try and clear my head of the dirty fantasies throbbing and undulating through my brain involving the man sitting next me. This is the man I need to loath and despise on pretty much every principal I have, not the man whose cock I should be fantasizing about. I don’t really drink much, and I can actually still feel the half-glass of champagne I had back at the fundraiser buzzing through me, but I shrug apologetically at the bartender anyways. “Oh, uh, wine I guess? Something white?”
He smiles and turns to Hudson with a curt nod before he moves down to the other end of the bar.
“He knows what I want,” Hudson says with a wink. He lets his eyes linger down the neck of my dress as he grins; the subtext that I should know what he wants too isn’t exactly lost on me. I clear my throat and look away.
I let my eyes wander around the demurely lit, sleek and modern-looking room that reeks of money, taking the place in. “Come here often?” The place is full of gorgeous women, all young and hot and digging - and Hudson looks like he’s made out of solid gold.
“Often enough, sure.”
Yeah I bet, I think, eyeing the trio of skanks giggling and batting their eyes in Hudson’s direction from the other end of the bar. The jealousy takes me by surprise and I find myself shaking my head, confused by it. Why on earth am I so heated about this? There is no ‘Hudson and I’. It was one night, five fucking years ago, and we basically just kissed.
Well, kissed with his shirt half undone and his hand on my skin, teasing across my hip and sliding down across the wetness at the front of my panties. I cough again to clear my throat and my thoughts as the bartender returns with my wine, and something that looks like it jumped off the kids menu at a chain restaurant that he sets down in front of Hudson.
“Uh, what the hell is that?”
Hudson shrugs as he takes a sip out of the straw. Well, after he pushes aside the ridiculous little bouquet of thin orange slices and maraschino cherries adorning the top of it. “It’s a Shirley Temple.” He says matter-of-factly.
I snort, a grin teasing my lips. “Are you serious?”
He looks at me like I’m an idiot. “Of course I am, they’re delicious.”
I grin in spite of myself, seeing the glimmer of his own in return as his blue eyes flash at me. “Right, if you’re seven years old.”
“I don’t really drink anymore.”
I laugh, and it comes out harsher than intended; “Since when?”
“Since-” He wags his head side to side as if weighing something. “I just don’t anymore.”
I stare at him and then the glass of wine I didn’t really want anyway. “Well why are we at a bar to talk then if you don’t drink?”
He turns and winks at me, that smug smile totally back and spread across his face. “Because you looked like you needed one.”
I take a big slug from my glass, certainly as an excuse to tear my eyes away from him, but also because the way he looks at me really does make me need a drink.
“You know you’re sunk without the money, right?” It’s hard to take the guy seriously - no matter how fucking sexy he looks in that tux with the tattoos peeking out - with that stupid straw in between his lips and the cherry stems tickling his nose, but his words jolt me back to our reason for being here just the same.
He looks surprised. “Fine?”
“I said fine, OK?” As much as I hate to admit it, I know he’s right. I know the whole run is over without the campaign money from Archer Holdings, I just hate giving him the satisfaction of hearing me tell him he’s right. He looks impressed with himself. Like he’s “won” and I’m submitting to him, and not in the way that just won’t get out of my thoughts being this close to him. “I just don’t see why you had to be here though,” I glare at him. “Don’t you have interns, or fucking servants or whatever to do this sort of thing for you?”
He smirks at the ‘servants’ line. “Well, there’s a bit more to it than that.” I raise an eyebrow and his eyes sparkle as he winks at me. “It’s not just the money.”
“Well, what then?” I’m getting tired of feeling like he’s playing with me, especially since in my head he’s playing with me in a very different way and it’s distracting me to the point of anxiousness.
“You’re pissing a lot of people off with your platform.” He says the words carefully, as if choosing them before he utters them.
“I’m making a lot of people happy with my platform, which is why I’m way ahead in the polls, actually.” Now it’s my turn to be smug as I sit back and sip on my wine.
He turns to face me fully, his face the most serious I’ve seen from him yet. “Let’s just say that there are things out there that you don’t see that I do.” His eyes drop to the front of my gown and he grins for just a hair of a second; just long enough to tell me he can see how erect my nipples are before he drags his eyes back up to mine.
I roll my eyes. “You know, those of us who don’t make a buck selling guns to third-world war-zones have a slightly more positive outlook on the world.” Okay, I’ll admit I need my father’s company’s money, but I don’t need Hudson’s negativity packaged along with it.
He wraps his soft lips around his straw and sucks gently, his eyes never leaving mine as he sips on his Shirley Temple, and it’s probably the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen involving grenadine. I feel an aching pull deep inside that brings a fresh flush to my cheeks, and I can feel my nipples hardening beneath my gown even more despite the warmth of the room. God damn you, Hudson Banks.
“Well, those of us who have been around those third-world war zones don’t have the luxury of that fantasy, which is why I’ll be sticking around to make sure you’re ok.”
I frown. “Excuse me?”
“Me, around. I’m going to be watching you during the campaign.” He grins, and the motion pulls the skin of his neck just enough that I catch another glimpse of the dark ink there just under his collar, and I’m instantly fascinated with knowing what else is under that shirt before I shake the thought from my head. “Maybe you should think of it as less someone watching you and more just Archer Holdings looking after its investment.” He arches his brow as he sips at his Shirley Temple. “Which is you, in this scenario.”
I can feel my blood begin to boil as I struggle to keep my temper in check. “You can’t be serious,” I mutter to him through gritted teeth. “I don’t need a bodyguard.”
Hudson shrugs nonchalantly, that smug look never leaving his face. “Well, agree to disagree then.”
I can feel the heat rising in my face to match the growing volume of my voice. “I’m serious, Hudson, I’m not doing this. I’ll call Dona-“
“Donald agrees with me, actually.”
Dammit; this is a setup. Donald’s not worried about something happening to me, he’s worried about me going off his by-the-book script and doing something to shake up the campaign in a way he can’t control. Hudson might think he needs to “protect me” or whatever, but I know the real reason for all this is so Donald can have someone babysit me.
I’m out of my seat and storming across the room before Hudson can put down his stupid kids drink. At the front door, I feel his strong hand grab my arm, pulling me around. “Relax, Reag-”
“Do not tell me to ‘relax’!” I hate when people say that to me.”
“Fine, don’t relax then!” His voice is stoney, even though he’s still got that stupid smug look on his chiseled jaw. “Look, where are you going?”
God, the nannying starts already.
“Home, Hudson. I’m going home.” I yank my arm out of his grasp and turn back towards the door.
“I’ll drive yo-”
“I’m taking the train or a cab like a normal person.” I spit at him.
“Fine, I’ll meet you there then I guess.”
I freeze. “What do you mean?”
He frowns. “Didn’t Donald tell- Oh. Fuck.” He chuckles and looks at the floor, a lock of his dark hair falling over his face. He runs a hand up through it and pushed it back as he raises his eye to look at me with that smug grin I’d just started to forget about. “Well, if you were mad before, you’re gonna be fuckin pissed now.”
I shake my head. “Hudson what the fuck are you-”
“I’m moving in, Reagan.”
My jaw drops.
“I mean my place would be better, and safer, but Donald and I both thought there was a snowball’s chance in you agreeing to that one, so your place it is.”
That smug prick is grinning at me like this is hilarious. Like HIM of all fucking people moving into the guest room of MY apartment is the funniest goddamn joke in the world.
I don’t even respond, I just turn on my heel and march out of the bar. Guess I’m just fresh out of punchlines.
Continue the story!
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