Greek God Goodness
Lucas stands in the doorway, seeming very much like he just stepped out of one of those men’s cologne advertisements that runs on the large screens at Times Square.
His eyes are hidden behind the dark lenses of designer sunglasses. Though she can’t see the bright grey pools, somehow Alaine can tell that they are already settled on her. Pinned to her spot behind the counter and stunned to see him here again in the tiny shop, her own eyes go round.
The rest of the world around her stands still as well. Except for the slight narrowing of Angus’ eyes, neither one of the two other occupants of the small space move. His sudden appearance has rendered them all immobile.
In an impossibly short space of time, Alaine’s brain records everything about Lucas. In rapid succession that data is analyzed and transferred to her heart. The information received sends the silly thing galloping.
Firstly, she notes that he is out of his usual business attire but he is no less dangerously good looking in what he’s replaced it with. His black hair is wet – a telltale sign of a recent shower. The images and longing spurred on by that observation, especially with her first-hand knowledge of how solid he is, are disturbing. Even in her daze, Alaine can feel the heat infusing her cheeks.
He’s smoothed the glistening strands away from his face. When he wears his hair falling just over his brow, it gives him the appearance of a youth with a penchant for mischief. This sleeked back, wet look, however, is the look of a man – a gorgeous man.
The light breeze he lets in before the door closes behind him carries the fragrance of his cologne forward. Alaine’s breath gets caught in her lungs. His lips quirk up in a half side smirk like he knows. Like he is well aware of what his presence is doing to her.
Lucas Bright isn’t just slowly chipping away at the defences she’s set up against his kind. Whether or not he is cognizant of it, he is barreling his way through those walls and Alaine finds herself gripping the counter to ground herself against the impact.
“Breathe, Alaine,” Mona cautions quietly beside her. Her words are followed by an enlightened chuckle. Thankfully, the sound pulls Alaine out of her trance.
Dear God! How is she going to explain him to Mona?
Clearing her throat as discreetly as possible in the small room, Alaine turns her attention back to Lucas.
“You’re here?” she questions, her voice still squeaking despite her efforts. She shakes her head now that it becomes plain that she just ran her eyes appreciatively over the length of him – pausing first at his muscled chest that she’s experienced and then again at his sculpted sinful lips.
Mona chuckles again. “Now I understand what all that sighing has been about,” she leans sideways to whisper to Alaine as she sizes up Lucas openly.
Slowly, Alaine turns her wide eyes on her elder.
“What?” Mona asks with a shrug.
Encouraged by Alaine’s reaction, Lucas strides forward, his gait brimming with the confidence of a man on a mission.
“Angus,” he says in mock salut of the delivery man as he moves past him without the courtesy of a sideways glance.
Though he must tower over Lucas by four to five inches, poor Angus seems to shrivel and slink into a shell. Had it not been for Lucas’ greeting, Alaine might not have remembered large and tall Angus is still standing there. This time, her tunnel vision is dedicated to the delectable Lucas Bright.
“What are you doing here?” she demands, her voice still wavering. “I thought...”
Now that he is standing in front of her, Lucas smiles, full and wide revealing two straight rows of pearly whites. He removes his sunglasses and sets it down on the counter between them, uncovering bright eyes, twinkling with mirth. The effect of those two actions on Alaine’s senses is alarming. Her knees go weak and she is afraid she may very well swoon.
“You can hang up the phone now,” he tells her in that faintly accented voice.
Her spine thrums like a plucked chord, grazed by the sensuously, low huskiness of his timbre. As he reaches for the phone still pressed to her ear, his warm fingers caress her cheek. They practically encase her hand, spreading that electrifying sensation from her fingertips all the way to her toes.
“What was it that you thought, Ms. Knight?” Lucas asks, prompting her to complete her sentence.
Alaine runs her tongue over her dry lips and presses them together. She swallows, stealing time to stitch her fraying nerves and fragmented attention back into one piece before responding. Lucas Bright is enjoying himself at her expense. She can just tell by the glimmer in his eyes.
“I haven’t heard from you,” she says, relieved that her explanation is not a reflection of her scrambled brain. “I thought you’d had a change of heart.”
His eyes travel over her face and stop at her lips where he deliberately lets them linger. A reminder that he hasn’t forgotten his near brush with them.
Neither has she.
The only thing preventing him from seeking her permission and leaning over the counter right now is their audience.
“I haven’t. Not at all,” he assures her. “How are you feeling? Are you in any pain?” he enquires, the merriment in his eyes quickly replaced with concern. “I thought I would rectify your sleeping situation,” he adds.
“My what?” Alaine asks in a mere whisper.
Lucas chuckles, at the flush deepening in her cheeks. A light-heartedness overcomes him because of her reaction to his surprise appearance. He can’t say he’s disappointed. He loves her discomfiture and scattered witt. He can’t look away from her eyes, either. God, he loves them.
But Alaine is frazzled by this version of torture he’s invented just for her and he delivers it in quick increments – a look, a smile, a touch, just being here, and she has to fight to suppress her groan of embarrassment.
Since he entered the shop, her mind suddenly seemed to empty and everything that poured out has been replaced by Lucas Bright. For now, all she can think is that he is by far the most handsome man she’s ever encountered. Afraid that those words might just slip out if she opens her mouth, she clamps her jaws shut to await further explanation.
“It’s an inflatable bed,” he clarifies, feeling a tad uncertain now about his decision to buy her these things.
“Oh, of course,” Alaine finally manages to get out after another second being mute. “An air bed,” she states. “Why did you get me an air bed?” she asks, trying to ignore Mona and her raised eyebrow beside her.
“Because, I don’t want you lame tomorrow evening,” Lucas jokes. I want you able and limber for...”
Mona clears her throat. It’s only then Alaine realizes that her lips are parted and she is slightly out of breath while she watches the movement of his beautiful mouth as he speaks.
“What the heck is wrong with me?” she breathes softly.
Utter humiliation washes over her once she realizes that she’d voiced aloud what should have remained a thought. Lord Take her now! She pleads and waits for the ground beneath her feet to open. It doesn’t happen so she busies herself with a spray bottle to glisten the leaves of the potted plants on the shelf nearest to her – anything to distract herself.
Unsure of what to make of her peculiar behaviour, Lucas frowns. Reluctantly he turns from Alaine to introduce himself to an eagerly waiting Mona. She takes his outstretched hand in hers, shaking her head and chortling softly.
“You are yummy,” the shopkeeper tells him, making him chuckle uncomfortably.
Releasing his hand, she turns quickly to accept the next load of delivery from Angus, cutting Alaine's chances of using it as an excuse to get distracted.
Once Alaine notices that she missed Angus’s exit and reentry into the shop, it becomes clear just how engrossed in Lucas Bright she has been. That can’t be good for her.
“Bye Alaine,” Angus says frowning furiously. She nods her head in his direction. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he adds, his entire demeanour glum.
Intent on stopping her foolishness, Alaine takes a deep rejuvenating breath. Feeling fortified, she sets the spray bottle firmly on the glass counter. “What were you saying about an air bed?” she directs to Lucas.
“I got you queen sized one,” he replies, his uncertainty persisting. Admittedly, he hadn’t really thought this all the way through. He certainly hadn’t factored in her reaction to or possible rejection of his kind gesture. Now he stands there with only his nervous explanation as a defence for the apprehension travelling up his spine.
“It will be much more comfortable than sleeping on that small rock you call a sofa, I imagine,” he continues to explain. “I’ve never slept on an inflatable bed but it has to be better than what you currently have.”
She looks at him dumbly.
“Your injury, Ms. Knight,” he clarifies. “You’re accompanying me to a charity event tomorrow, in case you’ve forgotten and I don’t want you limping or falling over me.”
She misses the humour in his tone and colours, embarrassed. The fact that he is treating her as a charity case, doesn’t help either. “It won’t happen again, I assure you,” Alaine says.
Lucas’s features fall, again at her sudden acerbic tone. But under the watchful eyes of Mona the shop owner, he doesn’t tell her how much he enjoyed having her in his arms. He doesn’t tell her how hot his body had become from their near kiss and he certainly won’t tell her what will happen the next time she finds herself back there. However, he isn’t sure he can keep those messages out of his eyes as they drop to her parted lips again.
More than that, Lucas wants to assure her. Of what? That, he doesn’t know but finds himself speaking anyway, the words tumbling out of his mouth faster than his brain can filter them.
“I assure you Ms. Knight,” he says in a low timbre as he leans forward, close enough to cause her eyes to narrow then widen. “I have no problem with you falling over me,” he concludes.
At the sound of a soft whimper that Alaine briefly hopes hadn’t come from her and thanks God that it hadn't, all eyes turn to the young woman who entered the shop with her significant other.
Unfortunately, she too has fallen prey to the irresistible magnetism that is Lucas Bright. Currently, he wears an expression that Alaine can only imagine means he is laughing at the effect he is having on all three women in the shop.
“There is something I would like to discuss with you,” Lucas tells her. “When do you get off work?” he asks.
Just like that, his smirk is gone and he is back to business.
“She has a break right now,” Mona pipes in.
“What? No, I don’t,” Alaine protests emphatically on account of her ungovernable response to his looks and nearness and just him. “It’s barely nine-thirty, I can’t leave now, it’s Valentines’ day,” she continues.
But he scowls at her, looking wounded and confused and her resolve slips as a result. Although Alaine can’t pinpoint what it is exactly, there is something about this man that appeals to her – something beyond his good looks and charm. She chews her lower lip while trying to decipher him – an action that is probably the most enticing thing Lucas has ever seen.
He wants to reach out and tug that luscious lip out of her mouth – replace it with his. He wants to make a comment about it too, but the owner and the customers, their eyes are shifting with too much interest between him and Alaine.
“Please?” he requests softly because although her reaction to him this morning is confounding, they really should refine the details of their arrangement before the upcoming event and it can’t be discussed here.
“You,” the owner addresses Lucas before Alaine can respond.
She draws his confused attention. “I want you out of my shop, or many hearts will be broken and relationships ended before the end of the day. Go,” she says to Alaine who turns pleading eyes to her. Mona won’t budge. She returns Alaine’s stare with a pointed look of her own – one that seeks to learn whether or not she’s lost her mind.
During their little interplay, Lucas’ eyes sweep the shop, admiring the beautiful arrangements of edible baskets and flowers. “This bouquet is very pretty,” he says running his thumb over the silken petals of a red rose. “How much is it?”
“It’s not for sale,” Alaine snaps, shooing his hand away.
“A bouquet of flowers not for sale on Valentine’s Day in a flower shop?” he asks, raising an eyebrow at her. “I’m no romantic but I find that hard to believe.”
“It’s for sale but it’s pre-ordered,” she clarifies. “They’re all pre-ordered.”
“Oh,” he replies simply. Yet, he plucks a single red rose from the display and hands it to her. “Happy Valentines’ day,” he says with a little smile.
She should be upset, but her traitorous hand inches forward accepting the long-stemmed rose so that her fingers brush against his. He smiles wider and she pulls back at the contact like it had stung, then she inhales the perfumed red velvety petals, deeply.
“What’s the matter?” he asks when she frowns.
“I didn’t get you anything,” she replies.
He laughs – a deep rumble that lightens his features. “I’m set Ms. Knight,” Lucas says now that his laughter has subsided. “Honestly, what can you get a billionaire for Valentines’ day?”
He cocks his head to the side as he thinks of what he would like from her, starting with her lips on his. He really wants to know what a kiss feels like. Correction…he really wants to know what kissing her feels like. For the life of him, he simply cannot shake the desire.
“Can you join me outside for a few minutes?” he requests. “I’ll have Seth drop this at your apartment later,” he says, picking up the large box as if it were nothing.
Alaine nods coming around the counter to lead the way.
“Let me,” Lucas offers, perching the box on his hip to lean over her and push the door open.
“Such a gentleman,” Alaine muses, aloud.
“I try,” Lucas responds.
Once they are outside, he hands his load over to an already waiting Seth. Alaine makes it a point of duty to ignore her cousin's presence.
“Why didn’t you just drop it at my apartment before?” she challenges Lucas with her arms folded and eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“I wasn’t certain anyone would be home,” he replies. “I wouldn’t want to waste the trip. And I wanted to see your face when you got my gifts,” he adds with a shrug.
Alaine glances up at him walking beside her to find him looking straight ahead, completely unaffected by her presence. In the meantime she grapples to remain calm. “I really should get to work Mr. Bright,” she says, searching for a way out. “The shop is usually swamped by many desperate boyfriends who forgot Valentine’s Day.”
To that, Lucas rolls his eyes. “It’s just a day,” he grumbles. “There’s nothing special about it. I don’t think roses and chocolates, no matter how imaginatively displayed, nor how expensive contributes anything meaningful to a relationship.”
“But it means something to certain people,” she tells him. “Just because you don’t understand it or believe in it doesn’t mean you should belittle it.”
He goes silent, mulling over her words. “Are you one of the people it means something to?” he enquires.
“I’ve never had the good fortune to know,” Alaine responds with a wistfulness to her tone that surprises even her.
Lucas pauses in the middle of the sidewalk, drawing her up short. “You’ve never had a valentine?” he asks incredulously. “That’s very surprising,” he says with intrigue when she shakes her head. “Especially considering your line of work. Have breakfast with me then,” he adds quickly. “It will be your Valentine's gift to me. I’ll even let you pay."
A look of triumph brightens his features when she caves. He’s learning one more thing about Alaine Knight – she appears to be a romantic and it seems to him that romantics can be easily wooed.
Because he doesn’t frequent the boroughs, this area is very unfamiliar. That has to change to accommodate the charity work he wants to advance in the city. So contentedly, Lucas allows himself to be guided by the strolling steps of a wisp of a girl as he takes in his surroundings.
Uncomfortable with the curious and admiring glances he receives along the way, he slips his sunglasses back over his eyes. Alaine notices too but hides her smile and keeps her comment about it to herself. She would not have pegged him as shy. It comes as a surprise and is actually refreshing.
“There’s a coffee shop just up the street if you are serious about breakfast,” she tells him. Then she adds, “You know, this is my second public appearance with you, am I getting paid for this?” Just a little humour to try to set him at ease.
When he looks down at her, she is sorry that she can’t see his eyes anymore. The shimmering pools are one of her favourite physical traits about him. Alaine shakes her head at the trajectory of her thoughts.
“I can arrange that,” he tells her, already reaching into his pocket for his phone.
Something in his tone reveals his disappointment. “That was a joke,” Alaine tells him quickly. “I’ll allow you these freebies. And you really shouldn’t have gotten me those things,” she adds. “It’s not like I’m doing you a favour.”
"Oh," he replies, oozing more disappointment. Lucas returns the slick black version of the phone he bought for her to his pocket. Of course, she’s right. This is the arrangement they’ve signed up for but her words cause his heart to turn over in his chest and it’s not in a pleasant way. Though he tells himself they shouldn’t, her words sting.
He regards Alaine oddly when she begins to pat herself down frantically and lets out a low groan. It’s just dawned on her that she left the very expensive pixel on the counter of the flower shop. He really shouldn’t have gotten her something like this. She is too careless with them.
“Could you give me one minute,” she requests and turns quickly back to the store.
Lucas stands in the middle of a Queen’s sidewalk and shakes his head at himself. What the heck is he doing? Here? And chasing after a girl?
He marks Alaine’s trudge back toward him thinking, Damn this girl is beautiful as she tries to suppress her glowing smile. Something on her trip back to the shop owner made her happy and he wishes he was privileged to know what it was. His lips quirk up as well in response. As befuddling as it is, he is happy to be standing on a strange block in Queens in her company.
“I like your shopkeeper,” he tells her perceptively and Alaine flushes. “She said something about me, didn’t she?” he adds and laughs at her inflamed skin. “You still have a slight limp,” he says quickly to change the topic, which Alaine is happy for.
Indeed Mona said a lot, enough to make Alaine blush at the inappropriate comments. “The bane of my existence,” she says in reply to his last observation. “I don’t always have it. It’s just sleeping in the chair and the heels and when it’s very cold,” she explains.
She pulls the phone out of her pocket, testing its weight in her hand. “This is really expensive,” Alaine says. “And the bed, I appreciate the gesture,” she adds, under the threat of tears. Even she can't deny that this was unbelievably thoughtful of him and it touching. Apparently, she's been alone for too long. One kind act from this man and she becomes a leaky faucet. “But they’re too much,” she says, determined to reign in her emotion as she stretches the device toward him.
Ignoring her outstretched hands, Lucas resumes walking. “They’re both very necessary,” he counters. “One I can use to contact you and the other to ensure that you sleep with a modicum of comfort and pain-free. Ms. Knight, I guarantee you they did not hurt my budget.”
He guides her out of the path of a boisterous group of teenagers with his hand on the small of her back. The warmth and light pressure cause Alaine to stiffen momentarily. Soon she realizes that it is an innocent touch and allows herself to relax.
“What happened to your phone?” he asks.
“It got wet in the rain the day of the interview," she informs him. "I tried to salvage it, but... Thank you, for the gesture. I will return them at the end of our arrangement, of course, or pay you back.”
“I am not certain how gift giving works,” Lucas tells her. “But I’m sure you don’t say thank you for a gift and then say you’ll return it in the next breath. It is a gift,” he scolds her with a frustrated sigh.
“I’m sorry,” she offers, slowing her steps to turn to him. “I only just met you and I haven’t received a gift in almost ten years,” she blurts with an incredulous laugh. “It’s very... surreal? I don’t know,” she says and shrugs.
Lucas regards her behind the safety of his dark sunglasses. “I find that hard to believe, Ms. Knight,” he tells her honestly. “Men must fall at your feet.”
“If they do I haven’t noticed,” she replies and he files yet another bit of information about Alaine Knight in his memory bank, to be reviewed at a later date.
They stroll in companionable silence for a few meters. Lucas shoves his hands in his pocket surveying the queen’s neighbourhood. He notices the delivery truck he saw earlier is still parked there and imagines that it belongs to her Angus. Unbidden, the memory of her brief conversation with the blonde blue-eyed delivery guy surfaces. He was agitated by it and still is. It had never occurred to him that she might have a love interest. The guy seems genuinely nice – his compliments to her sweet and innocent and probably something she liked to hear. Maybe his feelings are reciprocated.
She touches his arm. When he looks at her it is with a scowl his musings created.
“You zoned out there,” Alaine tells him.
“I’m sorry,” he says quickly. “I was thinking.”
“You must have a lot on your mind as a successful businessman,” she responds. “Yet you’re here. And on a work day.”
“My thoughts were very singular actually,” Lucas answers honestly. “I was thinking of you. And I am here because I want to be.”
Her response is a simple “Okay,” softly spoken, with no inquiry into what those thoughts might have been. She convinces herself that no meaning should be applied to his words, though the temptation ask is compelling. He wanting to be here with her is ludicrous, of course, so she decides not to comment on it.
“So, Angus,” Lucas says seemingly out of the blue. “Is he a romantic interest or something?” he asks and holds his breath while awaiting her response.
“No,” Alaine responds maybe a little too quickly. “No, Angus is a good God-fearing Christian young man.. and a friend.”
Lucas snorts. “He is a man,” he states. “He may be God-fearing and a friend but his thoughts about you are entirely unholy and far, far out of the friend zone,” he says.
“Are not,” Alaine squawks, childishly.
“I’m a man, Ms. Knight,” Lucas tells her, his tone serious and entreating as he stands before her, his lean frame blocking the entrance to the café. “And you are a very beautiful and tempting woman,” he removes his sunglasses to peer deeply into her eyes to say. “So I know exactly what his thoughts are.”
Alaine swallows, ensnared by his eyes and words. Her, tempting? Don’t be ridiculous! She wants to say. And What does that even mean? Was he having unholy thoughts about her? She shakes her head again, an action she finds herself repeating constantly when in Lucas Bright’s company.
“Stop thinking so much,” he tells her. “You have to know how beautiful you are,” he says, reaching out unexpectedly to tuck stray tendrils of hair behind her ear. “You have to know the effect you elicit.”
His voice, his touch, both a whisper, raise a fine layer of goosebumps over her skin as his fingers glide down the back of her ear and along her jawline.
Alaine has to remind herself to breathe as she stands there looking up at him, completely thrown by the sincerity in his voice, by the hypnotic lure of silvery gray eyes and electric currents in his touch.
All too abruptly and with a look of confusion, he closes himself off and turns to open the door to let her into the cafe before him.