Guys, this week my brain was packed -- packed I tell you and I just could not get around all the clutter in there until an angel stepped in to help me. Thank you, Meera.
Everything in Manhattan moves at about a mile a minute...
With the exception of traffic.
Seated in the back seat of the SUV, Lucas thrums his fingers anxiously against the door and cranes his neck to survey the line of stationary vehicles stretched as far as the eyes can see ahead of him.
He'd planned for this lunch hour wave of traffic before he'd snuck out of the office to meet Alaine for the second time for the day. Now, he's seriously starting to question whether he'd given himself enough wiggle room. This pile up is bound to make him late and that idea makes him even more nervous than the thought of sitting down for an entire hour with Alaine.
He scowls and looks around at the streets to see that they're boxed in from every direction. Just as he's about to reach for the handle to push the door open and step out into the fray of hustling pedestrians weaving their way in and out of the congested sidewalks, to walk the rest of the way, he hears the locks re-engage.
His eyes snap forward to the rearview mirror to find his driver's eyes intent on him.
"Don't even think about it," Seth warns.
Lucas' frown deepens. Now, he regrets calling Seth back into duty. Since it's clear that he's going nowhere, he settles back against the seat.
"I'm sure this is some form of kidnapping," he grumbles.
"Not according to the contract that you had me sign," Seth reminds him. "I could drug you and take you all the way to Siberia for your safety and still come out on the right side of the law."
"That's an exaggeration," Lucas points out. "At this rate, we'll never make it on time."
Seth glances at the time on the dashboard. "We still have three minutes. We'll make it. There's no need to be taking these types of risks. Tawny has eyes on her. She's not going anywhere."
With nothing else to do but sit there and wait, Lucas reaches for his phone in his pocket and pulls up the conversation he's had with Alaine for the day.
The part where she says that she doesn't want him to give up on their relationship makes him bite back a smile. At the same time, her confession only raises more questions about why she'd left in the first place.
He lifts his head to find Seth watching him again. These days, Lucas doesn't know how he feels about his driver's quiet perusal. There had been a time when Seth's close scrutiny would to bother him. Either he's gotten used to it or he's resigned or his new appreciation for Seth has made it a non-issue. Whatever the reason, he understands Seth's silent communication.
Calm down, is the message he receives from his driver's stare.
"Traffic's moving," Lucas says, spurring Seth to crawl a few inches forward.
Thus is the way the two continue all the way to AeroTech and to Alaine -- one inch at a time with an occasional line of conversation thrown in to fill the four minutes it takes to get there.
Not withstanding the way his already galloping heart triples it's efforts in his chest, a deep frown mars Lucas's features when he sees Alaine standing at the top of the steps at the front of the building with Tawny nowhere in sight. When he opens the door and steps outside, she smiles wide and gives him a wave as she begins trotting down towards him. That little interaction with her is so familiar, it would be easy for Lucas to fall back into their old rhythm. He has to remind himself that they are no longer at the point in their relationship where he can simply lean down to kiss her, no matter how badly he wants too.
Instead, when she stands in front of him, he tugs one bud of the earphones out of her ear and puts it up to his. As he suspected, she's listening to the song that he'd sent her earlier.
Since Seth is currently committing a parking violation, Lucas keeps his comments about her taking this unnecessary risk being out here on her own to himself and steers Alaine towards the back seat and climbs in after her.
Once they're closed in and inching back into traffic, he shifts his focus away from his delight that she'd taken the song that he'd sent her and made it a personal anthem, he asks, "where's Tawny?"
"She was across the street," Alaine replies. "She assured me that she'd have her eyes on me."
"I don't like this," Lucas expresses for the millionth time. "You can't be standing there on your own like this, like a sitting duck."
"It's a public place," Alaine assures him. "It's busy..."
"He faked a terror attack last week," he interjects as a reminder. However, he opts out of pointing out Angus' other crimes -- like the fact that he had been bold enough to break into her apartment at high noon. At this point, Lucas would put nothing past the psychopath but he has no intention of wasting the precious few minutes he has with Alaine discussing him.
"Next time, I'll come up to get you," he says.
It's a bold assumption that there will be a 'next time' for the two of them any time soon but she nods her head, making Lucas release the breath he was holding.
"You changed your car," Alaine notes.
“Safety measures,” Lucas informs her.
Because he simply can't help it, he reaches between them to take her hand in his and brings her fingers to his lips. He lets the kiss last for a slow second and he's certain he feels her skin zing beneath his touch and her breath hitch and her pulse kick. Though the compulsion is to look into her eyes to see whatever might be there looking back at him, Lucas studies the place where he'd just kissed and says, "I hope you don't mind if we go to my restaurant."
Alaine has to pull herself back together in order to respond.
"I only have an hour," she explains. "It has to be somewhere quick."
"If you accepted my job offer, you wouldn't have to worry about such things. Your boss would be completely understanding and more than willing to accommodate you," Lucas cajoles.
"And that's exactly why I won't accept your offer," she counters. "And seriously, I can't be late, Lucas."
“I called ahead,” he tells her. “We will be seated and served promptly.”
Some minutes later, Seth comes to a stop at the front of the front of the restaurant where a valet immediately pulls the door open. Lucas steps outside first and offers Alaine his hand. She hesitates to take it. He feels his spirit sink. Almost one second before he decides to let it drop back down to his side, she places her hand in his.
Is this out of pity? he wants to ask. You don't have to, he wants to say. Yet, he curls his fingers around hers to help her slide her feet to the pavement.
While they walk to the restaurant, Alaine's eyes dart anxiously around her, looking for the shock of red hair and the blue eyes that belong to Angus.
"Seth will be here with us, Ali," Lucas tells her.
"Tawny said she would follow but..." she trails. "I just can't get him out of my head."
"I know," Lucas whispers.
Instead of pulling her to his chest to offer some type of comfort like he needs to, he pushes the door to the restaurant open. Immediately as she steps inside, Alaine is struck dumb. She turns to Lucas and sees that, on his face, he wears the same dazed expression as her and his fingers wrapped around hers tighten.
The life-size portrait of the two of them decorating the rear, interior wall of his restaurant stuns them both. In it, their faces are just out of focus enough to make their features somewhat unrecognizable if an observer is not paying close attention. However, Lucas and Alaine are very aware that it's the two of them in the picture. It's Alaine sitting in his lap, smiling down at him on the day after he'd spent his first night making love to her.
"They were lovely photos, Mr. Bright," the manager walks up to him to explain. "I tried to reach you to get your approval but was told that you were unavailable. I did not think that you would mind. Plus, business has almost doubled since we put them up. Your romance is like a beacon and people gravitate towards it."
Still too dumbfounded to speak, Lucas looks to Alaine for a response. Since neither one of them comment, the manager says, "well, that's that, then. I'll show you to your seats."
While they follow after her, a few patrons already occupying most of the tables look from the portrait and back to them.
“I had no idea,” Lucas whispers to Alaine. "I haven't been here since the day those pictures were taken."
Though he's accepted this unexpected twist in their date as a sign of hope, he offers, "I can have them taken down if you want."
"Them?" Alaine questions. It's only then she that she notices the other two portraits hanging on the wall-- one to her left and the other to her right."
It's like the universe keeps throwing signs her way that it wants them together.
She pauses midstride to look at the image of their happiness and says wistfully, "we were so happy that day."
“We were,” Lucas agrees. “We still can be,” he adds and looks down with all the hopefulness in his heart peering down at her through his soulful gray eyes.
“Do you want them taken down?" he asks.
“Do you mind them?” she returns.
“I don’t care if the whole world knows how I feel about you, Alaine,” Lucas replies.
Alaine drags her eyes away from the photographs and meets the look of love and hope, hurt and fear melding in Lucas'. It sparks her guilt for walking out on him without an explanation. It makes her want to crawl into his arms and stay there for the rest of her life.
"We're not taking them down," she answers softly while trying to stem the tears threatening to spill past her eyelids.
Lucas gives her a slight nod. He can't believe his fortune but doesn't question it. He places a hand over the small of Alaine's back, imagining himself replacing the touch Ian had given her with his own; and leads her to their table without another word on the subject.
After they're seated, a waitress presents them with the leather bound menus. While Alaine pours over hers, Lucas watches her intently.
Feeling his eyes on her, she says, "you're staring," without bothering to look up.
He smiles. “I haven’t really looked at you in a while,” he explains. “I miss you, Ali.”
To Lucas' surprise, she answers right away and says, "I miss you too. So much."
Using a second more to study her, he tries to separate his reactions to her admissions. One part of him is ecstatic that she doesn't want to him to give up on them and that she misses him. That same part wants to haul her over his shoulder, take her somewhere private where they can make up for the last week of separation. The other part, however, is just confused. Seeing that he can't do the former, he says, "then why are we doing this? I don't understand. You'll have to explain it to me. Why did you leave?"
“If I remember correctly, you kind of told me to,” she retorts.
"You have to know that I didn't mean that," Lucas tells her.
“I don’t think that now is the best time to have this conversation," Alaine points out as she notes the covert glances of patrons around them.
“We are, in fact, having this conversation,” Lucas counters. Before she can argue, he adds, “Because I have been slowly going insane and if you feel half of what I feel when I'm not with you then you know that I am dying inside, Alaine. So, I'm going to ask just this once, do you want to be with me or not?”
“Of course, I do,” Alaine whispers quickly. "I love you,” she can’t help but admit. “I just think we need time. I need time.”
“Time?” Lucas questions with eyes brows bent in bewilderment.
“Yes, time,” she repeats.
“What does that mean, Alaine?” Lucas asks straightening in his seat. “You need time. Time and space? We’ve had the best time. I’ve had the best time I’ve ever had...with you...and...” he says cutting her off before she can interject. With his tone gentled, he adds, “I’ve had time to think and you were right. I shouldn’t have tried to coerce you to move in with me. Our relationship started backwards, with the sex and don’t get me wrong. I love the sex. Making love to you is phenomenal,” he says and pauses to take her hand. “But that’s not the only reason why I want to be with you. I mean obviously, I want to make love to you too, every chance I get,” he says with a nervous laugh. “But it’s not the reason behind me wanting to be with you.”
Alaine clears her throat and looks around to ensure that no one can over hear his rambling explanation. Wanting to steer their conversation back on course, she asks, "what are you trying to say, Lucas."
“I’m saying that I love you, Alaine,” Lucas says after a deep breath. “And I will do whatever it takes to get us back to where we were and..." he adds quickly to cut her off again. "I think we should start over. Do it right, this time. I want to take you out on dates and walks along a beach, holding your hand and go to the movies and take you dancing and anywhere you want to go, like they do in those books we read. Then I will drop you off on your doorstep, and I will give you a chaste kiss goodnight, on your cheek or on the lips if you’ll allow me and then I will say goodnight to you, and as soon as the sun comes up in the morning, I will call you to ask how you slept and plan our next date. That’s what I want. And I will wait for you. As long as you need, until you’re ready to move in with me. There's no rush to do that. We can wait."
Everything in Alaine wants to scream yes to all that he said. How can she refuse that? What she responds with is a soft sigh as she tries to taper all the emotions he's unleashed inside her. “What about our current situation?” she asks. “What about Angus? That's why...”
"I have a plan," Lucas replies, halting any further explanation.
Alaine raises her eyebrows at him.
"I know," he tells her. "I know that you're not going to like it so I'll only tell you after we've had our meal."