May I kiss you, Alaine?
Alaine still can’t believe that she has to spend a night away from her home – and with him. How could he have forgotten such a vital piece of information? Had she known, she never would have agreed to go.
Yesterday, after breakfast, Lucas had seen her safely back to Mona’s little flower shop. She’d stood in the door wondering what the heck she’d gotten herself into while watching him climb into his SUV. It had been a complete surprise when he rolled down the window to wink at her. He’d actually winked and her heart answered with a crazy little dance to how incredibly sexy he looked doing it.
It was that very wink, her response to it and everything that happened that morning, not to mention their near kiss the other night that had her seriously contemplating cancelling on him.
Leaving him in lurch felt wrong, however. Plus, she’s given him her word. Hence the reason Alaine is here now, standing before her full-length mirror in a dress she never ever imagined herself wearing.
It’s been one full day since Lucas’s announcement that they would be leaving the state and she hasn’t quite been able to wrap her mind around it. Nor quiet her dancing nerves. Now that the hour of her departure into his company is at hand, her anxiety is burgeoning. Spending a night away from her home is a novelty. She’s never even attended a sleepover. Doing so in the company of a man – any man – is not an idea she relishes.
Tonight she will accompany Lucas Bright to his charity event and then, that’s it. She’s cashing in on the out clause.
Alaine continues to survey her reflection in the mirror she’d been cajoled into buying during a tremendously exhausting day of shopping. On regular days, she is content with the thirty-six by thirty-six centimeter mirror that graces the door of the medicine cabinet in her bathroom. But under her sister’s insistence, she is now the proud owner of the tall piece of glass resting precariously against the wall in the tiny bedroom.
She turns one way, studies all of her exposed flesh from that angle then switches to the other side.
“Did we really have to go with something this flamboyant?” Alaine complains before sinking her teeth contemplatively into her vibrant red lips. There is no camouflage to a colour this outstanding. She would have preferred something pastel and muted – something less conspicuous. Not this dress that screams hey, look at me!
Briefly, Delah regards her sister’s reflection from her kneeling position. She has to quell the urge to roll her eyes. “It’s a Valentine dinner,” she responds dryly and returns to the task at hand. “Red is the appropriate colour. Now give me those tiny feet.”
Carefully, so as not to upset Alaine’s pedicured and polished toes, Delah slips her sister’s feet into the strappy, miniature, glimmering golden heels. She stands in one fluid motion and scowls at Alaine. “Release your lips Ali,” she orders. “Let the man do that for you.”
The insinuation causes Alaine to inhale sharply – audibly – her jaws spreading apart. She wants to argue that no such thing is going to happen but a slow and damning flush creeps into her skin, evoking a scandalous titter from her sister.
“You look sensational,” Delah gushes. She squeals in excitement, like Alaine’s experience with Lucas Bright tonight will be her own. “You are definitely going to be continuing whatever began on that landing the other night for sure,” Delah sings. “I want all the juicy details.”
“Stop it,” Alaine scolds with the knowledge that her cheeks are now a flaming crimson. Admittedly, even she is awestruck by her reflection. So Maybe the five-hour shopping trip was worth it. Maybe the coerced facial and manicure and pedicure and hours of infinite hairdressing had not been for naught. Maybe she can actually pull off being his…companion.
Her heavy curtain of black hair has been miraculously mastered into a neat pile of short and buoyant curls, stuck with possibly just as many bobby pins as strands, in order to tame the otherwise unruly mass. The front is artfully designed in a sweeping bang that Delah insists accentuates her good side. Though to Alaine, both sides of her face are perfectly symmetrical.
The red dress shimmers in a streaming flow that somehow still manages to accentuate every curve in her figure.
The deeply low cut back leaves nothing to the imagination from her shoulders down to the base of her spine and the low sweeping bodice reveals her generous cleavage. Alaine bends forward again to ensure that she won’t be giving anyone a peep show. Then there is the floor to upper-thigh-length slit the bares most of her left leg whenever she takes a step.
Scowling at her reflection, she mutters under her breath. “This is way too much.”
“It’s perfect,” Delah comments behind her. “And it’s too late to change. The hair, jewelry, shoes, everything is for this dress,” she insists. “Do you want to start over?”
Alaine shakes her head emphatically against the idea of having to go through all of that again. Besides, it really is too late now anyway. There’s not enough time. Her companion should be here any moment.
“I thought so,” Delah tells her. “I’ve never had a dissatisfied customer and you will not be the first.”
A few rebellious tendrils of hair have fallen out of place, curling behind Alaine’s ear and at her jawline. After a final once-over, she can’t help but think…Maybe Lucas will love this.
Leaning across the bed, Delah grabs the overnight bag she insisted she pack for Alaine, while she lay down to complete her facial. She hands it to her sister just as a knock sounds on the door.
“Right on time,” she chirps, her feet already carrying her across to the bedroom. “Stay here,” she instructs Alaine. “Add a little mystery to the moment. This kinda feels like prom night.”
Neither of them went to prom. The thought is dark. Delah sighs at her Alaine’s solemn reaction to the statement. “Just have fun tonight, Ali,” she says. “How many girls like us get to play dress up like this for an evening?” Delah asks her. “And in the company of a gorgeous billionaire?” she adds. “Be right back.”
Nodding her response, Alaine takes a deep breath to steady her erratic pulse. While Delah gets the door, she utters a short prayer that the night goes well.
A door is all that stands between Lucas and Alaine. He’s never done anything like this – walked up to a woman’s home – and it must show to the curious residents walking along the dim, grungy landing. He stands outside Alaine’s apartment with his hand poised to knock but it remains there – suspended in the air.
Hosting a charity event is also a new endeavour for him. Of course, he’s attended many like it, he just always did so alone. Finding a woman willing to take the night a little further, without the expectations of anything more than a quick liaison, is never a difficulty he’s had.
They would spend the time at the nearest hotel. Since he is opposed to sleeping with company, he never made a night out of it. She’d be driven home or wherever she wanted to go very soon after. Usually, it is the rule rather than the exception that they never see each other again. This is how he prefers it.
Tonight, things are different. Lucas is not just a guest. He is the host. Attending stag seems a little inappropriate and lame – hence his need for Alaine.
Although he’s been careful to announce that this is by no means a date, Lucas can’t persuade his heart to stop reacting to the thought of a night with her like an excitable teenager’s.
Since yesterday morning’s breakfast with her, he’s had enough time to ruminate on their situation and has come to the conclusion that he should have turned her out. From the moment she entered his office and he realized who she was, he should have exercised control and left her alone instead of pursuing her. He should have found someone less alluring – someone, whose company isn’t addictive – to grace his arm for the evening.
In that time spent in deep contemplation, he’s also determined that after tonight, he’ll never see her again. It’s not that he doesn’t want to. He really, really wants to see her again. Therein lies the problem. If things were different, maybe he could allow himself the pleasure of getting tangled with her. If he presses, he’s certain he will win the battle she puts up against him. But Alaine, she’s special in a way he cannot begin to explain. Because of that, he can’t bring himself to ruin her with who he is. He has to do what is best for her.
Straightening his spine with another deep breath, Lucas finally knocks on the door – a quick drumming that matches the rhythm of the bass-like beating in his chest. Then he waits.
Seth volunteered to be the one who walked to her apartment, but Lucas declined. He may not pursue things with her beyond tonight, but she is his for the evening. Sending someone else to pick her up seemed wrong. Besides that, he’s spent the entire day wondering what she will look like. How would she comb her hair? What would she wear? What fragrance will perfume her skin? So he’s been more than a little eager to find out.
“I’m here for Ms. Knight…Alaine,” Lucas corrects nervously when the door swings inward. He is treated to a glowing reception and smile from the blonde he remembers is her sister. She steps aside, motioning him in with a sweep of her hand. As he enters, the little girl, Alaine’s niece, scampers away from the table where she was sitting.
“She’s shy,” the blonde explains. “I’m Delah,” she says with her hand extended. “We weren’t properly introduced the last time you were here.”
“Lucas,” he responds, accepting the gesture. “Bright,” he adds. “I hope Alaine has informed you that you should not expect her back for the evening. And she’s completely safe with me if you’re worried,” he offers quickly. “This is where we’ll be staying.” Releasing her hand, he reaches inside his jacket for the card with the hotel’s information and hands it to her.
Perceiving his nervousness, Delah smiles and nods. “Thank you for the information,” she tells him. “I’ll let your date know you’re here.”
Lucas tamps down the rising urge to correct her. This is not a date, he wants to say. All he does is nod his head while she grins and turns to leave him standing awkwardly and feeling very large in the small space.
While waiting on Alaine in the middle of the living room, Lucas takes the opportunity to observe his environment. There’s not much to see. This must be what is referred to as modest living. A plain Eggshell colour paints the walls with nary a picture frame with family photos on display. Nor is there a stitch of décor. Alaine Knight is obviously a simple person.
There’s not much by way of furnishings either. A small round table surrounded by mismatched chairs sits in the small square that doubles as a kitchen and dining room. The dingy carpet beneath his feet is stiff and threadbare but remarkably clean. His eyes land on the sofa on which Alaine sleeps and there they remain. It looks very uncomfortable and it’s easy to imagine her old injury – whatever it is – flaring up as a result.
The inflatable bed sits right next to it and is still in the sealed brown box in which it was delivered yesterday. She slept on that small rock again last night. A frustrated scowl cinches Lucas’s eyebrows together. She really is a stubborn one. Maybe he will get to carry her again before the end of the night. Considering he may never see her again, the thought is all too pleasant.
“May I present, the stunning and irresistible, Alaine Knight.”
The announcement cuts through Lucas’s thoughts. Though the voice does not inspire the slow crawling tingles up his spine that he is now aware is concomitant with Alaine’s harmonic voice, his heart still jumps in nervous excitement.
She appears in the hallway beneath glowing yellow lights. Irresistible indeed and Lucas is speechless. No, he’s not just speechless. His mind empties and once again there is only her and the heavy pulsing heartbeat and rush of blood in his ears. He’s never seen anything so precious or arousing.
Silently, Lucas marks her approach and is unable to muster any of his usual charms or tricks. Not even a smile. All he can do is stare and breathe, deeply.
She walks up to him but stops beneath the arch leading to the living room where she is shrouded by a cloak of yellow from the overhead light in the hall. Not even that can detract from her beauty.
Lucas perceives her bashfulness and ingenuity, he can tell, resultant from his silence and unwavering gaze. He can’t command his attention elsewhere. She is perfect.
Alaine casts her eyes downward. The intensity in his eyes is too overwhelming to maintain. However, it is the most beautiful thing Lucas has ever seen. He wants to tell her so but his breath falters as his heart stutters in his chest. That is the moment realizations strikes. He may already be lost. There is no other explanation for his reaction to this girl.
“Ms. Knight,” he breathes when finally able to find his voice.
“Alaine,” she reminds him with a shy smile, her voice breathy from the quick pace of her heart. “You’re not saying anything,” she notes after another long pause. “Do you like it? Is this okay? I know it’s a little much... and you didn’t need to come up I would have...”
“Turn around,” Lucas orders softly, the command ending her anxious rambling. She obliges him. “Slowly,” he implores.
Lucas allows his eyes to roam free and feast on the expanse of flesh of her naked back. He admires the dips and curves, the movement of delicate bones, the golden skin, to end and remain on her shapely posterior. It’s impossible not to notice that little miss wholesome has no underwear lines. He never would have thought she would do something so brazen. It’s also impossible not to hope that he has the opportunity to find out for sure. That thought sees him clearing his throat.
“You look divine, Alaine,” he says when she completes the turn. Without trying to hide it, his eyes trail a path up her bared leg, over her curved hips, trim waist, and healthy bosom before arresting hers again. “You are beautiful and I am floored, again,” he tells her honestly.
“Thank you, Lucas,” she whispers, testing out his name on her tongue. “You look very dashing,” she offers awkwardly in return of the high praise he’s lauded her with.
“I’ve been told that a time or two,” Lucas responds.
Handsome devil, Alaine thinks and chuckles. That remark and his little smile dissolve some of her anxiety, settling her racing heart to a more manageable pattern. It also helps that he appears as much a neophyte as her.
“A picture?” Delah suggests, her voice shredding the tether tying their attention together.
Without hesitation, Lucas closes the distance between them. He tugs Alaine against him, and whispers, “relax,” when she stiffens by his side.
“A little closer?” Delah encourages.
Alaine holds her breath as the arm around her waist tightens, pressing her petite length against Lucas’ solid frame.
“Smile Alaine,” Delah suggests.
“Look at me,” Lucas commands.
Unable to resist the allure of his deep, low voice, she obeys, lifting long lashes just as the camera flashes.
“Perfect,” Delah says but Alaine is engulfed in the depth of a silvery gray sea. “Your bag Ali,” she whispers, sorry for having interrupted the sweetened moment for a second time.
Engaging in Alaine’s eyes is like staring at a treasure thought to be nothing more than a myth. There's no choice but to be mesmerized by it – to yearn for it. She shouldn’t exist. Neither should the type of longing she stirs in Lucas. Yet, she’s here in his arms and the wanting for something deeper grows and claws at the hardness built to lock in and protect Lucas’s vulnerabilities.
At the sound of her sister’s voice, he steps back away from Alaine. The sudden loss of his support causes her to teeter on the unsteady threadlike heels of her shoes. Quickly, Lucas steps forward again, catching her before she tips backward.
“I’m sorry,” he says as he sets her to rights. “And you shouldn’t have worn those,” he scolds, his eyes shifting to her feet.
“Good thing I have my hero by my side,” she quips with a smile.
The scowl of disapproval Lucas wants to keep, fails. Graciously, he accepts the small piece of luggage from Delah before Alaine can reach for it while trying to rein in the smile tilting his lips upwards. As well, he tries to ignore the shifting patterns of thoughts and emotions that little word, hero, whisks around in his head and heart. He’s no one’s hero but if he could be someone’s, he would want to be hers.
“He’s a keeper,” Delah whispers when she pulls Alaine into a hug. “Have fun. Be safe,” she adds, squeezing Alaine tighter. “I hope you catch my drift.”
“We should go,” Lucas interrupts. “We have a flight to catch. I should probably hold your hand,” he suggests to Alaine.
“Why?” she questions.
As he pulls the door open for her, Alaine grabs her shawl from the arm of the sofa and slips it around her shoulders.
“Your shoes and the stairs,” Lucas explains. “I’d rather you not end up in the emergency room.”
Mulling over the wisdom in his proposal, Alaine keeps the shawl in place with one hand and allows his to close over the other.
Despite the cloak wrapped around her person over the flimsy material of her gown, she shivers when they leave the warmth of the apartment building to venture into the chilly night.
The SUV is parked outside. Once they appear behind the gate, Seth steps out to open the side door. He wants to comment on Alaine’s appearance – to tell her that she looks good but thinks better of it. Nothing he says to her will be well received so he clamps his jaws, waits for Alaine then his boss to climb in and shuts the door behind them.
“I’m a little nervous,” Alaine admits to Lucas when they are en route. “Not a little. I’m a lot nervous. Do you have any suggestions of how I can be as calm as you?” she asks.
“I’ve had a lifetime of practice,” Lucas confesses without telling her that he is by no means calm. That he is just great at hiding his insecurities. “I was born into it,” he adds. “But there really is no cause for you to be nervous,” he says and gives her a quick glance. “If anyone can pull this off, it’s you. You look absolutely stunning. Like you were made for this.”
Smiling her thanks, Alaine looks away from his profile in the dark when she loses his attention to New York’s lights as they drive past. There are a lot of questions she would like to ask Lucas Bright. For example, she would love to know how he manages to say things like that to her and be so cavalier about it afterward. It seems rather inappropriate to venture there so she seeks the answer from her own mind instead.
A few minutes tick by with his body just as taut as the silence that’s fallen inside the SUV. It’s so tense Alaine is tempted to make conversation with Seth.
Alternatively, she uses the cloak of darkness to study Lucas’s features while she searching a topic for light conversation that may interest him. When that fails, Alaine spends some more time inside her head, trying to figure out what the night will be like. He’s never actually told her what he expects from her companionship for the evening. All he said was smile and look beautiful. That's not much to go on and can’t possibly be all she has to do. It’s definitely something they should talk about.
“Lucas,” she calls timidly.
The fluttery touch of her fingers against his knee is like a brand through the material of Lucas’s trousers. It draws a low intake of breath from him and directs a charge up his thigh and into his groin. Lucas looks down at her hand where it remains before meeting her eyes.
“You don’t look like you want to do this,” she tells him. “It’s not too late to turn around if you don’t.”
“Wouldn’t that offend you?” he asks.
“I guess,” Alaine says with a shrug. “But…”
“That’s not what it is, Alaine,” he assures with a light scoff. Pressing his fingers into his eye sockets, Lucas squeezes and leans back against the headrest.
“Then what?” she pleads softly. “Tell me,” she whispers when he doesn’t respond. “You asked me to do this and now you’re ignoring me…I’m…you’re making feel bad,” she states. “Weren’t you the one preaching about honesty yesterday?”
The quiver in her voice digs deep into Lucas. The genuine inflection of hurt twists like a knife. He doesn’t want that – for her to feel bad because of him. Never that.
“You must guess the effect you are having on me,” he offers in response to her desire for his honesty. “I’ve never experienced it before. It’s rather confounding,” he admits. “So please, let’s just get through tonight.”
Each of those words, let’s just get through tonight, falls like heavy boulders dropped in the pit of Alaine’s stomach. What had she been expecting him to say? Certainly not that she is something he has to get through. But her request for honesty has been honoured.
Swallowing her hurt, Alaine abandons him and the idea to make an attempt at conversation. Manhattan's skyline as they zip past provides a great distraction. Somewhere in that city is a job for her. Then she will not have to be subject to this.
They spend the rest of the way in silence until Seth pulls to a stop at the airport. The last time Alaine traveled, it had been an unbearable hassle with bags and check-ins and the long wait and delay. This time she sails through immigration on the arm of Lucas Bright and is treated with every courtesy only reserved for royalty.
“The perks of flying privately,” Lucas comments, his first words to her since his abrasiveness in the car.
Concern for her safety in those shoes reemerges. Lucas takes Alaine’s hand again and keeps it there as he guides her along to the waiting plane. Allowing her to climb the steps ahead of him he sticks close behind her in case she falls.
There on the incline of the stairway, he has an unencumbered view of the shape and sway of her rosy rump printed into the soft, sparkly scarlet of her dress. She stops abruptly and he runs right into the soft, rounded globes.
“Is Seth coming with us?” Alaine turns to ask him while she shivers in the brisk wind.
“He is my driver and bodyguard,” Lucas replies as he looks up at her. “Why?”
“I was wondering,” she begins to say then stalls.
“What is it, Alaine?” Lucas presses.
“Could he stay back with my sister for the night?” she asks, searching his face, hoping that he responds in the affirmative.
Lucas peruses her thoughtfully. There is a lot he doesn’t know about this woman. A lot that he should probably dismiss her for. But he looks up into her hypnotic eyes and he knows that he can’t. He cannot dismiss the soft tug she evokes on his heartstrings.
A woman like her, small and vulnerable in this insatiable state of New York City can be quickly swallowed up by the many predators lurking. That has to be it. He’s figured out the reason for his idee fix with Alaine Knight and feels victorious about it too.
Pleased with discovering this epiphany, Lucas feels relief. He smiles at her, regretfully. “I can’t do that, Alaine,” he says. “But if it is necessary and if it will put your mind at ease, I can have someone look out for her for you." Noticing her shivers, he adds, “You’re cold. Let’s get you inside.”
Their initial contact with the crew is with a smiling air hostess. A beautiful blonde who does a double take when she encounters Alaine.
Her smile slips ever so slightly. The thought of flying with Lucas Bright had made her hopeful that those rumors surrounding him were true. She’d even bragged about the prospect with her friends.
The switch in her physiognomy is almost imperceptible. It probably would have been if --since meeting Lucas -- Alaine hasn’t been treated to it in almost every woman she’s faced when he is by her side. Dark thoughts immediately infiltrate her mind. She can't help but wonder if this air hostess might be one of his consorts.
“Please, show Ms. Knight to her seat, Helen,” Lucas addresses the stewardess after reading her name tag.
“Yes, Mr. Bright,” she responds dutifully.
Alaine follows her to the front row but chooses to stay standing while Lucas remains by the door. Though his eyes are trained on her, he converses to Seth who nods in understanding and responds with words Alaine can’t hear. She knows that they are discussing her request because Seth throws a guarded glance in her direction. Unable to help herself, she glowers at him before turning to pay attention to anything else.
“You may have the window seat, if you wish,” Lucas offers when he approaches Alaine.
“Thank you,” she replies. Only when she is comfortably seated, does Lucas take his position beside her. Remembering the way he responded to her attempts at civility in the car, Alaine doesn’t voice the question burning inside her. She would really like to know if he is always this proper.
A pilot steps out of the cockpit to introduce the rest of the crew and their flight plan. Alaine is happy for the distraction. She engrosses herself in the monotonous formality. If Lucas doesn’t want to talk, then neither does she. She’s not going to beg him to. Still, when the pilot is done her eyes gravitate towards him.
She’d been unaware of his eyes on her and the little smile on his lips, but she’s caught him staring. He doesn’t look away because one of his favourite things is that slow creeping flush his attention summons from her. As a matter of fact, his cute boyish smile widens and evolves into a little chuckle.
The flight attendant returns from the galley with two glasses of sparkling, bubbly liquid on a gleaming silver tray. Lucas reaches for both and hands one to Alaine.
“I don’t drink alcohol,” she reminds him.
“It’s cider,” he informs her. “And your sister will be babysat for the duration of the evening.”
Expressing her gratitude, Alaine accepts the long-stemmed flute and sips. “Mmm,” she moans deep in her throat as the chilled golden liquid fizzes inside her mouth.
Wishing he had requested something stiff instead, Lucas swallows a huge gulp of his drink. To distract himself from the allure of the woman beside him, happily, he focuses on her question.
“Seth isn’t the only security in my employ,” he explains. “Someone will sit outside your apartment for the night. I am curious as to why?”
For a few reasons, Alaine doesn’t want to divulge her sister’s information. Primarily because it’s a very personal matter. She is also hesitant to reveal her own anxieties and paranoia. There is also the matter of the prowler on the fire escape behind her bedroom window a few weeks ago. The man took off down the ladder and disappeared into the night. He hasn’t returned since, but it’s still a terrifying thought. Anyway, her troubles are not Lucas’s. He’s made it plain that he’s not here to bond.
“I worry about things,” she tells him.
Things like what? he wants to ask the vague response. But those intimate inquiries cannot lead to anything good. Especially not with that developing warmth in his chest and stomach. Additionally, if she had wanted him to know, she wouldn't have stopped at that.
“You know,” Alaine says after another minute of silence. “If we want to be convincing you are going to have loosen up tonight.”
As she sips from her glass again, Lucas’s eyes stray to her brilliantly red lips.
“I thought you would be the one having to give me this talk,” she continues. “Aren’t you supposed to be a ladies’ man or something?”
To that question, he gives her another genuine smile and chuckles when she turns to look at him with amused interest. If she only knew. But Lucas will never tell her those improper things that he often hates about himself.
“You do that a lot,” Alaine says when his smile gives way to a frown.
“What?” he asks, his scowl deepening.
Hesitantly, she takes a bold step. Watching her own actions intently and the stunned look on his face with fascination, she runs her thumb gently between his brows and replies in a whisper, “this.”
“I do. When I’m thinking,” he answers, his voice as gentle as the way his gaze holds hers.
Though she is aware that she may be playing a risky game, Alaine doesn’t quit. Lucas knows it too because his heart is suddenly palpitating dangerously and he is losing the grip in his control.
“What are you thinking?” she asks.
He’d much rather show her. With his gray eyes intent on her lips, he leans into her breathing space. “I’m thinking you’re right,” Lucas says. “This should seem natural. We should seem natural. I want to kiss you, Alaine.”
After the words leave his mouth, a look of befuddlement overcomes Lucas features. He wants to apologize for his forwardness. He should apologize. He was going to apologize until Alaine asks shyly, “are you asking my permission?”
Briefly, Lucas thinks on her question. To be objective with his response he averts his eyes from hers and away from her tempting lips. Briefly, he is unsure of what the answer is but she is awaiting his response. The moment he makes his decision is the moment he falls back into the golden green pools of her bedroom eyes. It dawns on him that he is going to kiss Alaine…now.
He wants to. The thought of doing it has been plaguing him. Lucas breaks into a nervous sweat. This will be his first kiss. As a result, he feels inadequate and incapable.
“Yes, I am,” he answers finally.“May I kiss you, Alaine?”
Thank you for reading,