Dance With Me
After coming in from the cold, the warmth inside the foyer is welcoming. As is the chorus of idle chatter and lively laughter of the few guests milling around the airy entryway.
With each pair of eyes that settles on Lucas –and Alaine by his side -- that noise dwindles steadily to a low hum. Their entrance is all it takes to bring the room to a hush.
The expression on most faces registers a cross between surprise and intrigue. Since Lucas has never before attended an event with a woman on his arm, that reaction is not unexpected. A few ladies, however, are unable to mask their disappointment. These are the ones Lucas imagines were dawdling around hoping to catch his entry. Seeing how this is a sweetheart dinner, better judgment should have warned them not to come alone.
Unaccustomed to being the main attraction in any setting, the coziness Alaine felt when she stepped inside flees and she fights against the compulsion to fidget beside him. Even Lucas, despite his birth into the limelight with a former supermodel as his mother, is not immune to the effect of all this attention either.
Over the course of his existence, there’s been no shortage of it. At no point in his life can he remember a moment when someone wasn’t trying to thrust him center stage, never mind his effort to shy away from it.
It grew to a point where the public rarely left him alone. They still don’t and had made a game of trying to decide what path his life would take. The media cast polls and the general public voted. Sometimes his life resembles a circus. He hates it.
The large majority anticipated that with his looks, he would walk in Claudia’s footprints. There was a time his mother also thought he was made for the big screen. She’d gone as far as introducing him to child modeling. That dream died a quick death the day she brought home Kurt. How was she to explain the constant appearance of bruises on his skin?
Once the world started recognizing his brilliance, that tipped the scale. Most still expect that as the first born son of Arlington Bright, he stands to inherit his father’s company. It’s still a topic of hot debate in many forums. Lucas used to think the same. It would have been an honour to be groomed in his father’s shadow. Maybe his father wanted that as well. But there’s no reason to hope for that now.
Besides being the CEO of his own company, Lucas is well aware that Arlington has his own family, with a woman he loves. He’s always thought himself nothing more than a spectator to their happiness and an intrusion when he visited. That’s why he decided he needed to be his own man and has strived towards that every day of his life. So the few who speculated that he would not depend on daddy’s clout and mommy’s fame to get ahead were correct.
Unfortunately, his success exacts payment. This is one of them – pandering to the delight of the elite. If he had his way he would skip it. He would spare his introverted date and himself the extra scrutiny. But it is impossible. Even if he wasn’t the host of tonight’s activities, ducking out is not in his best interest.
“Networking,” Arlington always tells him. “You hate it but it’s a part of business, son. It’s necessary.”
To Lucas, what it is, is a crying shame. It’s completely incomprehensible why, in order to convince the people who have the money to donate to a worthy cause, their feathers have to be smoothed first. As far as he can see, it’s just another avenue to flaunt their wealth and pat themselves on the back while trying to determine who is better, richer and more powerful than whom.
Reminding himself of the purpose for hosting tonight’s event and the fact that everyone here came with their checkbooks, Lucas plasters on his best fake smile.
When he takes that first step forward, the spike in Alaine’s edginess becomes immediately perceptible. With her this close, their sides almost touching, Lucas can feel the sudden return of tautness in her posture. Looking down at her, he works up the nerve to slip an arm around her waist and soothe his thumb over her bare skin.
The very intimate nature of the touch drives a shiver along Alaine’s spine. Her reaction fills Lucas with a sense of accomplishment. Since the lady does not protest, he keeps his hand where it is and leans in to whisper assurances in her ear.
In answer to his softly spoken, “You’ll be fine. I’ll be with you every second,” she nods jerkily.
“Shall we try this again?” he asks her while using the new position of his arm to guide her forward.
Doing her best to make herself comfortable, Alaine ignores the smiling faces and tries to do the same to the feel of Lucas’ cool palm and the persistent stroke of his thumb. Instead, she focuses on her surroundings. The foyer is roughly the size of her apartment except with a much, much taller ceiling and is decorated to match tonight’s sweethearts theme.
Out of all the women available to him, Lucas chose her to be his sweetheart. It’s unbelievable. Alaine feels a joyousness bubbling within her, replacing her nervousness and brightening her spirit. She had no idea it was possible to smile on the inside but mirth trickles into her soul. She hasn’t forgotten that there is nothing permanent between them, but even if it is for a few hours in his company, coupled with the memory of their kiss, she is deliriously happy. Why should she place limitations on her enjoyment of the evening?
“Do you like it?” Lucas asks, his eyes following the path hers have taken.
The question pulls her from her thoughts and lands her back into the quickly filling room as more guests pour in from outside. Unfortunately, she isn’t given the chance to respond before the first invitee steps forward to shake Lucas’ hand.
“Quite the setup you have here, young man,” the guest says.
“Thank you, sir,” Lucas responds. He finds himself navigating his way through small talk. Considering that he is currently addressing a governor and his father’s good friend, Lucas feigns interest in the unnecessary prattle.
“Forgive my manners,” he says in his desperation to move on from the conversation. God knows he has to spend the next hour or so doing this. “I should have introduced my date, Ms. Alaine Knight.”
The governor is barely able to contain the intrigue seeping through his welcoming smile. “Delighted,” he says while extending his hand to Alaine.
She would have preferred that they continue to disregard her presence, but Alaine hones in her composure enough to return the man’s handshake with a steady one of her own. “A pleasure, Governor Whitely,” she offers in return.
“I hope you don’t mind my saying that you are absolutely stunning,” he responds. “Well done, son,” he mutters to Lucas with a covert thumb’s up.
A sense of pride like he’s never experienced before rises inside Lucas and he smiles a genuine smile. The hand holding on to Alaine’s trim waist, just above her hip tightens – a possessive, involuntary reaction.
After they move on from the governor, the two drift into the crowd, meandering their way through mostly meaningless conversation. The faces and greetings change quickly but throughout all of it, one thing remains the same. Lucas’ hand rarely leaves its perch. The few times it did he returned it swiftly and the more men who admire his date, the less inclined he is to leave her side.
Eventually, they make it to one of the assigned greeters for the evening – A young man with the name tag Tristan pinned to his lapel -- positioned behind a small square table. Immediately the boy is wonderstruck, his eyes slipping to Alaine’s exposed bosom. He stares, or more like, gawks, apparently unashamed.
“Good evening,” Lucas greets pointedly, drawing the boy’s attention to him.
Clearly flustered, Tristan stammers his response but his fumbling does nothing to soothe Lucas’ rising hackles. If anything, Tristan’s awkwardness further incites his irritation. An ingénue like Alaine might find the boy’s discomposure charming.
“Good evening, Mr. Bright,” the boy stammers.
Still ruffled by Alaine, the young man mishandles the pretty red and white basket holding the little souvenirs, almost knocking it off the table. Lucas huffs impatiently then glances down at his date. To his relief, she appears to be blissfully unaware of her effect on the boy and he couldn’t be happier about it.
Gazing about and craning her neck, she continues to appreciate her prettily decorated surroundings.
“Your souvenir Miss,” Tristan says, his wavering voice calling Alaine’s attention. Finally, he is awarded a smile. Not like the ones she’s bestowed on Lucas, but it’s enough to make him narrow his eyes at the handsome greeter.
“Oh, thank you,” Alaine replies.
Lucas can’t help but notice that the boy is closer to Alaine’s age. Something burns in his chest, though he keeps himself from examining it too closely.
She steps forward with the intention of having Tristan do his job, only to be stilled by Lucas’ proprietorial hold on her person. When she looks up at him with a question in her eyes, he shakes his head at her. Tristan just seems a little too eager to have his hands on Alaine, for Lucas’ liking.
“I’ll take that,” he says accepting the little pin with the intention of having her do the job herself.
Alaine grows more puzzled and frowns. Blinking up at him, her brows furrow, when Lucas steps forward to allow the same man to attach his own souvenir to his left lapel.
“He’s not touching you,” Lucas declares firmly to her unvoiced question. Without further explanation, he directs a glare at the reddening boy and shoves the souvenir in Alaine’s direction.
“Could you do it for me?” she asks after accepting and examining the little heart-shaped trinket. She offers it back to Lucas and when he hesitates she explains, “I’m afraid I may hurt myself.”
It takes him a second to reconcile what she asks with what he has to do. Her request seems wholly innocent and Lucas is of the suspicion that his date isn’t fully aware of how enticingly she’s presented herself this evening.
In order to do what she’s asked, he has to do more than just touch her. It requires him placing his hand under the sparkly, silky material of her dress, very near her left breast. So naturally, he pauses.
Guessing that it’s either him or Tristan who will do the job, Lucas accepts the item from Alaine. “Alright,” he finally agrees.
Afraid that she may become exposed somehow, he leads her to a discreet corner but it’s not without the notice of a few curious onlookers wanting to get another glimpse at his scrumptious date. To offer her a measure of privacy, Lucas uses his body as a shield and he backs her into a corner.
While wondering, why on earth she chose to wear this, he reaches out trying to find an angle that will be as unobtrusive as possible.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” he says, examining her dress closely.
Truthfully, to preserve her modesty, he wants to remove his jacket and slip it over her uncovered and elegant shoulders. That would definitely reduce the number of stares she receives. Instead, he takes a deep breath in the hopes of bringing down his heart rate a notch or two and calming his nerves.
Standing this close and focusing solely on Alaine is quite the stimulant. Between the feel of her soft skin as the back of his hand grazes above her left chest, and her light, sweet fragrance, Lucas can’t help his body’s response. He wants her, in a way a man wants a woman. How many times has he pictured what he would do with her, to her, if they were alone?
“Stay still,” Lucas says as he tries to tame his wild, vivid imaginings of taking her against the wall. “I wouldn’t want to stick you with this,” he cautions and sets his face in concentration.
Obediently, she remains perfectly still, like a little figurine. He tries in earnest to focus on the task but is curious about the effect of his touch on her. When he looks up he finds a lovely and telling pink flush instilled in her cheeks and her heart kicks against his hand when their eyes meet. Enjoying the knowledge that he rattles her, Lucas smirks.
The sharp point of the pin digs into his finger, the pain of it snapping him from the hypnotic lure of Alaine’s green and gold eyes. He winces but considers it well-deserved for his inappropriate thoughts and allowing himself to be so distracted. “There, got it,” he says triumphantly.
“Thank you,” Alaine replies. “Let me see.”
“It’s just a small cut,” Lucas says dismissively and chooses to examine his own finger. “Better me than you. I’d hate to have you injured on my watch.”
Ignoring him, she reaches out to take his hand. “You’re bleeding,” she notes.
“I’d hardly call that bleeding,” he answers before sucking on the injured finger. “See all better. Are you ready? This is where the fun begins,” he adds dryly. “I hate these public affairs.”
At least there is an upside to it, Lucas thinks as he enters the main area designated to dining and dancing. He will peacock his way through a night of drawl conversation and expensive champagne like a good host. But, he will allow himself to enjoy the ambient entertainment and he fully intends to dance with his date. Very closely too.
An usher steps forward to lead them to their assigned seats. Lucas pulls out Alaine’s chair while exchanging pleasantries with the four other individuals occupying the table. After she seats, he settles in beside her.
“It’s an honour to share a table with you,” a young girl in large spectacles tells him. “I’m Marcy. You are just incredible,” she continues to gush with her hand extended across the table.
“That’s enough dear,” the older gentleman sitting next Marcy scolds softly.
“It’s fine, sir,” Lucas tells him. “Lucas,” he says to the girl and quickly shifts his attention back to Alaine. “I had no say in the seating arrangements,” he tells her in a soft apologetic tone.
Alaine surveys the table and their companions with a critical eye. She’s not one to judge but it seems very much like someone played a really cruel joke on them. Their table includes two portly older gentlemen, well into their sixties. The two young girls, presumably the men’s granddaughters, are barely into their teens.
“I’m so glad you brought me, grandpa,” one girl says loudly enough for them to hear. “I can’t believe I’m sharing a table with Lucas Bright. I google you all the time.”
Being the dutiful host, Lucas entertains a conversation with the teenagers on what their aspirations are in life. The effort he makes causes Alaine to smile. He truly is unexpected.
“So is that your girlfriend?” one girl asks. “You’re so lucky,” she says to Alaine.
“That’s enough, Emma,” her grandfather scolds. “Just ignore her,” the man tells Lucas. “I brought you here on the premise that you would behave,” he continues to reprimand his now contrite granddaughter. “I apologize,” he says to Lucas and Alaine. “Please, just ignore her.”
As Emma bows her head in shame and consternation, Lucas’ heart breaks for the girl. He catches her eye and sends a wink her way. Her ruddy cheeks brighten further and Lucas gives her a wide grin.
The unexpected attempt to soothe an embarrassed teenager shocks Alaine.
“What?” Lucas asks as she stares at him with bafflement.
“This is what I mean,” she tells him. “You’re nice. And this,” she says gesturing to the room. “This is amazing.”
“The affair or the house?” he asks.
“Both,” Alaine replies.
“You know, I should be offended,” he jokes. “You find my house amazing but I’m just nice?”
She chuckles at his silliness.
“Thank you,” he offers genuinely. “I’m glad you like it.”
Lucas sweeps his eyes over the transformation of a room that, just last week, had been nothing but an empty space. He hadn’t handled the details for the event personally. That job fell to the fundraising committee and so far they’ve done a commendable job. The woman in charge should be in attendance with her complimentary invitations. He’ll have to tell her so.
The MC brings all conversation in the room to a halt when he steps up to the podium. At the end of his short welcome speech, he invites the host for the evening to the microphone.
“You’re hosting?” Alaine asks Lucas, her incredulity showing in her bright eyes. “Of course you are,” she says. “This is your house. How did I not put it together? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I have to go,” he tells her softly. Then, for show, he leans to brush a kiss against her cheek. “I didn’t think it was necessary,” he says against her ear. “In hindsight, I wish I had. Now it seems I have to find a way to give everyone something to talk about other than that look of shock on your face. Maybe I should kiss you right now.”
Stunned by his suggestion, Alaine’s breath catches in her throat. She can’t tell if he is being serious. Would Lucas really kiss her here? So publicly? The second they make eye contact she knows. The darkened hue in the icy gray of his irises is confirmation that he would and her creeping, tell-all flush is all the answer he needs to know that she wouldn’t object.
“Your guests are waiting,” Alaine reminds him.
Released from her spell, Lucas rises quickly to give his brief speech and report of his charity’s undertakings, accomplishments, and future goals. He thanks the individuals and businesses who partner with him in these efforts before descending the makeshift stage.
“So, Break The Silence charity benefit dinner?” Alaine asks as soon as he returns to his seat. “How did you come up with that?”
“Why don’t we concentrate on the event?” Lucas suggests. He doesn’t want to have this conversation and even if he did, now is definitely not the time. “The first performance is about to begin.”
The night passes in a flurry of performances, champagne glasses and expensive meals until it’s time for dancing.
Just like when they first came, a line of guests seek out the host and his date. Alaine receives many admiring glances and requests for a turn on the dance floor. All the notice from male suitors has Lucas hovering very close. He introduces her simply as Alaine Knight and doesn’t offer anything else when the few bold ones enquire about their relationship.
The women in attendance regard her with curious covert glances but none of them seem brave enough to talk to her so she has no choice but to cling to her date.
One woman finally breaks the mold. She approaches Lucas and Alaine in a whirlwind of yellow silk and red curls. She looks magnificent with her wide smile aimed at Lucas and a slit in her dress all the way to her hip. Standing at least, five inches taller than Alaine and statuesque with her porcelain white skin, she sweeps in and steals Lucas’ attention. The fleeting glance she throws in Alaine’s direction is telling and dismissive. She is unperturbed by Alaine’s presence and not in the least bit threatened either.
“Lucas,” she sings.
Returning the woman’s smile, he pushes back his chair and rises to take her in a warm hug. “Will you excuse me?” he says to Alaine.
Before she is able to respond and without the bother to introduce her to the woman, Lucas steps away from the table.
“Don’t disappear,” he adds before doing the very same himself with the sexy redhead’s arm looped in his.
Embarrassment flushes Alaine’s cheeks as all eyes around the table rest on her. What had she really expected? He’s Lucas Bright. He warned her about his consorts. She has no right to feel betrayed or sad. Even if she’s lost her appetite, Alaine continues to poke at her half-eaten dessert as if nothing is wrong. She tries to focus on anything rather than locating him and his friend in the room. Her stomach burns hotly. With what? Jealousy? The sensation is foreign and surprising and completely out of place.
“This place looks truly extraordinary, Darcy,” Lucas says as he walks away from Alaine, however, reluctantly. He can’t help but turn to look at her one last time before allowing the head of the fundraising committee and event planner Darcy Peters to lure him away from his date.
Darcy smiles at him sweetly. Come to think of it, Lucas is sure that since approaching him and Alaine, the woman’s smile hasn’t faded.
“Thank you, Lucas,” she responds. “But it was your vision.”
Now that she has him to herself in a dimly lit corner, mostly away from the crowd, she stands in front Lucas, blocking his line of sight and reaches up to remove an imaginary piece of lint from his shoulder.
Because of his reputation, she expected that he would show up tonight alone. Imagine her surprise when the man she’s anticipated being with for the better part of a year shows up with a little chit on his arm. She doesn’t want anything permanent. Just a night or two with the infamous Lucas Bright would suffice.
“Well, now that you have delivered far beyond literally anything I could have imagined, I will keep my end of the deal,” Lucas says. “The position is yours, permanently, if you still want it.”
“Thank you,” she says again. “I am happy to please you. In anyway. So you’re here with someone?” she asks and summons a passing waiter to grab two glasses of champagne from the silver tray.
The small woman in her black and white work attire triggers the memory of the first time Lucas saw Alaine. She’d been dressed, not unlike this, with a heavy ponytail swinging down her back. Teleported back to that wedding, Lucas smiles at the memory. He remembers it, her, so vividly. She’d ignored him. Her attitude had been surprising and disappointing. The way she dismissed him, he never expected to see her again, let alone touch her or kiss her. There was no reason to hope that he would, but he had. For a long time he’d hoped to see her again and now she’s here with him.
“I am,” Lucas replies, his tone a bit wistful. “She’s my date.”
“Oh,” Darcy replies. Her aim of seducing Lucas is in tatters. It never occurred to her he would invite anyone. “I thought you might have come alone,” she admits.
“And why did would I do that?” Lucas asks with incredulity. “It’s a sweetheart dinner, Darcy. Hence the reason I gave you two complimentary invitations.”
For the first time since approaching Lucas, Darcy’s smile slips. She shrugs, faking nonchalance while her mind scampers to find a way to drive a wedge between Lucas and his date.
“Is it serious?” she probes.
His hesitation is all the answer she needs. “Don’t mind me,” Darcy says with a feminine giggle. “I’m so nosy. Well, maybe we can share a dance. Or two. So I won’t appear too lonely?” she says with a coy bat of her lashes.
“Sure,” Lucas responds.
So far for the evening, quite a few people have raised questions about the status of his and Alaine’s relationship. His vague responses came swiftly. Here, in this corner, with nothing acting as a distractor, the question gives him a moment to reflect on the feelings blossoming in his chest.
He glances over Darcy’s shoulder to find Alaine. The despondency she wears makes him regret leaving her alone. Her eyes shift restlessly around the room while she chews on that bottom lip. Then she returns to poking at her plate once more.
The idea that she might be searching him out attaches to Lucas’ mind. He wants to get back to her. Especially when a gentleman eases into his vacant seat.
Alaine grows uncomfortable with the intruder’s presence. Lucas can tell. She doesn’t blush to whatever compliments he lays at her feet. She barely manages a smile. His little fairy only blushes for him. It makes Lucas feel good. She makes him feel good in a way that nothing and no one else has and damn if she doesn’t look irresistible even when she’s sulking.
Prompted by his growing nostalgia and the fact that the man almost blocking Alaine from view with his wide frame is yet to make his exit, Lucas refocuses on Darcy.
“I really should get back to her. My date seems lonely without me,” he says.
“I thought we were dancing,” she protests. "And she seems fine to me."
“I couldn’t give my first dance away,” Lucas tells her. “It’s inappropriate.”
Quite frankly, he will be content to dance only with Alaine, all night long. The thought of holding her intimately, just the two of them swaying beneath the soft light, makes a compelling picture.
As such, Lucas bids Darcy a hasty goodbye. “Do enjoy the rest of the evening,” he says before making his way across the aisles to get back to his date.
“I believe this is my seat,” Lucas says as he stands over the table.
“That it is,” the burly man responds as he rises. “Gaston Brown,” he continues with an outstretched hand.
Before accepting the gesture, Lucas glances down at Alaine. She deliberately avoids looking at him so he can't help but wonder if it's something the gentleman said that upset her.
“Lucas Bright,” he replies but is distracted and puzzled by Alaine’s cold shoulder.
“I actually wanted to have a word with you,” Gaston says.
Reaching into his pocket, Lucas pulls out his business card and hands it to the gentleman. “Call my office. Set up an appointment,” he says dismissively then pats Gaston's shoulder. “Dance with me,” he says to Alaine as soon as the guest leaves.
Finally, she lifts her eyes from her half-eaten plate to glare at her date. The sight of him standing so regale over her literally steals the breath from her lungs. Instead of focusing on him and the frantic rhythm of her heart beat, she focuses on the injustice he’s served her this evening. She clings to the embarrassment of his vanishing act with the redhead. What was it that Bethany said about him three years ago? That he could be petitioned with a slip of paper. With that thought in mind, Alaine looks down at the table and closes herself off to him.
“No,” she huffs.
“What do you mean no?” Lucas questions. He pulls out his chair to resume his seat beside her. “Dance with me,” he requests again. “This is why you’re here, Alaine,” he reminds her when she remains resolute.
Hovering between the hurt she feels that he reminds her that she pimped herself out for the evening and anger at herself for fooling herself into believing whatever has her angry in the first place, Alaine crosses her arms over her chest.
“I know why I’m here,” she tells him. “You said smile and look beautiful. You never said anything about dancing.”
Because his date is clearly upset and he is clueless as to why, Lucas fights back a bark of laughter. He’s heard it said that women can look cute when they’re angry. The observation is correct. Alaine is positively adorable with her scowl and her pout. Something tells him that he shouldn't mention it.
“It was implied,” he responds. “You’re being cheeky, Ms. Knight, though I have no idea what I’ve done to provoke it. If it was the gentleman, Mr. Brown who upset you, please tell me what he said and I will deal with it. And you will dance with me,” he asserts.
One eyebrow quirks up saucily at him. At the authority in his tone. Giving up on the argument, Lucas pushes his chair away from the table and stands with his hand extended.
“If you don’t take my hand soon, people are going to begin to wonder,” he tells her.
Knowing that she has been bested, Alaine narrows her eyes at him. She also doesn't want to create a scene. Begrudgingly, she places her small hand in Lucas' and allows him to tug her from her seat.
“Thank you,” he says triumphantly.
“Aren’t you smug,” Alaine grumbles as he smiles. “I don’t know how to dance.”
“That’s fine. Just relax and follow my lead.”
On the dance floor, Lucas pulls close with one arm settled on the small of her back and the other closes around her delicate fingers.
“Place your hand on my shoulder,” he tells her. She does so stiffly. “Now, just listen to the tune and follow me. What is going on, Alaine?” he questions when he looks down at her solemn features. "I know that we are here under a guise but I do want you to enjoy the evening. I thought you were,” he says softly.
“I was,” Alaine concedes. “Until you left with…We talked about this. My conditions were no one else.”
“That’s what this is about?” Lucas questions. “Alaine, there is no one else,” he assures her. “Darcy is the decorator and head of the fundraising committee,” he explains when she keeps silent. “We discussed logistics and you being my date.”
This time when Alaine looks at him, there are no daggers in her eyes. “Oh,” she says after a while considering his explanation.
“Yes, oh,” Lucas mocks. “I’m a man of my word, Alaine. And if something bothers you, I’d prefer we discuss it. Now can you please relax so we can dance properly? I love this song.”