The Devil Is A Charmer
He loves this song? By Ed Sheeran? Really?
Alaine couldn’t be more shocked. Out of all the unexpected things she’s learned about Lucas, this bit of information is probably the most surprising. He loves a sentimental ballad about a man growing old with the woman he loves. It’s quite the contradiction to the lifestyle he’s professed.
Her disbelief is warranted and shows in the way her eyebrows shoot up and her eyes go wide with curiosity.
“What?" Lucas asks while looking down at her.
She responds, “nothing,” and ducks her head before he can question her more thoroughly.
By his own proclamation, the man currently leading her on the dance floor is deathly allergic to all things romance. Given the way he belittles the concept of love, she never expected that he would touch anything related to the subject with a ten-foot pole.
Then again, how else would the Casanova convince so many women into his bed? He’s only given her a small peek into the window of his sexual proclivities and she has no experience of her own to speak of, but it seems logical that his prowess for seduction requires some effort to be this perfect.
After giving Lucas’ face a covert glance through her lashes, Alaine quickly changes her mind. He probably doesn’t need to try that hard. From just a glimpse, she can see why he has an easy time with women. Maybe he doesn’t need to do much more than look at a lady to get her to sleep with him.
Considering the effect he has on her personally, there is every likelihood that Lucas only needs to flash those gorgeous grey eyes and that devastating smile and lesser women will immediately tumble into his bed. Added to that is the fact that he is obscenely rich. The man possesses every weapon in his arsenal to win over just about any lady.
“What’s going on in that pretty head of yours?” Lucas asks as he guides her along to the music.
The sound of his voice dislodges Alaine from the path her mind is trekking and the guilt-ridden look on her face makes him laugh.
“Now I’m really curious,” Lucas states. “You’re very expressive, do you know that?” he continues. “I’ve been watching you for the last eight seconds and your expression has changed just as many times. You have a busy mind.”
“I have a lot of important things to think about,” she replies, lamely and makes a concerted effort to guard her features.
“Fine. Keep your secrets,” Lucas mumbles before twirling her out of his arms. After reeling her back into him, he holds her close and purrs against her ear. “But, when I hold a woman, I prefer if she's thinking of me. You’re a challenge, Ms. Knight. I guess I need to work harder at distracting you.”
If only he knew, she thinks.
Lucas keeps true to his word. Alaine can't think of much else but his hand on her body and how sturdy his frame is. She’s never been held this way. Not the way Lucas is holding her right now. She's never been handled with this measure of care and gentility. Neither has she been treated with the kind of consideration Lucas has shown her since they met. Everything he’s done; the way he makes her feel – it would probably be easy to let go her inhibitions and fall into the false security his arms promise. She could lose herself in it. In him.
It’s ridiculous to feel that way, of course. She knows it. Should she fool herself into believing his treatment is anything more than what it is – that he isn’t merely fulfilling a role, then she deserves a swift kick in the butt. By his own admission and lifestyle, the way he’s holding her means absolutely nothing to him.
Clearly, Lucas is a thoughtful person. She will give him credit for that. He’s gentle too. It’s his nature, she's come to realize. However, whatever is happening now and everything that’s preceded this moment, including their kiss, falls within the purview of their verbal agreement. He’s simply adhering to his end of the bargain and enjoying the leeway she’s allowed. If she didn’t know the truth about him and relationships, he could have fooled her into thinking that there is more between them than just that. But she knows better.
It’s that thought that plucks Alaine out of the clouds and plants her feet back on solid ground. Consciously, she straightens her spine. She won’t be tricked by the seduction of this setting, nor the way he moves so easily with her and certainly not by his charms.
Beyond this show they’re fabricating for his guests, there is a reality waiting for her. In the meantime, she just has to do the job she’s been hired to perform and remember to keep her faculties about her. But by God, it’s difficult.
Only a few millimeters stand between Lucas and her. The spice of his cologne fills the air, circulating in the small crack of space separating their bodies. Every breath Alaine inhales, she breathes in more of Lucas and each second spent like this feels more and more real. Keeping her wits definitely requires more effort than simply thinking about it.
If it wasn’t for his hand fitted low on her back, with his fingers spread wide enough, that his pinky just avoids the curve of her rear, she would have stepped back another centimeter. But that hand keeps her there.
Her mind conjures the notion that Lucas wants it this way. He wants her close and she is right. If she would allow him, there would be nothing standing between them. He would already have her flush against him.
Lucas has never relished having a woman in his arms. Not like this. Every other time had been merely going through the motions. A means to an end. With Alaine, it’s different. There’s something about her. Something he cannot fathom nor measure and it’s placed him in a quandary.
Why this girl? Why is his reaction to her so peculiar? It’s a mystery that the part of his brain that enjoys a challenge wants to solve. A man like him finds meaning and takes comfort in things that can be quantified and reasoned. A part of him just fears that if he chooses to investigate, he will be dragged down a dangerous path.
Dancing with her is just like he imagined. Better even. Alaine is so soft and easy to maneuver on the dance floor.
Lucas has to remind himself that just like him she has an agenda for being here tonight. She’s said so herself. Had it not been for her financial straits, she would not have accepted his offer. Yet, the way she fits so flawlessly with him, makes him ponder about things best left unexplored.
One of the reasons he’s favoured taller women is because of his height. He’s not a giant by any means. Six feet and a few millimeters is decent by male standards. As an outsider looking in, being with a petite woman just seemed awkward. He couldn’t see it working, until now.
Out of her heels, Alaine is not much higher than five feet. Even then, she feels perfect to him. For him. He wants to test his theory and pull her fully against him to see how well they fit. For now, Lucas satisfies himself with how synchronized their movements are to one of his favourite songs.
His vantage point over her provides the perfect opportunity to marvel at the gracefulness of her fine bones and the glow of her skin. He is tempted to trail a line of kisses across her bare shoulder in the dim lighting; nip his way up the curve of her neck and along her jaw. He can imagine himself grazing his lips over her high cheekbones then planting a kiss on her forehead before slipping down the bridge of her nose. When she grows breathless and wanting, he’ll take her chin in his hand, lift her face and give her what she craves. More of his kisses. It's so easy to picture taking her lips with his again. How he longs to feel her surrender.
Lucas has no idea what is happening to him. If he had to diagnose himself, he’d say he’s lost his damn mind. He’s never thought about anyone this way and he certainly has no right to think those things about Alaine.
A woman like her is way out of his league. Never mind his net worth. He is not a good person. He’s spent a lifetime proving it. As such, he is undeserving of the caliber of woman she is.
He clears his throat and regrets that it’s not possible to clear these crazy thoughts in the same manner.
“You’re doing well, so far,” he tells Alaine in a quest for a conversation that will serve as a distractor. “For someone who can’t dance.”
“I’m still nervous,” she answers.
That’s a confession she didn’t need to make. It’s evident to him. Her nervousness that is. It comes across through the little vibrations in her body. She also hasn’t once lifted her gaze to his since they leveled out after their little spat. Apparently, she is transfixed by something on his chest, like maybe the button on his dress shirt. Lucas smiles to himself.
For some reason, her insecurity is flattering. Usually, the women who pursue him are seasoned in worldliness. Oh, some of them know how to play the debutante but he can see their experience a from a mile away. There's no pretense in Alaine. Maybe that's part of what fascinates him.
The way she got so riled up when she thought he'd stepped outside their arrangement with Darcy Peters also stroked his ego a bit. He'll only admit this to himself, but his pride is a fragile thing.
It's a silly impression that he shouldn't entertain, but if he had to describe her reaction, he'd sum it up in one word. She almost seemed...jealous.
Deciding to leave well enough alone, Lucas continues what he thinks is a safe discussion. “You’re always nervous,” he observes. “Though you hide it well.”
“I’m taking that as a compliment,” Alaine replies.
“You should,” he says with a little smile. Unable to help himself, he asks, “Is it me that makes you nervous?. Or is that how you are in general? Look at me,” he orders softly.
She doesn’t supply an answer to either or his questions, neither does she comply with the gentle command. Lucas pauses their dancing, takes her chin in his hand and lifts her face to his.
Beating back the desire to do all those things his mind projected, he tells her softly, “There you are. I think people are expecting some measure of affection between us. At least some eye contact,” he notes. “A little intimacy,” he adds with his fingers sweeping idly just over the base of her spine.
“I’m just not used to this,” Alaine confesses after taking a shuddery breath.
“I know. Neither am I,” he admits. “There’s a lot of details we need to fine tune about this arrangement I realize,” he concedes as he leads her back in motion. “I should have told you that I was hosting this dinner. I thought it was irrelevant until you looked at me like I said I found a cure for cancer.”
Alaine snorts her laughter.
“I’m serious, Ms. Knight,” he scolds. “In case you haven’t noticed my life is under constant scrutiny. I would hate for you to become a scandal. Speaking of, right now you are the center of attention.”
Since Lucas trapped her into this dance, Alaine has scarcely looked further than his shoulder. Once he makes that observation, her eyes scheme over the crowd. He’s right, many people are staring, overtly and otherwise.
“That’s really unhelpful,” she complains. “And of course everybody’s staring. I’m wearing this,” she says indicating to the bright red gown. “And I’m dancing with Lucas Bright. They’re probably wondering who this nobody is.”
“I don’t understand how you can be so self-conscious,” Lucas offers as he frowns down at her. He stills their slow movement again to look into her eyes. “They’re staring because you are captivating,” he says earnestly. “They are probably wondering how one woman could be so perfect.”
Reaching down, he captures a renegade girl between his thumb and forefinger. “You are an enigma, Alaine Knight,” Lucas says and picks up the slow rhythm again as one song bleeds into another.
Completely thrown by his praise, Alaine whispers, “Why do you say these things?”
“Because they are the truth,” Lucas responds. “I told you, I’m an honest man. I would be lying if I say you are not the most beautiful woman in this room.”
Something shifts in the atmosphere or maybe it’s just inside Alaine. His words belong in a fairy tale. So far tonight, she feels like she’s living one; like a princess being doted on by the handsome prince. Those same inhibitions she has been relying on to stand guard against Lucas wilt a little further.
In an automatic and unanticipated reaction to his sweet, velvety adulation she steps closer, removing the space separating their bodies. Lucas recovers quickly from the unexpectedness of it. Following the natural progression of things, he tightens his hold on Alaine so she has no choice but lay his head over his suddenly heavily thumping heart.
Her own heart leaps in response and adopts the same rhythm as his.
“The way you speak,” Alaine tells him. “I find it hard to believe you’ve never been in a relationship.”
“The devil is a charmer, Ms. Knight,” Lucas replies immediately, though her observation has thrown him off kilter.
She looks up at him and laughs. Maybe his answer is supposed to be a warning, but Alaine finds it humorous. Before giving him a reply, she returns her cheek to it’s resting place near his heart. “I hear he’s handsome too,” she responds.
The unexpectedness and quick wit behind that response cause Lucas’ chest to rumble with laughter beneath her ear.
”Touché,” he tells her.
“You know what I think?” Alaine continues.
“I wish I did,” Lucas replies.
“I think that maybe you’ve just never given yourself the chance to be or try anything else,” she posits. “You’re very good at a fake relationship so far. I think you might be exceptional in a real one if you tried.”
When he tenses noticeably and falls silent, Alaine looks up at him again. It feels good to have finally gained the upper hand on this charmer. Despite the small victory, Alaine continues in her attempt to keep a level head because here in his warm embrace, she can’t deny the longing she feels for what she’s never had – what she's never experienced – before.
“This is the first time I've ever danced,” she says in the hopes of continuing their casual conversation.
“Not even at prom?” Lucas asks, his fingers resuming their dancing pattern, caressing her skin so softly that she shivers against him.
“I didn’t go to prom,” she admits.
“Me neither,” Lucas confesses. “But you’re doing a good job of following my lead,” he tells her. “You’re dancing,” he notes and twirls her around before pulling her back into his arms. “Quite nicely too.”
“I do yoga,” she responds nonsensically then mentally kicks herself because one obviously has nothing to do with the other.
“A vital piece of information,” Lucas says with a wicked smile.
The more comfortable she gets with him, the better their bodies fit together. Her soft muscles, give to the hard pressure of his. It feels like she is melting, contouring to him in a most delicious fashion.
The strangest thing yet is when Lucas places a gentle kiss against her hair and begins to hum the melody to the song above her. The word arrangement flashes in bright colourful neon behind Alaine’s closed eyelids. Still, she burrows deeper into his inviting warmth.
“This feels nice,” Lucas says absently. “You do.”
She looks up at him again but that brief scrutiny of her exotic gold and green eyes has Lucas questioning his lifestyle choices and morality.
“It does,” Alaine agrees.