Precious Mineral/Crafted Perfection
Three sets, that’s how many songs they dance. Each one trickles into the other and the seemingly happy couple on the dance floor doesn’t appear to notice when one ends and another begins.
At the start of their first dance, Darcy Peters noticed something odd about Lucas and his date but she just couldn’t quite put a finger on it. As the song wore on, she lost the will to try to decode the peculiarity and gave in to her irritation.
The minute the brief conversation she held with Lucas ended, she’d done recon to try to find out who is the little girl on his arm. Lucas hadn’t offered her name, but he’d told enough people, like governor Whitley who just couldn’t help express how happy he was to see Lucas arrive with a date.
“Alaine something, I believe,” the governor told her. “It’s about time that young man settled into something serious. Hopefully, she’s the one. Looks like it, doesn’t she?” the foolish man voiced.
Darcy almost laughed. Anyone who thinks that Lucas Bright is capable of a stable relationship is either ridiculous or doesn’t know him as well as she does. Then she’d studied the way he looked at this Alaine like she is sculpted from some rare, precious mineral, refined from all impurities and she wanted to tell the governor to shut up.
Helplessly, she watched the two of them ogle and grope each other like a pair of randy teenagers. Even now, they are leaving the dance floor, with Alaine’s hand in his. Darcy pouts because Lucas truly appears to be happy.
As quickly as the idea forms, she dismisses it. From what she’s learned about him, he’s simply not the sort.
Lucas Bright is a pet project of hers – learning about him, that is. Like everyone else, she can’t help but be fascinated by the handsome, young billionaire. Ever since he fell onto her radar she’s devoted quite a bit of time in researching him.
It was a magazine cover that started the ball rolling on what her mother has termed an obsession. That picture of Lucas captured him in all his finely crafted perfection. Darcy had never seen a more handsome man. They say a picture tells a thousand words but that still of Lucas spoke to her in a thousand different tongues. From then she knew, she just had to meet him. That was three years ago.
Trying to arrange an audience with Lucas is like a quest for the holy grail. “It’s impossible,” the people close to, but not quite in his circle, had told her. If she wasn’t tenacious, their assessment would have been right.
Lucas’ schedule, she’d learned from his assistant, was booked for a full year. So she’d simply bided her time and stocked up on information about him. That’s how she’d learned that his relationship status has always been single. According to the latest reports, it still is. He has, however, left a string of women in his wake and this Alaine character cannot be more than another one in the pile-up.
In a manner of speaking, they share that in common. Darcy is not on the hunt for an established relationship, yet. Last year, she turned twenty-nine. There’s a lot of time for that. This man just looks like he knows his way around a woman’s body and there is much to be gained from an affiliation with him.
Using her feminine wiles to seduce rich, younger men is a forte of hers. Though she’s not opposed to a more mature variety. The fact that Lucas hasn’t bitten is disturbing. She had a plan to win him over tonight. Securing the bid to organize this event was supposed to have given her the opportunity. She’d calculated it like a science.
Yes, in conversation he alluded that she should cater for a plus one on his behalf, but he hadn’t supplied her a name. Hence the reason she assumed he was coming alone. The seat next to him was to have been hers. That’s why she sabotaged his table – to ensure that any competition she may encounter would be eliminated. She has no contingency for this Alaine person.
Well, it’s a good thing she’s quick on her feet.
Darcy spies her opportunity when Alaine leaves Lucas to stroll in the direction of the designated ladies’ washroom. She allows a reasonable few seconds to elapse before following the same path.
Alaine just needed a break at the end of that third dance with Lucas. She has no choice but to sneak away to the ladies room for a small reprieve from peering eyes, the strange turn the night has taken and from her very handsy and pretend love interest.
“This is pretend,” Alaine scolds her reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Turning her back from the stranger staring at her, she leans against the sink and reaches for her phone in the little reticule Delah provided her with. It’s late but she makes an attempt to check up on her sister anyway. Hearing Delah’s and Isabella’s voice will remind her why she came here tonight and set her back on track.
To her dismay, the call rings out. Had she really expected any differently? Her sister is an early bird. With a sigh, Alaine places the device back in her little bag and takes a deep breath for some courage. She can’t hide from Lucas. She can’t ditch him either. He is her ride home.
Like she always does when feeling overwhelmed, she gives herself an internal pep talk. All things considered, the night is going pretty well, despite the fact that she’s convinced herself that Lucas is relationship material.
Just as she pushes away from the vanity with the intention of resuming her role by Lucas’ side, the door to the bathroom opens and she is accosted by the redhead Lucas hadn’t introduced her to earlier – Darcy Peters, the event planner and head of Lucas’ fundraising committee.
“You,” the woman says in a tone so confrontational it frightens Alaine, especially when she slams the door behind her.
Alaine lets out a frightened yelp and lifts her hand over her palpitating heart. “Me?” she returns. For the second time tonight, she wants to kick herself for her stupidity. Of course the woman is addressing her. There’s no one else in the bathroom.
“Yes, you’re Lucas’...date?” Darcy Peters asks, her tone shifting from aggressive to incredulity and contempt.
Unaccustomed to these situations, Alaine slinks away from the woman. “I am,” she responds softly.
“I find that hard to believe,” Darcy states as she folds her arms across her small bosom. “You must have come really cheap. You’re not his type. I’m sure you’re aware that Lucas doesn’t date. And he prefers his women with a little more class and experience. I would know.”
Ignoring the way the hateful words stings, Alaine takes a breath to calm her galloping heart. She hates confrontation but she’s not about to let some...groupie, with her designs on Lucas besmirch her polished reputation and get away with it.
“Yet, here I am,” she responds meekly while fitting the lady with a mirthless smile.
Darcy’s eyes turn to slits. Obviously, she’s underestimated the girl.
Alaine backs herself into the wall behind her when Darcy takes a menacing step forward. She never imagined accompanying Lucas would lead to an altercation with a cougar in the bathroom. Scrambling to dissolve the escalating situation, Alaine almost divulges the plans she has with Lucas. Then she thinks again.
Why should she be afraid? She’s here with Lucas. Taking courage in the thought, she squares her shoulders. “Excuse me,” she requests, politely. “I’d like to leave. Please.”
Instead of complying, Darcy looms larger over her, blocking her path to the exit. The confidence Alaine felt a second ago dwindles in the face of the threat. The haughty attitude Darcy sports is domineering as she glares at Alaine.
“Are those tears I see?” she teases Alaine with a feigned frown. “You’re one of those women who needs a man to fight for her, aren’t you? Damsel in this distress?”
“What is your problem?” Alaine asks.
“Toilet paper,” Darcy says with a graceful shrug of her shoulder. “That’s what you are. Used and then flushed.”
Alaine’s lips quirk up in a genuine smile this time. “You would know,” she says tartly belying the way she has to steel her nerves to keep from shaking.
There was only one other time in her life Alaine had to fight for survival. It’s not an experience she wants to repeat and this situation leads down a long and dark corridor where all there is the memory of the fear she felt.
“You will too, soon,” Darcy huffs. “And if I were you, I’d think before I go crying to my date. It’s my word against yours.”
Thankfully, her comments drag Alaine back from the secrets in her past. The same way she entered the bathroom in a flurry of yellow silk and red curls, much to Alaine’s relief, Darcy stomps out in the same fashion. Hopefully, that is the end of that.
Now that she is alone again, Alaine finally allows the tremors to take hold of her body. She sags against the sink and it takes all her energy not to collapse onto the floor. Tears of fright, confusion and anger pool in her eyes but she refuses to let them fall. This is part of the reason she avoids people in general.
She turns to the mirror with the intention of washing away the evidence of her encounter with Lucas’ redhead.
“Logistics my ass,” she grumbles as she studies her pale complexion. Lucas’ words come back to taunt her. He doesn’t do relationships. Look what has happened after a few days. There’s no way she can do this for the next six months and as soon as she goes out there, he will be treated with a piece of her mind and her verbal resignation.
After grabbing some tissue, from the tissue holder on the wall, Alaine runs the tap with the intention of dabbing at her eyes to clean her runny mascara as Delah instructed her.
A soft knock on the door preludes Lucas’ voice -- smooth as honey with that light, lilting accent. Instead of running to him for comfort like she wants to, Alaine focuses on her indignation instead. It’s just her luck to be caught in a bathroom with a man.
“Alaine?” he calls since she doesn’t answer. “Are you in there?”
As the door slips open a crack and he peeps inside, Alaine quickly tries to compose herself. That fails so she opts for hostility to drive him out of the confining space.
“Have you no propriety?” she asks as she tries to force her way past him.
“Hey,” Lucas says, reaching out to grasp her upper arm to halt her retreat. “Are you hiding from me?” he asks while studying her. “You disappeared so long, I worried. What’s wrong?” he asks, regarding her with concern.
“Nothing,” Alaine replies, tersely. Forgoing the use of the automatic dryer, she tugs away from Lucas and grabs another strip of tissue to dry her hands since it will be the fastest way out of the bathroom.
“Here I thought we were being honest,” Lucas counters. “You’re visibly shaking, Alaine,” he notes and blocks her path when she tries to step around him again. “Tell me what happened,” Lucas continues to plead. “Did someone say something to you? Or do something to you?”
In the search for the truth that she doesn’t want to reveal, Lucas’ eyes caress Alaine’s face then run the length of her body. Her tremors increase but for a different reason. He’s here, trapping her. There’s also the fact that the gentleness he displays reaches into the defensive walls that he’s breached that she’s just trying to repair.
How can she voice that whichever way she slices it, he is the cause of her distress?
“You’re not leaving until you tell me what is wrong,” Lucas asserts and locks the door behind him. “I’m not going to hurt you, Alaine,” he explains and holds up his hands when she looks at the door in a panic. “I just need you to tell me why you’re shaking.”
She relents with a sigh. “Apparently... one of your past ‘consorts’ is here,” Alaine explains and shrugs in the hopes that she will appear less ruffled about it. “She probably wants to reclaim her territory, I guess and has warned me off you.”
“And you believe her?” Lucas huffs in disbelief.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Alaine argues.
“Why should you?” he asks as he steps closer, crowding her. “I guarantee you, Alaine, I have not ever dated or bedded any woman in that room,” he says as the need to convince her of the truth in his words grows.
What he won’t say, however, is that the only woman he currently wants in his bed is her.
“Does it even matter whether or not I believe it?” she asks.
“It must because you’re shaking,” Lucas observes. “I would never put you in such a position.”
Alaine shakes her head in her inability to understand him. What does it matter that she is upset? What does it matter that what the woman said upset her; hurt her? It shouldn’t. They’re not together. Not really.
She was about to express those exact thoughts when Lucas takes a deep breath. Resigned to this argument, he takes her by the hand and hurries back to the threshold of the dining room.
“Who was it?” Lucas demands. “This woman. Point her out to me.”
“What? No,” Alaine protests.
“Why not?” he questions. “You obviously don’t believe me.”
“It doesn’t matter, Lucas,” Alaine states. Her stomach clenches and hollows out when he leads her to the middle of the middle of the emptying dance floor. “What are you doing?” she demands.
“It matters to me,” he says earnestly. “What you think matters to me,” he admits. “You have two options, Alaine,” Lucas threatens. “Either you show me who this liar is, or I redeem both of our honour here in front of everyone.”
Seeing the question in her eyes, Lucas answers before she can voice it. “I’m going to kiss you, in front of everyone,” he declares.
“Fine, I believe you,” Alaine states, quickly.
“It’s too late for that, sweet girl,” Lucas says as he steps up to her. “I’d like to kiss you again, please.”
Because he asks so nicely and with such sincerity, Alaine cannot form a refusal. She gives something in the way of a confused nod and a shake of her head. Before Lucas leans down, she just glimpses his swoon-worthy smile before her eyes close.
“You want me to, don’t you?” he asks, but his lips are already brushing against hers.
“Yes,” Alaine answers.
This time, his fingers of one hand sink possessively into her hair, disarranging the heavy mass of curls so they go tumbling down her back and the other rests on her side to tug her forward.
His second kiss is not nearly as timid or as exploratory as the first. Lucas’ lips are soft, but his possession is firm. He draws from her lips like a thirsting man. Alaine is so stunned by the power of it, her stomach clenches, her knees buckle and she clings to his jacket for purchase. Before she has a chance to recover and meet him with the same fervor, Lucas eases back but keeps her caged against his body.
Looking down at her with hooded eyes he says, “I like the way you look when I kiss you, Alaine.”