It's Going To Be Me.
When you read this chapter, please remember that I am a novice. I enjoy writing, but I'm no professional. Have a look, let me know what you think.
There is always a lull at Mona’s little flower shop after Valentine’s Day. The quietness is proving bothersome for Alaine since she is left alone to her thoughts. While she longs for some kind of diversion it’s actually a relief that Mona herself rarely shows up on a Monday.
What she wants is the distraction of browsing and paying customers to occupy her mind. Despite her best efforts, it keeps sidling its way back to a certain tall, grey-eyed billionaire who has shown her what it means to be kissed.
Dealing with patrons will be welcomed and easy. Mona, not so much. There is little doubt in Alaine’s mind that her spritely, middle-aged surrogate mother will spend the day interrogating her about her encounter with Lucas.
So much happened that night that Alaine hasn’t yet been able to fully process for herself. How can she explain it to anyone else? Like being Lucas Bright’s first kiss, for example.
It’s still impossible to conceive what motivated him to hold on to that part of himself for so long and more difficult to ascertain why he let go for her.
To say that she feels special – honoured even – is an understatement.
When the bell above the door dings, Alaine is happy for the interruption into her daydream of being held in Lucas’ arms.
Since he dropped her off yesterday, it’s been radio silence.
The lack of communication is slowly driving her mad. Even her normal enthusiasm about Mondays being a chance to start afresh has plummeted. It’s also annoying that in Lucas’ absence he still possesses the ability to sway her emotions. Not to mention the fact that he’d kissed and is now ignoring her.
Casting one last frown at her quiet phone, Alaine lifts her head to greet her customer. It takes everything she has to form a weak smile at the sight of Angus striding nervously toward the counter.
“Hey,” Angus greets. “Is everything okay?” he enquires to her downcast features.
“Hey Angus,” Alaine returns with a little wave. “Everything’s great. Just waiting on a follow up about a job,” she supplies vaguely. “What brings you here this fine day?” she asks, trying to infuse a little pep into her voice.
“You’re not going to be working here anymore?” Angus asks his brow creasing into a scowl.
Out of uniform, Alaine realizes how domineering his tall, hulking frame is. For the first time, she also notices that Angus Maloney is a very good looking guy. His clear, baby blue eyes are brought to focus by a close-cut crop of yellow-blond curls and intensely defined cheekbones. He has an easy friendly smile and an innocent look about him too. Not at all like the overconfident – give a girl her first kiss and then not call – Lucas Bright.
There you go again, her mind warns.
“I guess I came at a bad time,” Angus says when he notices that her mood isn’t improved.
Shaken from her brooding by his keen observation, Alaine tilts her head to meet his gaze.
“Actually, I’m glad you’re here,” she tells him and he gives her a brilliant smile. “My mind is a little too idle. I welcome the distraction. And I think it’s time I engaged the real world of work,” she answers to his earlier question. “I have a college degree,” she adds as she pats Angus’ hand where it is resting on the glass surface between them.
A small thrill dances up his arm. Angus closes his eyes to savour the brief connection. This is the first time Alaine has deliberately initiated physical contact with him so it is groundbreaking.
When she draws her small fingers back, it feels like a great loss. He wants to demand that keep it there but knows, now is not the time.
Baby steps, Angus reminds himself. Everything is about timing.
A few unforeseen events have knocked him off tangent. He’s had to adjust accordingly. However, nothing can defeat his faith in Alaine. Neither his pursuit of her.
Lucas Bright is unanticipated and audacious. In spite of that upset, Angus knows it’s still premature to assert his claim on her. He needs to exercise patience.
“So, what can I do for you?” Alaine asks, her voice dripping over him like honey.
“I was actually wondering,” Angus begins to say nervously. “If you would like to go out with me sometime?” he asks with a timidity that contradicts his size and looks. “I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to ask you forever but...”
To that, Alaine remains mute. Her eyes widen. In the struggle to form a response, she opens her mouth but closes it again without uttering a word.
This is a new and unexpected development.
Sure, Mona has indicated that Angus might be interested in her as more than an acquaintance, but he’s never been outward about it. At least not to her. As far as Alaine knows, she’s been purposeful in her efforts to not encourage him.
Yes, they’ve always been very cordial with each other in conversation, but that’s it.
Aware that her suitor is awaiting an answer and that his blue eyes are swimming with hope, Alaine steels her nerves. What point would there be in saying yes? It will do neither of them any good to deceive him.
“Angus,” she says then pauses again because of the difficulty she is experiencing finding the right words. From the little Alaine knows of him, Angus is a tender soul. They may not be best buds but she has no interest in hurting his feelings.
Conciliatorily, she lays her hand on his again and says regretfully, “I really can’t. I…”
“Is it because of him?” Angus interjects. “The guy who was here the other day? The one who got you the bed? So inappropriate,” he scoffs.
Although she has no appreciation for the contempt in his tone, Alaine reins in her desire to tell him that it is none of his business.
“No, not all,” she offers instead.
Angus’ face twists with disgust. He knows that she is lying. She’s been spending time with him. He knows that because Alaine never came home on Saturday evening. He also knows that on Sunday morning, she returned in the company of Lucas Bright.
Only an idiot wouldn’t draw the conclusion that they spent the night together. They probably slept together too.
So disappointing, he thinks.
The high pedestal he’d raised for Alaine shatters. He’d fallen for an illusion. Could she be just like all the others? No, he refuses to believe that. Not Alaine. She’s special. So he is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Still, Angus spits angrily, “liar.”
The condemnation and vehemence in his tone, are startling. Alaine takes an automatic step back. Perplexed by his behaviour, it takes more than a second for her to recover.
“I’m not lying,” she says defensively, though her mind charges her guilty. “I don’t do the whole dating thing, Angus,” she adds. “I never have. I’m sorry if you are offended, but I can’t go out with you. And I don’t appreciate being called a liar.
“Why don’t you date?” he asks with such calm, Alaine wonders if she is talking to the same person.
“It’s not something I want to talk about,” she grumbles.
“Would you say yes if he asked?” Angus presses.
The bitter edge in his voice worries Alaine. The accusation liar still hangs in the air. It’s not lost on her that he hasn’t apologized for it. Nor does he look remorseful.
Bewildered by this version of the man she’s known to be nothing but good-natured and helpful, Alaine struggles to find a response.
His observation is spot on, however. Until Lucas, she’s never had a desire to date.
Telling herself that her rejection responsible for his strange behaviour, Alaine sobers.
“Angus,” she implores, reaching for his hand again but he snatches it back.
“Just forget I asked,” he growls. “Forget I said anything...”
“I’m sorry...” Alaine begins to say and is grateful when the bell above the door chimes again.
“Lunchtime,” comes Lucas’ cheerful announcement from the opened doorway. Yet, he stops there to assess the scene in front of him.
The sound of his voice floods Alaine with relief.
Although Angus’ large frame is obstructing her view, by now, she knows that sweet, sexy, accent and timbre. Before she can think to stop herself, Alaine leans sideways to glance around Angus and smiles.
A shiver of untamed excitement runs through her to see Lucas standing there and her heart responds wildly.
Be still, she cautions the traitorous machine that not five minutes ago, had been stuck in a state of despair because of this same man.
As she considers how Angus must be feeling, her sudden euphoric state diminishes slightly.
Lucas couldn’t have had worst timing if he’d made an effort, Alaine thinks. When faced with Angus’ stony features, she quickly changes her mind and thinks that maybe he is right on time.
“It’s the work thing I was telling you about,” she explains unconvincingly.
Genuinely apologetic for not being able to give him what he wants, she reaches out to touch Angus’ arm.
A surge of possessiveness floods Lucas. His eyes shift from Alaine to Angus while she lingers where she is, clearly in indecision.
“I thought we could get lunch,” he suggests. “Are you coming with me, Ali?” he asks and narrows his eyes fleetingly when Angus glances at him.
“Sure, let me grab my bag, Luc,” Alaine responds.
The eye roll that accompanies her playful, mocking tone causes him to chortle. The sound of his laughter makes her smile. It's so beautiful, Lucas' heart turns over in his chest.
Only now does he feel slightly better about the interaction he stepped into.
Angus, on the other hand, remains stolid; an unmoving statue, his features carved in stone. His gaze is fixed, unblinking, on Alaine as she turns to retrieve her rucksack.
Lucas frowns with concern.
Suddenly, eyes; blue and acrid turn on him. They fill Lucas with a dread that he’s only ever associated with Kurt.
Who is this guy? he wonders.
That night he first visited the flowers shop, Lucas clearly recalls a tall man lurking in the shadows. It had been too dark to make out a face but that indistinct figure bears a likeness to Angus. The height and build are true.
Counting on the accuracy of his photographic memory, Lucas tries to make a positive identification but it’s impossible. All he has is a shadowy form.
“Ready,” Alaine tells him as she rounds the counter. Then mumbles guiltily, “I need to lock up,” to Angus.
Sensing danger from this man who he knows nothing about, Lucas plants himself between the two of them as they exit the shop.
He tries to shake the chill of the blue eyes piercing icy daggers into his back. Maybe it’s just jealousy that has him worried, he tells himself. After careful consideration, he dismisses that idea firmly.
“I’ll see you around, Angus,” Alaine calls in an attempt to make amends. But as he leaves them, Angus says nothing.
With a sigh, she turns from locking the door and steps right into Lucas where he hovers close behind her. One of his arms snakes around her waist and his other hand captures the side of her face.
“I’ve been dying to do this all day,” he confesses softly.
While that may be true, he hadn't intended on indulging in the sweetness of Alaine's lips this time around. He'd wanted to see her but also planned to test his ability to resist her. Witnessing her touching another man so gently rankled him in a way that melted his resolve.
Now he waits for her permission on the middle of a Queens’ sidewalk. When she gives him that slow nod, Lucas presses his lips against hers.
“Still so sweet,” he says in the face of her dazed features.
“Is this about a show for the public?” Alaine asks once she’s regained her senses. “If it is, I don’t think anyone here knows who you are.”
“Impossible,” Lucas states as he looks around. A frown laces his eyebrows together at the sight of Angus’ slow trek in the opposite direction. “What was he doing here?” he asks.
“He’s a friend and the delivery guy,” Alaine replies with a shrug.
“But he’s not in uniform,” Lucas notes. “There is something off about that guy,” he states as he releases his hold to take Alaine's hand.
“Angus has been doing deliveries for Mona for almost as long as I’ve worked here,” she tells him. “He’s harmless.”
“Why was he here out of uniform, Alaine?” Lucas presses.
Keeping to herself that he sounds very much like a jealous boyfriend, Alaine sighs. “He asked me out on a date,” she confesses.
“I hope you said, no,” Lucas states as they get into the vehicle.
“I don’t date normally,” Alaine answers. “I have an arrangement with you. On both fronts, whether I get asked on a date is immaterial.”
“Why don’t you date?” Lucas asks. “You’re twenty-one and gorgeous. Not that I am complaining. I am strangely very happy that you don’t,” he continues. “Still, I’m curious.”
“I have my reasons,” Alaine tells him. “Which are less ridiculous than yours.”
“Well let’s hear it and we’ll see,” Lucas challenges. “I told you, so you can tell me. Quid pro quo I believe it’s called.”
“Fine. I don’t trust men,” Alaine declares. “My reason trumps yours,” she continues with her eyes fixed on Seth who tenses in in the driver’s seat.
Well aware that there is no love lost between the two of them, Lucas opts out of probing further since the atmosphere within the car has turned arctic.
“And you can’t just keep showing up at my work,” Alaine scolds. “That’s not part of the deal.”
Especially since you kissed me and then ignored me for a day and a half, she wants to add.
“You’re upset,” Lucas notes with a scowl.
“I am not upset,” she counters but crosses her arms over her chest.
Lucas chuckles. “You are so,” he accuses. “Was it something I did?” he lowers his voice to ask. “Or your delivery guy, perhaps?”
Still unwilling to voice why she is unreasonably perturbed, Alaine tells him, “I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Okay,” Lucas agrees reluctantly.
Once again, limited by his inexperience, he tries to gauge the best way through her distancing but gives him up to settle into his side of the car as they pull onto the street in silence.
“You know,” he says after a while. “You’ve been driving me to distraction all day. I came here because I wanted to see you. I thought you might have wanted... Hold that thought,” he sighs when his phone rings in his pocket.
Dragged into a winded conversation with his father about those dratted photos of Alaine and him, Lucas tries to be as cryptic as possible with his replies.
Although she’s never been nosy, Alaine finds that his incoherent mumbling piques her curiosity. But the ambiguous responses he gives are impossible to understand.
Under her covert scrutiny, he flushes and that only serves to heighten her intrigue.
“It’s very rude to eavesdrop,” Lucas whispers to her.
“There’s nowhere for me to go,” she whispers back.
After he narrows his eyes at her in accusation, Alaine fits herself further into her corner but can’t help her smile.
To offer the appearance of being engaged, she pulls her reading material out of her bag and opens to the third page. That’s all she’d managed to get through since her mind has been so thoroughly occupied by the man beside her.
Even now the pages are a blur as she remembers the hotel. What would have happened had he let go? If he’d acted on those urges he’d suppressed?
Sensing his eyes on her, Alaine’s neck and cheeks grow hot.
“Why are you crimson?” Lucas leans in to whisper in her ear.
“Nothing,” she hisses. “Get back to your call.”
Obediently, Lucas leans back in his seat but with the assumption that since she’s only ever blushed for one reason, she must be thinking about him.
“Fine dad,” he says to the caller on the line. “I will get back to you. What are you reading?” he poses to Alaine after ending the call.
Flipping the cover so he can see for himself, Alaine tells him, “My sister seems to think I should read this.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Lucas responds. “Do you know what it’s about? How far did you get?”
“Not really. I’ve barely made it through the first three pages,” she answers.
“Good,” Lucas says and grabs the book, tossing it onto the front seat. Before Alaine can protest, he adds, “Because if anyone is going to corrupt you, Ali Cat, it’s going to be me.”
The breath that Alaine sucks in lets him know that he has achieved the desired effect. He's given her something to think about. Feeling victorious about it too, he looks at her smugly.
Since she doesn't offer a reply or challenge or agreement, he moves on. "We have a ribbon cutting ceremony to attend on Thursday," he tells her. "I sent you my schedule. It's a heavy one but since we're doing this, you need to know it."
"I didn't get a schedule," she finally manages to say.
“I emailed it to you just before I arrived at the shop,” Lucas explains. “It should be on your phone. What’s the point of having it, if you are not going to check it?”
“I’m not a CEO,” Alaine counters. “And I'm no good with phones,” she explains. With the device in her hand, she opens and peruses the documents. “When do you find time for yourself?” she asks.
“I make do,” Lucas tells her.
“Why are we cutting ribbons?” she questions.
“Do you not watch the news?” Lucas asks incredulously.
“No,” she answers, matter-of-factly.
Lucas' silence begs for an explanation.
“It’s depressing,” Alaine explains. “If a nuclear bomb is going to drop or the zombie apocalypse is taking place, I’d rather live in ignorant bliss.”
“I hope you’re joking,” he tells her. “Because that’s the single most ignorant thing I have ever heard.”
“Then you must not be living in New York very long,” Alaine counters. “Give it time. What?” she asks when he continues to stare. “These journalists are fear mongers and sensationalists. The news always puts me in a bad mood.”
Because they have bigger fish to fry, Lucas drops the argument. “A discussion for another day,” he tells her. “That was my father on the phone. Apparently, after the ribbon cutting ceremony, we will be having lunch with my family.”
“Your family?”Alaine questions. “Was that part of the deal?”
“Not directly stated,” he reasons. “But I did specify any public event. They will be at the ceremony and then we will have a private lunch in public at a country club in New Jersey.”
“And what am I wearing to this event?” Alaine asks for clarification.
“A suit?” he suggests with a shrug. “This is part of the reason I came today."
“You mean it wasn’t just to kiss me?” she asks sassily.
“I said part of the reason,” Lucas banters. “Walking around with a lot of cash is dangerous. Here,” he says.
Alaine accepts the small strip of plastic to see her name inscribed in bold letters over the smooth surface. “A credit card? How did you do this?” she demands. "Don't you need my signature?"
“Since we will be attending quite a few high-end affairs, our arrangement should allow for a budget, I think,” Lucas explains. “So is this lunch something you think you want to attend?” he asks, feigning nonchalance while anxiety about her meeting his family releases a bevy of butterflies in his stomach.
Making those kinds of introductions hadn't been part of the original plan. However, these people are persistent and he supposes that he should have been prepared for it.
The fact that he is even broaching the subject with Alaine means that he really has been thrown completely off his axis.