The last thing Lucas wants to do is let go of Alaine. He wants to remain where he is – just like this – with her in his arms and their lips fused together. If it were possible he would spend the rest of the night doing nothing more.
Kissing her is euphoric and the sweet little satisfied sigh she breathes into his mouth, while he continues to taste her, makes it that much harder to stop.
Just one more, he’s told himself countless times already. One more kiss. One more touch. One more second spent holding her. Then, he’ll let go and step away.
Those seconds quickly multiply into minutes, as greedily, he devours everything that Alaine gives.
He’s developed an insatiable appetite for her kisses. They are addicting. Lucas is only too happy to succumb to the drugging effect, sweeping through his bloodstream and carrying him further and further away into a wonderland where nothing but the two of them exist.
A big part of his unreadiness to release her stems from his fear that they may never share another moment like this. Alaine will come to her senses, for sure, by morning.
Tomorrow she may well wake up to the realization that she’d dodged a bullet. Once the shock of her almost dying wears off, she will recognize that someone of his less than noble character is the last person she wants to gift her virginity to.
If she knew the depth of his depravity and how much he craves the consummation of this new juncture in their relationship, it would probably send her running.
For certain, he would be honoured to be the one. That doesn’t mean he is going to fool himself into believing that he deserves something – or someone – whose worth is far greater than his in the ways that really matter.
That’s the very reason he cannot take this further.
It hadn’t been easy to stop himself from making love to Alaine. Far from it, in fact.
He’d had to dig deep within the decayed morass where his heart and soul reside in order to find that thin thread of chivalry to stop himself.
One of them needed to keep a clear head and it obviously wasn’t going to be the twenty-one-year-old virgin who had stood on death’s door. So he’d made the decision to save them both.
Having her look back at him with accusation and regret in her eyes like he’s seen in his dreams is not something that is palatable. It would be gutting.
Being able to grasp on to the last shreds of his control had probably rescued them both from a painful and uncomfortable episode the next day.
As the desperation fueled by those fears grows, so does the urgency of Lucas’ kisses. His arm snaked around Alaine winds tighter. So do his fingers splayed possessively over her hip.
He still has every intention of honouring his promise not to deflower her tonight which his why he keeps himself in check.
He won’t coast his hand up beneath her shirt and over her ribs to tease her nipples into peaks. Neither will he return his attention to the soft, wet warmth that he knows awaits him between her thighs.
However, should this truly be the only time fate gifts them, he wants his memory stubbornly stained by the images of her and him together. That way, on nights, when he is insufferably burdened by loneliness and the misery of his past is tormenting and the unending responsibilities that come with running his own company become too overwhelming, he’ll have a small window through which light can burn into the hopelessness he often feels.
It’s far more difficult to hold on to his resolve when Alaine doesn’t share his reservations.
She takes his deepening kiss as a sign that he wants more. Her fingers brand the skin just above his waistband where his shirt has ridden up. Lucas hisses through his teeth as her heated touch moves higher in her quest to learn his body.
Drawing on the sliver of self-control he has left, Lucas slows his kisses and ends her journey of discovery by grasping her curious hand.
“Hold on,” he breathes. “Hold on, baby,” he repeats, his timbre and accent thickened by the strain it takes to stymie his arousal. Then he chuckles at her little whimper of protest.
“I promise,” Lucas tells her. “If you still want me tomorrow, I’m yours. Let me look at you,” he says and lifts her chin. “God, you’re beautiful,” he muses to himself as his eyes caress every angle of Alaine’s face.
The earnestness in Lucas’ words matches the sincerity in the gentleness of his gaze. It’s a look that shares a completely different story to the one he’s told Alaine about himself -- about what is between them. The air in her lungs stills because of it.
Dare she hope?
If this is merely a ruse, part of a game of seduction he uses, there is no need for it. Her battered resistance has already collapsed for him. Even without a promise of anything more than tonight, Alaine knows that she would give herself over to Lucas, willingly – gladly – if he but speaks the words.
Yet what she reads in his gray eyes – what she hears in his voice– what she feels in his touch – is almost enough to convince her that this is no ploy.
Alaine knows that these are far too dangerous dreams for a fragile soul like hers to entertain. The yearning she sees in Lucas’ stare cannot be construed as anything more than a reflection of her own blossoming feelings contrived by the hopeful drumming in her heart.
To hide from the threat of falling into the precipice behind the swirling brightness in his grey eyes, she looks away and ducks her head into the fragrant fabric of his t-shirt.
Suddenly uncertain and fearing that Alaine is already troubled by regret, Lucas asks, “are you okay?”
Unable to give a response without alerting him to the pools forming in her eyes, Alaine nods against his chest, discreetly wiping away her tears.
Something tells Lucas that he should probably probe deeper. He should inquire if she is truly alright. Especially after everything that’s happened. But it’s not every day that he is a consummate gentleman. This situation definitely does not call for proper comportment. What he wants Alaine to understand is that his withdrawal tonight is by no means a rejection.
“I love the way you come,” he leans down to whisper in her ear. “I love that my name is on your lips when you do,” he adds and lifts her face to him to steal another kiss. “And one day soon, Ali,” he continues. “You will come on my tongue and you will come with me inside you,” he says, hoping that she hears the promise in his voice.
Although his scandalous vocabulary is not something that she’s used to, Alaine’s body knows all too well what those decadent words mean. Her cheeks burn. So does another part of her body. She would expect that the wetness flowing there would ease the unbearable heat, instead, it fans the flames of her desire.
“I want that now,” she confesses with a whimper.
Lucas groans and chuckles and then groans again.
“Don’t tempt me, woman,” he growls in warning. “Because I want that too. More than you could possibly know. In case you’ve forgotten, your sister will be here soon,” he reminds her. “I need to clean up to greet my guests.”
After abruptly dislodging Alaine from his side, Lucas presses his lips to her forehead and cheek. “I’ll be right back,” he says before easing off the sofa and disappearing from the living room.
Alaine stares daftly after his fading form. Left alone to decipher her tangled emotions, her eyes dart around the empty apartment mirroring the frantic nature of her thoughts.
Other than the soft hum of her own breathing, there are no sounds in the semi-darkness. Her logical thinking brain pushes it’s way up from the grave where her desire had buried it to shout common sense at her and question her mental acuity.
What have you done? It shouts in accusation. What do you think will happen now? It jeers. That Lucas will suddenly love you? Do you think he’ll see you any differently from the many women he’s bedded?
Tormented, Alaine hides her face in her hands. Maybe if it wasn’t so silent here, that voice in her head wouldn’t be so loud.
Time ticks by slowly. She keeps waiting for the moment that Lucas reappears to ask him a question. What question specifically, she has no idea. He’d laid the boundaries of their arrangement long before she’d even accepted. What does she expect from him now? A sudden change of heart? Devotion?
Alaine scoffs at herself for her foolishness.
Unfortunately, whatever she is hoping to glean from him about this experience has to wait, since as Lucas predicted, long moments after he abandoned her, the elevator’s doors open to deposit its riders.
Alaine’s face flames an impossible shade of red as she thinks of what these two almost walked in on. Now she can be thankful, rather than confused, by Lucas walking off and leaving her. She is also grateful for the darkness that secrets her guilt and shame.
Seth steps into the living room with a limp Isabella sleeping soundly on his shoulder.
Before Alaine is able to push herself off the plush cushions, her sister rushes forward to stifle her in a hug. Hoping that neither one of her new companions becomes aware of what just happened between Lucas and her, right here on the living room sofa, Alaine accepts her sister’s embrace.
“Ali,” Delah breathes. “Seth told me what happened; are you okay?”
What little voice Alaine has left, she can’t find. The tears that pool and flow from her eyes now are not so much about her almost perishing in a fire. It has more to do with Lucas’ blatant flight away from her after what they just shared together.
She knew it was too much to think that he would stick around to cuddle and soothe her worries once they were done. That silly, feminine part of her that is inclined to yearn for affection had caused her to hope and hopes dashed against the jagged edges of disappointment is always painful.
Alaine nods in response to Delah’s question. It’s the only response she can manage for the time.
“Oh my God,” Delah sniffles. “I’m so sorry,” she says as she pulls back to look at her sister. “I never thought Harlan would...I’m so sorry,” she repeats.
“I’m fine,” Alaine finally says to end her sister’s guilt trip. “I’m a bit shaken up, but okay. It’s not your fault.”
“But it is my fault,” Delah continues with wide terror-filled eyes. “If I hadn’t come to live with you none of this would have happened. Harlan wouldn’t have...”
“Shhhh,” Alaine croons, pulling Delah in for another hug. “You don’t know that it’s him,” she says and looks to Seth for confirmation. “You don’t know that. It could have just been an accident. Nothing is going to happen to you or Isabella.”
Delah nods as she weeps. “I’m scared, Ali,” she announces. “He’ll kill me if he finds me.”
“He won’t find you,” Alaine counters with determination. “And we’ll go to the police, okay?”
The only way Lucas knows to quench the fire raging in his blood is with another cold shower and conjuring up the most unsexy images he can summon.
He’s never had to resort to these methods before tonight. It had worked fine earlier but that was before things escalated with Alaine. Who knows if the icy spray of water alone is enough to tame such a wild desire. As far as he can see, respite will only come after he’s had her in his bed.
Although he’s used to torturing himself this way, the glacial cold water always shocks his body at first contact. Lucas inhales a deep silent breath as a rash of goosebumps covers his skin and he begins to tremble.
Usually, the cold works in keeping all thoughts at bay. Lately, it’s as long as those thoughts don’t involve Alaine.
He hates that he left her. Only in hindsight can he see that it was a wrong and selfish thing to do. After what happened between them he should have remained there; held her; talked to her to know how she feels. Instead, he’d run. That is the truth of it.
His excuses had both been valid. He needed to get clean ahead of her sister’s arrival. But if he has to aim for true honesty, they’d been little more than convenient excuses.
What had prompted his hasty departure? He’s not even sure himself. Imagine how she must be feeling.
God, you’re an idiot, Lucas chides himself with a scowl as he shuts off the water with a trembling hand. And a coward.
Intent on righting the folly he’d committed, he towels himself off hurriedly and dresses in equal haste. No sooner than he gets to the top stair, the elevator doors open and he stops there as the tall blonde rushes past Seth to embrace Alaine.
Lucas stands there in the cover of darkness allowing them a moment before he intrudes. That’s when it really sinks in.
He has guests!
This is his space; his private haven from everything. None of his family has ever set foot here and that’s the way he wants it. Yet, he’s done this for Alaine. Why? Lucas doesn’t want the answer to that question so quickly shifts his focus on the scene a few feet away from him.
Just as quickly as his consternation arose it fades in the light of Alaine’s selflessness. Instead of crumbling into tears after her harrowing experience, she is being strong, offering comfort to her sister.
His heart does a strange flip flop in his chest as he focuses all his attention on the serious set of her face and the gentleness in her voice.
A mite uncomfortable in his position as peeper in his own home, Lucas continues down the staircase but not without some uncertainty as he joins the group.
Standing over them, he momentarily weighs a number of different salutations before settling for, “hey,” even if he isn’t sure it’s a proper greeting.
Alaine gives him the briefest of glances. In the short second, her cheeks turn crimson and she tucks her hair behind her ears in the nervous ‘Ali way’.
The fresh tears on her face are troubling. Lucas wants to reach down and dry them. He wants to say something other than a useless hey. He wants to ask her what’s wrong; touch her, hold her, carry her to his bedroom. But this is a family gathering and he finds himself once again an outsider, intruding.
Fending off those unwanted emotions and fear of rejection is hard but he knows he has to soldier on. It’s late. Alaine needs to rest and he can’t imagine that the little girl sleeping in her mother’s arms is a comfortable thing for either of them.
“Why don’t I show you where you’ll sleep,” he says.
Alaine is the first to rush off the sofa. Deliberately and with great effort, she keeps her eyes from straying to Lucas as he stands beside her.
With the weight of her daughter in her arms, Delah moves at a much slower pace and Alaine wishes she could hurry so she can escape her current company.
Willing Alaine to look at him, Lucas places a hand on the small of her back to communicate an unspoken message that he doesn’t yet know how to put into words. Under the suspicious glare of his bodyguard, he drops his hand almost immediately.
He breathes an inaudible sigh as Alaine continues to stare at the floor or their bare feet. Now is probably not the time to selfishly want her to himself. Heaven help him, he does. A resigned spirit sees him turning in the direction of the downstairs guest bedroom.
Silently, his troop follows.
“I’ve never entertained guests,” Lucas explains as he pushes the door open. “I’ve never used this room but it should be adequate. I guess the two of you need some time alone,” he announces to no one in particular.
Eager to lay down the load in her slim arms, Delah enters the room. She stands there briefly, waiting on Alaine. Sensing the two need a moment, she steps further in and closes the door.
Lucas turns to Alaine with a little ache in his heart. What can he say? He’s sorry for running? He’s a coward? This is uncharted territory so he has no idea what he’s doing? He’s afraid?
Deciding on nothing, he bows to place a lingering kiss on her forehead and says, “goodnight, Ali.”
After affording her second, where Lucas hopes she will say something like stay with me, Lucas, he adds when she remains silent, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
With the ache in his chest expanding he turns on his heels to walk away.
Not waiting for him to disappear, Alaine quickly enters the room and leans against the door after closing it.
“Are you okay, Ali?” Delah asks concern etched into her features.
Alaine remains rooted at the door. Her nodding head belies the weak sob torn from her lips. Delah rushes over to her and puts an arm around Alaine’s shoulders to guide her to the large bed.
She turns into her sister’s warmth and shakes with the effort it takes to silence her sobs.
He left her. But had she really been expecting anything different?