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The type of day he’s had would have seen any other man in a coma by now. But not Lucas. As usual, his body is tired yet refuses to heed the call of sleep.
For a long while, he lies in bed staring unseeingly at the dark ceiling while assailed by image after image of Alaine; in every possible form.
He sees her smiling shyly, laughing heartily and pouting playfully. When she isn’t doing any of those, she’s nervous or shocked or expressing her defiance. Sometimes she’s scared and crying and covered in soot. He relives the gentleness in her touch and the way her passion kindled, flared, burned and then exploded at his hands tonight.
Whatever his vision of her, Lucas’ heart clenches with each one. Sometimes it is with the immense joy a memory creates. Or the fear spurred on by another. Sometimes it’s an unidentifiable emotion. A pleasant pull that flutters from his heart all way to his gut and settles there.
An affliction of the sweetest kind is what it is.
He’s put as much distance between them as the square footage of his apartment will allow. A vain attempt to quell his need for Alaine. Not that he’d actually believed it would work. It’s no surprise that she still dominates every single thought that treads through his mind.
Across the distance of both time and space, he’s wanted her. For three years to be exact. It’s bound to be more difficult to curtail those cravings now that she is here in his home.
Why had he gone through such lengths to separate them in the first place?
She should be here with him. Isn’t that what they both want?
You should have invited her, an unsummoned voice answers.
What had he expected? That Alaine would suddenly transform into a seasoned courtesan and wile her way into his bed?
He can hope.
Her behaviour tonight is a testament to her willingness.
However, Lucas is aware, maybe more than anyone, that Alaine is shy and inexperienced. Of course, that isn’t going to happen. Now it’s too late to knock on the door where she is sleeping to offer the invitation.
God knows, if by some miracle she does happen to wander into his bedroom, all bets will be off. That will be the end of his attempt at nobility.
With a frustrated groan, Lucas sits up in the darkness.
Something like this has never happened to him before. It’s so odd for the woman he wants to be in the same apartment with him, yet he can’t have her. He could almost laugh because he is the architect of his own torment.
“Dammit,” he spits to the blackness surrounding him.
He’d done the right thing; hadn’t he? He shouldn’t be made to feel like a jerk about it by his own conscience. Yet, that’s exactly how he feels.
It was the hopefulness in Alaine’s eyes that had scared him. Then those dashed hopes tore through him when she refused to spare the smallest look in his direction.
In the quietness of his room, Lucas senses that he made a grave error tonight. Being the novice that he is, leaves him completely ignorant as to how to correct it. All he knows is that he has to. The last thing he wanted was to upset her.
When he thought that Alaine had been hurt tonight – that someone deliberately tried to hurt her – he’d been terrified. He’d felt sick to his stomach.
Never has he been so relieved to see anyone as he’d been when he saw her in the back of that ambulance.
Now that he’s given them a chance, those images of the hell he thought consumed her -- that he’s purposely dammed away -- return with the overpowering force of a tsunami. If he stays here, doing nothing, it’s only going to worsen.
Giving up on sleep, Lucas leaves his comfortable bed, choosing the leather sofa in his office instead. On the way there, he has no choice but to walk by the guest room housing Alaine.
He pauses there but keeps his hands -- clenched into fists -- firmly by his side.
Is she asleep?
Maybe if she was alone, he would have taken the chance to find out. As things are, he runs the risk of waking her sister and niece.
What possible excuse would he give for disturbing them at this hour? On that thought, Lucas turns away from the door and continues down the hall to his office.
After spending a few minutes in his makeshift bed where his mind is still buffeted by images of Alaine, he knows that sleep is not a willing companion.
He eases off the sofa and pads across to his desk to switch on his computer. Lack of sleep has never been a hindrance when it comes to working and should be enough to occupy his thoughts with something other than the tempting fey in his bed.
Unfortunately, morning finds him staring bleary-eyed at his ceiling. What a miserable and unhappy existence, Lucas thinks. An inability to get a good night’s sleep. Though, this time, it wasn’t the usual suffering that kept him awake.
Alaine is here.
Not even work had been successful in clearing her out of his thoughts. The harder he’d focused, the more rooted her presence had been in his mind.
This is far from what they are supposed to be. Something he’s stated expressly, both to her and himself.
Alaine is supposed to be a face that’s all. The added benefit of sex with her would be welcome, but he’s not supposed to deliberately want to spend time with her or care so much about her feelings.
The confounding thing is, on both counts, he does. He cares too damned much for his own good.
As soon as the first rays of light hit the sky, Lucas glances across to his opened office door, wondering if she is still asleep -- if she’d rested well.
He strains his ears for the intrusion of any sound disturbing the stillness in the apartment. Anything to let him know that she is awake and moving around.
The desire to go to her is compelling. Had Alaine been alone in that guest room, he might have been able to dredge up a small amount of courage to find out. The fact is, she isn’t so he doesn’t want to invade.
Tired as he is, Lucas pushes himself off the sofa, intent on a cup of coffee to invigorate him before his work out. On his way the kitchen, he dials his housekeeper’s number.
“Mr. Bright,” Jackie answers, her voice denoting her surprise. “Is everything alright?” she asks.
“I’m fine, Jackie,” Lucas responds and smiles at her genuine concern. “Can you come in a little later today? Maybe around eleven?”
“Hmmm,” she hums speculatively. “And why the need for this sudden change?”
Lucas clears his throat uncomfortably. He should have known his request would raise questions with his meddlesome housekeeper. Jackie is incapable of letting sleeping dogs lie.
Having no intention of satisfying her curiosity, he answers, “I’ll see you then, Jackie,” and hangs up before she can say anything else.
Lucas pads into the living room, a soft chuckle tickling his throat. This isn’t the last time he will hear about this alteration in their routine from Jackie. If Alaine is still here when she arrives later in the day, then she’ll have her answer. Until then she’ll just have to stew.
Distracted by his thoughts and the realization that he wants to spend the day with Alaine, Lucas comes up short to the sight of her sister already making herself quite comfortable in his kitchen.
Oblivious to his presence, Delah flits around with her back toward him, from the stove to the fridge and then the sink.
Unsure of how to proceed or how he feels about his home being annexed, Lucas stands there with a scowl fixed in his brow while he studies the lithe blonde.
It’s rather strange how he is able to see the familial link between Alaine and Seth. And with just a single glance. The two share the same thick dark hair and bone structure. Seth’s eyes are a deeper green and they lack the gold flecks that brightens Alaine’s but there’s no mistaking the similarities.
With her sister, the relation is near impossible to fathom.
Delah spins around suddenly to retrieve the towel she’d dumped on the island in the kitchen. When she sees Lucas standing there, her heart jumps to her throat, carrying a startled yelp with it.
“Oh, shit,” she mutters, clutching the piece of cloth to her chest. “You scared me.”
Realizing the situation and how awkward and probably rude she must appear to invade his home and raid his supplies without invitation, she fidgets uncomfortably.
“My daughter needs breakfast,” she explains with a nervous smile. “I’m sorry.”
Lucas nods in acknowledgment. He’s not entirely appeased by the explanation but knows that he can’t fault her for feeding the child.
It’s a peculiar situation he’s found himself in this morning but as host, he has an obligation to be hospitable.
“It’s fine,” he replies with a shrug. “How is your sister?”
“She’s still sleeping,” Delah replies.
To keep from staring openly at the exhibition of naked, muscled male chest in front of her, she drops her eyes, to the toast sitting on a plate on the counter top.
“Good,” Lucas tells her. “I’m glad. Did she sleep well?” he enquires.
Delah pauses to give him a slanted glance. “You care about her, don’t you?” she asks with a smile.
“You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” Lucas answers.
Delah clips the sharp retort dangling off the tip of her tongue. It’s not worth the effort to take offense to a stranger’s words.
Considering that this is the man who rescued her and her little girl from the wrath of her angry ex, she doesn’t give him a withering look either.
Latching on to the gratitude she feels, she answers, “she cried for a bit. A good bit.” Then adds quickly when Lucas frowns, “but when she fell asleep it was like a rock. A snoring rock.”
The smile that turns one side of his Lucas’ lips upward makes Delah chuckle. It thaws the block of ice wedged between them as he takes a little step forward.
Lucas can’t imagine it in someone so small. If her sister isn’t jesting, he’d like to hear it for himself.
The thought of her crying for any length of time is a sobering one. Particularly if he is the cause.
“Why was she crying?” Lucas asks but leaves out, was it because of me?
“She didn’t say but...” Delah responds with a heavy sigh. “I really can’t believe what almost happened to her. She could have been hurt,” she continues incredulously. “She could have died and it would have been my fault.”
Noting the panic in her eyes and the redness from unshed tears brightening her face, Lucas himself begins to fret. Dealing with one crying woman was enough for him. Alaine, he was willing to comfort. There’s no way he’s taking this one in a hug.
The emotions in the room are running a little too high for him, so Lucas decides to forgo his coffee this morning.
“She’s fine,” he says in a feeble attempt to soothe Delah. “She’s here,” he adds. “Alive.”
Those words, for whatever reason, encourage the water in her eyes to stream down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” Delah says, wiping at her face with his kitchen towel.
Lucas cringes at the sight.
“If it’s Harlan I’ll...”
“You don’t know that it is,” Lucas interjects. “Seth is looking into it. In the meantime, we can organize something to distract you. I can ask Seth to take you on a tour around the city. You and your daughter,” he specifies. “It will keep your mind off things. And it will be good for Alaine to get some rest too.”
“Okay,” Delah agrees. “It’s a lovely city. Can I make you something?” she offers.
Realizing that he is shirtless and that her eyes keep straying to his person, Lucas folds his arms protectively over his chest.
“That’s not necessary,” he says, ready to turn away.
Belatedly, Delah calls, “thank you, for letting us stay here.”
With a nod of his head, Lucas walks away quickly. He climbs the stairs to his bedroom and walks into his closet to pull a t-shirt from the neatly folded stack of whites. Shrugging it on, he walks back the way he came, making a beeline for his office to avoid another conversation with Alaine’s sister.
He pauses for half a second at the guest bedroom door before continuing on to his office.
Since it’s now clear that he plans on spending the day with Alaine, he needs to inform his assistant early that she shouldn’t expect him at the office.
Rather than sitting by twiddling his thumb until the fairy goddess decides to make an appearance, he can hunker down and get something done.
He’s not sure how much time has passed when the faint ding of the elevator cuts into his concentration, heralding Seth’s arrival.
Lucas glances at the clock at the top corner of his screen before shifting his attention back to the conference call. One he is ready to end.
He’s been stewing in here for the past two hours, wondering if Alaine has already awakened. Would she decide to join her sister outside? Or will she choose to stay with him?
He hopes for the latter.
As hard-pressed as he is to find out, Lucas refuses to leave the room.
Shortly after Seth came in, the faint hum of voices and the occasional peal of childish laughter quiet completely. That has to mean that they’re gone. Lucas breathes his relief. He hadn’t realized how tense he’d been until now.
Once he ends the call, his first thought is checking on Alaine. Pushing back his swivel chair, he exits his office and walks the short distance to the guest bedroom.
He’s not sure if she's still there or if she's even awake, so he turns the doorknob cautiously and eases the door open. Silently, Lucas steps inside and takes a moment before walking toward the large bed.
This is creepy,” he cautions himself yet stands there hovering over Alaine. Even in sleep, she is entrancing. Her beauty strikes him every time like an unexpected physical blow every time.
Damn, Lucas thinks as his eyes slip down her frame.
Unaware of his intrusion, she stirs, rolling from her back to her side. Lucas stiffens, hoping that she doesn’t come awake to find him leering at her.
The small movement pulls the small portion of the sheet covering the lower half of her body almost completely off.
Lucas gasps at the sight of her smooth thighs, round hip and the firm globe of her butt.
He’s had his hands on her. He knows what her skin feels like. Very clearly, he can imagine it.
Alaine would not appreciate him staring at her so perversely. He feels sleazy doing it. Gently, he tugs the sheet back in place and eases away from the bed. As silently as he entered, Lucas leaves the room.
Already clad in gray sweats and white t-shirt for his work out, he returns to his room and pulls a pair of running shoes and fits a baseball cap low over his forehead.
Today, a treadmill will not be enough. He just needs out of the apartment, away from the allure of the unconscious woman occupying one of his beds
After scribbling a quick note, Lucas dares to venture into the guest room again to drop it on the bedside table.
He hears the soft pull of Alaine's breathing and chuckles to himself. So she does snore, he thinks before leaving.
Hoping a run will clear his mind, and expend some of this pent up sexual energy riding him, he takes the elevator down to the lobby.
Last night had been something special with Alaine. Even if they hadn't gone all the way, being with her was the first time a sexual experience meant anything other than what it was. He doesn't regret it. The only problem is, it's left him wanting --no -- needing more form her.
With earbuds in his ears and decadent lyrics filtering from his device into his brain, Lucas heads in the direction of Central Park.
He runs easily at first. The songs on this current playlist are really unhelpful in his bid to dispel the memory of Alaine burning hotly under his touch last night.
The explicit content creates visual imagery her and him enacting exactly what the lyrics describe.
He runs harder, oblivious to his surroundings and deaf to the warning shouts of other runners using the path.
His mind never left his apartment. His body wants to be in his apartment, and he wants to be buried deep inside the woman occupying his bed.
Lucas barely has time to register, in his periphery, the cyclist speeding toward him from behind and the bodies scrambling out of the rider's way.
He just manages to shift to his left but the man seems to follow him, swerving in his direction. The handlebar clips his side. More than that, it feels distinctly like he was also shoved. The contact sends him sprawling, to kiss the earth.
Pain explodes in every limb and muscle. Lucas writhes on the ground because of it but he refuses to utter a sound.
He's had the air knocked out of him. Dazed, his vision blurring slightly, he squeezes his eyes and pulls in a few deep breaths to regain his equilibrium.
By the time he opens his eyes, all he catches is the tailwind of the cyclist as he swings around the next bend.
Didn't the man realize that he'd almost killed him?
A fraction of those using the path, pause to offer aid. A few stare in shock at Lucas and the direction the rider disappeared. Miraculously, from what Lucas can see, no one has pulled out a cellphone as of yet. No one has recognized him.He rolls on to his back, finally emitting a pitiful groan as
he tests out his limbs to ensure that everything is working.
So far so good, Lucas thinks.
His head, however, is still spinning and an ache spreads from the wound at his temple.
He touches the small cut there and winces. It's been a while since his bled, Lucas realizes as he looks down at his fingers coated with red.
"Are you alright?" someone above him asks.
The voice shouldn't be so distorted, but it is. Although he is disoriented, Lucas sits up to show that he's fine.
"Do you need an ambulance?" one woman asks.
He declines with a shake of his head and immediately regrets the action that stirs the dull ache into a debilitating throb.
It’s painful but really no worse than some of the things he’s endured in the past.
“People are maniacs,” one man says, offering his hand to pull him off the ground.
Lucas doesn’t want to take it. Honestly, it would suit him just fine to sit here and wait for the pain to dull.
That is a show of weakness. Something he will never display again.
Not even for Alaine.
He grabs hold of the man’s hand and eases himself silently off the ground.
His run is effectively over.
With renewed purpose, he walks gingerly, back to his apartment.