So it's a bit long and a little rough but here it is because I thought it was overdue. Don't forget to vote in the novel contest if you can. Leave a comment and tell a friend.
Even if she fights to stay under a little longer, bit by bit, the claws of sleep begin relinquishing its grip on Alaine. Slowly–regretfully – she starts skirting the edges of consciousness.
The smattering of warm sunlight dotting through the slots between the half-drawn, sheer, gray curtains lends an airy warmth to the room; and the heavenly softness surrounding her makes it that much harder to the break the manacles of exhaustion, keeping her tied to the realm that exists between dreams and reality.
Unfortunately, one particularly sharp, stubborn beam of light –determined to see her fully roused – dances across her closed eyelids.
Still not willing to wake just yet, Alaine defiantly presses her eyes firmly shut and moans her protest against the penetrating brightness, branding her retinas behind the prison of her eyelashes.
Although aware by now that she must have slept her way into mid-morning, she rolls over, giving her back to the offending rays and tugs the coverlet more firmly around her.
It takes a second more before awareness starts trickling in.
Something is amiss. More than one thing in fact. For starters, what day is it? Why is she still abed and not at work?
Confused by the gentle fragrance of lavender and the silken feel of the material surrounding her and the comforting support of the mattress cushioning her body, Alaine scowls. She sticks a hand out from beneath the bedspread, feeling her way about the king-sized bed and inhales a short breath.
The cold, skeletal fingers of apprehension run the length of her spine.
Where is she?
All of this space and quiet, the airiness and softness of the sheets around her do not belong to the tiny unit she calls home in Far Rockaway, Queens.
By this time of day, the sounds of the neighbourhood would have already seeped through the thin walls. Instead, all she hears is blessed silence.
Although still hesitant, Alaine casts one eye open. She hurriedly sweeps a blurry glance across her line of sight; then blinks rapidly to focus her gritty eyes.
As her vision clears, cognizance begins to shape her jumbled memory from something abstract into something concrete.
There is only one person with whom she associates who can afford such luxuries and the spectacular picture of Manhattan’s skyline pasted beyond the glass windows. It’s that thought of him that brings the events of last night flooding back.
Like a marionette controlled by strings, Alaine pulls herself sharply into a sitting position.
What the heck had she done?
“Oh my god,” she breathes to the empty room before dropping her head into her hands.
The seriousness directing the memory that she’d once again tried to seduce Lucas and once again he’d turned her down should pale in comparison to the fact that she’d almost died last night. It also shouldn’t compare to the fact that her friend – Mona – is in the hospital fighting for her life. Yet, it’s that thought that stands front and center, jeering at her.
Awash with both shame and guilt, Alaine drops herself unceremoniously back onto the fluffy tower of pillows. She pulls the thick coverlet over her face to muffle a moan.
The type of humiliation threatening to suffocate her is not the kind that fades easily. How will she ever live this down? How is she to face Lucas this morning?
The cogs in her mind begin to work at fashioning an excuse for the wantonness she displayed and as well to devise a plan of escape from his apartment.
Even if she can conceive an acceptable enough reason to run away, Delah forgetting to pack clothes for her throws a wrench in any such scheme. Hence the reason it seems a good idea to dawdle a little longer and submerge herself in this ocean of deep, blue silk to contemplate what happens next.
Last night, taking a tour of Lucas’ home hadn’t been at the forefront of her mind. She’d hardly focused on anything more than his view of the city. This time, Alaine peruses the bedroom much slower, from one corner to the next. So far, Lucas’ apartment is a snapshot of what living the American dream probably looks like.
Everything– down to the paint on the walls – appears to be of the finest quality.
Small wonder why she’d slept like a rock.
Besides the sheets being spun from some otherworldly element, she’d felt safe here. There’d be no need driving her to wake in the middle of the night to check and recheck the locks on the door. No sudden rush of fear that someone could break in had assailed her, forcing her to fight against sleep to play night watchman instead. She’d been afraid to close her eyes, believing that once she did, her experience in the fire would lay siege to her dreams.
None of those things had happened.
Alaine stretches her limbs languidly and hums a contented sigh. Why not give herself another moment before she has to emerge from her hiding spot?
It comes as no surprise that she is alone in bed. Her niece is an early bird. Resultantly, so is Delah.
Daring a glance at the clock sitting on the bedside table, she gasps at the time on the digital display. 10:10 a.m.
Alaine scoffs at herself. No one should sleep this late.
Thinking that the note folded beside the clock is from her sister, she puts off reading it for the while and turns her thoughts back to the man in whom she’d found refuge last night.
Had he gone to work and left her here?
The embarrassed part of her hopes that he had. Then she will be able to launder her dirty clothes and escape from her shame. A much bigger part, though –the part eager to see him to have his hands on her again –hopes that he is still here.
“Oh behave,” Alaine chides herself when her body clenches in response to those memories. Whatever happens, she isn’t going to initiate anything. No matter what, she is going to revert to her old self and pretend nothing sexual happened between them.
After a deep breath that fails to fortify her nerves like she was hoping it would, Alaine draws back the sheet and eases off the bed. She tiptoes to one of the three closed doors in the bedroom and pushes her way into a grand empty walk-in closet that still smells brand new.
Walking back out, she turns to the other door of what can only be the bathroom.
To her great relief, it is fitted with every essential a guest might need. Before the mirror, Alaine grimaces at the creature staring back at her. Lucas certainly will not think her beautiful now. Who would want to kiss her when she looks like this?
The weight of her exhaustion is carried in the bags beneath her red-rimmed eyes. Added to the frizzy, wild, windswept look of her hair, she definitely hopes Lucas is not here to see her.
After her best attempts to subdue the untamable mess and make herself presentable fail, Alaine gives up with a sigh. She leaves the bathroom, opens the bedroom door and peeks down the empty hall before moving stealthily down its length.
Her heart had been thudding a heavy rhythm the entire way but slams to a halt before picking up a frantic pace at the sight of Lucas sitting shirtless at the kitchen counter. He has his back to her and his forehead resting on the cold counter top.
After last night spent exploring his body, seeing him dressed so informally shouldn’t feel unusual. But it does. Although all she has is a rear view, a shirtless Lucas is something to behold.
The glowing hue of his skin glistens with a layer of sweat and contours to the shape of defined cords of muscle lying just beneath its surface. She’d felt his body beneath her hands but there’d been no way to envision his physique was so perfect.
Drawn to him, Alaine takes an automatic step forward but pauses again to try to convince a greeting out of her mouth.
Sensing her presence, Lucas lifts his head and Alaine forgets to breathe. He smiles before swiveling around in the bar stool.
Heartthrob, Alaine thinks. Her lungs begin to burn, reminding her to continue breathing. She fills her chest with air and fidgets beneath his heated gaze that sweeps from her unpainted toenails, up her bare legs, pausing at her chest before seeking her eyes. When they get to her hair, his eyes widen, his eyebrows raise and he chokes back a sputter of laughter.
Alaine glares at him. The flush that stained her skin from his heated perusal morphs into embarrassment.
“Hey there, sleeping beauty,” Lucas greets once his laughter subsides.
Feeling awkward and unsure of what to do in his presence, she looks down at the floor instead of responding. Her discomfiture magnifies because she is still without underwear beneath his t-shirt.
“Come here,” Lucas commands softly, his inability to resist her baffling him. So much for renewed purpose, he thinks before holding out his hand to encourage Alaine to move from the little spot where her feet are glued.
She looks up from the hardwood floor and quick steps her way nervously to the kitchen. As soon as she is within his reach, Lucas leans forward, catching her about the waist with his hands to tug her closer.
He winces at the acute slice of pain in his wrist and head. A wave of dizziness triggers a roll in his stomach.
Although he is sitting, Alaine still has to lift her eyes to look at him.
“You’re not scared of me now, are you?” Lucas asks. “After last night?” he reminds her.
Another telling flush suffuses her skin but Alaine shakes her head in response, the vigorous movement sending her frizzly locks flying everywhere.
“Liar,” Lucas accuses playfully.
Somewhere in the back of her mind Alaine remembers someone else calling her a liar. Angus. But there is such a difference between the two. In Lucas’ tone, there is no bite and his eyes hold no sting of accusation. They glitter with playfulness as he raises a hand to softly tug on her wild strands.
“This is a monster,” he says. “Were you staring at me, Alaine?” he continues jovially. “I think you were staring.”
Again, she shakes her head but is caught in the lie when Lucas points to the glossy, reflective surface of the refrigerator which gives an unimpeded view of the path she’d just walked.
He laughs at her guilty flush, the sound of his own voice drawing another wince out of him that he immediately tries to cover.
“I don’t mind,” he continues to tease.
“You just look very different,” Alaine admits, knowing full well that it’s a weak argument. Noting his signs of injury, she asks, “what happened to you?”
“You thought I was all suits?” Lucas asks, pointedly ignoring her question and the concern in her eyes.
His thumbs on her waist turn teasing as well, stroking her flesh beneath the fabric of the t-shirt. Each brush raises a sea of gooseflesh over Alaine’s skin, rekindling the embers that had flamed like a raging fire last night.
“And sexy pullovers and jeans too,” she whispers breathlessly.
Stunned by her bold response, Lucas ducks his head to hide the tinge of red burning his cheeks.
Alaine grins victoriously. Finally, the shoe is on the other foot. She’d succeeded in making Lucas Bright blush.
“You think I’m sexy?” he asks, his voice descending an octave.
“I think your clothes were sexy,” Alaine jokes. “Were you exercising?” she asks with a scowl. Of its own volition, her hand lifts to trace the bruise along his jaw.
Before he can think to stop himself, Lucas leans into the gentle caress.
“What happened to you, Lucas?” she asks, her fingers moving up to smooth back the hair covering the smudge of blood on his forehead.
“I left a note,” he says softly. “I went for a run, but I got clipped by a cyclist,” he finally explains. “I barely got out of the way in time.”
“What?” Alaine gasps.
She’s no doctor, but she runs a critical eye over him, from head to toe, her quick assessment conveying her concern. “Is that your idea of living dangerously?” she questions. “Running in the cycling lane?”
“Funny,” Lucas replies, the single word coated with both sarcasm and amusement. ”He was in the pedestrian lane. And didn’t bother stopping either. Left a lot of sprawled bodies in his wake,” he concludes and squints again against another wave of dizziness. “I think I bore the brunt of it.”
“That’s terrible,” Alaine states. “Let me see.”
“I’m fine, Ali,” Lucas says and takes a hold of her hands.
Renewed purpose, he reminds himself to keep from surrendering to her touch and show of kindness.
“Just a few minor scrapes and bruises,” he adds. “My right wrist is sprained but it’s a good thing I’m a lefty. It barely hurts at all.”
“You should disinfect that cut,” she says about the gash on his forehead. “And secure your wrist.”
A smile tilts one side of Lucas’ lips upwards as he gives her a slanted glance. The look in his eyes causes Alaine’s breath to hitch. He returns his hands to their position at her waist and uses his light hold to tug her between his opened legs.
“What I should do, Ms. Knight, is kiss you,” he says, hoping to distract her from her mission to nurse him.
While his fingers climb higher towards her unencumbered breasts, Alaine’s breathing quickens but she retains a tenuous hold on her resolve.
Keeping her focus on his wounds, she suggests, “If you have a first aid kit, I can do it for you.”
His thumbs graze under the soft, fleshy mounds. Alaine lets out a soft, shuddery breath and Lucas enjoys her reaction to his touch.
“That’s quite the coincidence,” she starts to say but gasps when he leans down to place a kiss on her neck. “That you get hurt the night after I was almost killed in a fire,” she breathes unsteadily.
Lucas ends the climb of his lips up the column of her neck and pulls back to regard Alaine, his expression thoughtful. It’s quite the coincidence indeed, he thinks.
While mulling over the observation, he still brushes the back of his hand over her stiff nipple, hard enough to elicit a soft gasp from Alaine.
Glad for her reaction to him this morning, that she hasn’t yet stepped away –ran away – in fact, or looked at him accusingly, Lucas tucks the serious matter at the back of his mind. Right now he is undeterred.
“Where are Delah and Isabella?” Alaine questions, still clinging to vestiges of her rapidly diffusing resolve.
She should tell him to stop so that they can do something about his wounds but his touch feels too good. As a matter of fact, she wishes that he would cease his teasing and touch her more decisively.
“I asked Seth to take them around the city,” he informs her. “I thought they could use the distraction. Your sister is pretty shaken up. I didn’t want to wake you. You looked so peaceful.”
“You watched me sleep?” Alaine asks.
“Mhmm,” Lucas admits. “Not in a perverted way,” he adds quickly. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay. So it’s just you and me, sweet girl.”
Accepting his explanation, Alaine responds a throaty, “okay.”
“Your voice is better,” Lucas notes. “Although I did love those sounds you made last night.”
Shocked by his crude speech, Alaine gasps.
“I told you if you still want me this morning,” he begins to remind her but lets the words hang unfinished between them.
Lucas’ tongue darts out to coat his lips while he implores Alaine to accept this new clause in their arrangement. He leans closer, their lips a mere inch apart, his proximity encouraging her to kiss him.
If she does, not even his pain will stop Lucas this morning.
She doesn’t hide from the smoldering gray in his eyes but out of fear that he may turn her aside again, Alaine waits for him to act on his words.
She is not yet sure exactly what to make of this new situation in their odd relationship anyway.
Relationship? her mind questions.
Yes, she replies to her own query. Business relationship. It will do her well not to forget that. She should remember how he left her after doing that too.
Obviously, what they shared last night hadn’t meant anything much to him and thinking it would is folly.
But the look in his eyes and the gentle touch of his hands are confusing. At least she still possesses the good sense to keep her whimpering silent. Mentally, Alaine congratulates herself for that achievement.
“Aren’t you going to work?” she asks.
“I’m a billionaire,” Lucas whispers, so close now his breath tickles her lips. “I can afford to skip a day. Tell me Alaine, are you still shaken up?” he asks, tightening his hold on her. “Are you in need of a distraction?”
“Did Seth find out about Harlan?” Alaine asks, to continue her quest for purchase. She tries to sidle an inch away but the bands around her waist tighten.
Lucas frowns. He leans back to look at Alaine, searching her face with furrowed brows.
“Nothing yet,” he answers, the lightness gone from his voice. “But they are safe if that’s worrying you. And you’re safe here, with me,” he adds.
A little smile pulls Alaine lips. “I know I am,” she admits. “But how long am I going to stay here? I have to go back home.”
For a brief moment Lucas contemplates setting Alaine away from him and taking a step back. He always knew that this morning could go one of two ways. Either Alaine would want him or not. But whatever this is, doesn’t sit well. She is trying to be deliberately distant. It’s such a strange shift in paradigms since that’s usually his role. Now he is here desperate to find something – anything – to regain what they had twelve hours ago.
As he looks into Alaine’s eyes, Lucas shakes his head at himself. He can see it now. She’s afraid. Of course she would be. Idiot! he chastises himself. He’d introduced her to sex and then walked away without an explanation. What can he do now? Apologize? Remind her?
“Alaine,” Lucas says as he drags himself off the stool and stands, towering over her. “Do you want to talk about what happened last night? Or do you want a repeat?”
Before she answers, Lucas turns Alaine around and walks her back into the counter, his body pressing in to hers. “Tell me,” he requests even as he lowers his lips to hers in a kiss – soft and beseeching – to prevail upon her senses.
It’s not the kiss he wants to give her. What he would love to do is lift her onto the counter, spread her legs wide and make good on his promise to have her come on his tongue. Now is not the moment for that. Right now she needs reassurance that what she feels is reciprocated. Maybe a thousand times over.
The kiss is gentle and never ending. Alaine palms the sweat soaked skin of Lucas' taut abdomen, just above his waistband. Each ripple of muscle under hand sends a thrill through her. Lucas’ body vibrates beneath her hands.
Damn resolve, Alaine thinks.
When he feels her submission, Lucas massages her lips with his tongue, seeking entry. She moans into his mouth and grants access for his delicious onslaught.
Damn renewed purpose too.
As his hands begin to rove over her body, down her hips to grip her derriere, Alaine responds like a woman starved. She arches her back, presses her center into his growing manhood and meets his demanding kiss with ardour.
The rush of blood further hardening him sees Lucas swaying on his feet.
“Mmmmm,” he moans but releases Alaine’s lips abruptly. “So sweet,” he says.
But the throbbing in his head and his side and wrist are insistent. Unable to help it, Lucas sinks limply back onto the stool. He places his head back on the counter and closes his eyes.
“Lucas?” Alaine calls softy with worry. “Hey,” she urges him.
“I am genuinely sorry, Alaine, for leaving you last night,” he offers. “It was your first time and I...”
“Shhh,” Alaine tells him. She closes the distance between them to run a soothing hand through his damp hair. “Now is not the time.”
Lucas sighs and peeks up at her from one opened eye. Then he sits up, turns to her and seeks the comfort of the soft spot at the crook o fher neck.
“Ali,” he whispers pitifully against her skin. “My head is aching, fiercely. Are you still going to nurse me back to good health?”
Absently, Alaine smooths her hand through the hair at his nape. His quest for affection from her melts her heart.
“I’ll get you some pain killers,” she says. “And water but I think you might need a hospital.”
“No hospitals,” he mumbles.