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Lucas trundles up the floating staircase behind Alaine and leans heavily on the thin glass railing for support. Every now and again, she turns to give him a look over her shoulder, her brows cinched together with concern.
Each time she does, Lucas tries to assure her that he is okay, sometimes with words or a smile or just a look of acknowledgment.
The last time she does it, he says, “I’m fine. I promise.”
Skeptical, Alaine eyes him warily but continues on the path she took to his bedroom the night before.
Despite his condition, Lucas admires her bare legs and the shape of her naked butt swaying beneath his t-shirt.
He squints to keep his vision from blurring and follows her through the opened door. What he would like to do is tumble into the welcoming softness of his bed. Instead, he trudges after Alaine towards the bathroom, every step a reminder of his accident.
As soon as he gets there, he braces himself against the vanity with his back to the mirror and his eyes studying Alaine.
She begins rummaging hastily through drawers to find a first aid kit.
Having no luck, she straightens, pushes the hair back from her eyes and asks, “where is it?”
The words come out in a rush as her eyes fall on Lucas. She stands head to naked, muscled chest and abs with him.
Gloriously naked muscled chest and abs.
Alaine swallows and tries to tear her eyes away from all of that luminescent skin. Greedily, they remain there devouring the sight of him while she fights the urge to reach out and touch.
It’s her first experience being in such close proximity to half-naked man. A half-naked man who has introduced her to the pleasures of the flesh.
Had they not been intimate with each other, maybe the parts of her that make her a woman would not be trembling and melting and yearning for more. Especially since he is so clearly in pain.
As it is, she’s eaten of the fruit and its delicious flavour lingers on her tongue, inviting her to take another bite.
Blowing out a breath, Alaine chastises herself for her weakness and makes a move to recommence her search. Immediately Lucas reaches out to stop her.
He regards Alaine with an equal measure of hunger. A knowing smile plays on his beautiful full lips as he raises a hand to lift her chin so she meets his gaze.
Obeying the silent command in his eyes, Alaine steps closer and sucks her bottom lip into her mouth.
Gently, Lucas shifts his thumb to tug it out slowly, causing her teeth to drag over her full lip.
“I want to do that,” he tells her.
The fingers of his uninjured hand wrap firmly around the back of Alaine’s thigh, just below the curve of her butt. Glad she allows him that liberty, Lucas uses his hold to pull her closer and raise her up on tiptoe.
Like a brush from a butterfly’s wings, she touches her lips to his. The movement is soft -- fleeting really. But added to the weight of her hands pressed into the wall of his chest and her body contouring to the shape of his, the combination of soft kiss and firm touch becomes cataclysmic.
His head swims again as his body reacts the way it always does to Alaine. Unsure whether his pains and dizzy spells will permit anything other than this, Lucas contents himself with just returning her gentle kiss.
He nips at her full bottom lip with his teeth before sucking it into his mouth. Alaine sighs.
So easily caution about his injuries are knocked out of her mind. She wraps her arms around Lucas’ neck to draw him down and kisses him deeply.
Lucas moans, chuckles then lets out a pained groan against her lips.
“I’m sorry,” Alaine tells him as his hands drop limply to his side.
“I’m not,” he admits after she disentangles herself from him.
For a brief while they remain suspended, locked, staring at each other.
“Painkillers?” Lucas reminds her.
“Right,” Alaine says.
Only half awakened from her trance, and still fidgeting with her inability to control her intrigued glances at Lucas’ bare torso, Alaine opens the medicine cabinet and pulls a bottle of aspirin from the shelf.
She puts all her effort into twisting off the cap and chides herself for mauling an injured man. Nervousness makes her hands tremble and desire flushes her skin.
“Here,” she tells Lucas.
After dropping two capsules into his palm, Alaine opens the bottle of water she’d carried with her and hands it to him.
Leaning against the vanity once more, Lucas chugs down the pills and water.
“Do you want to wait for those to kick in?” Alaine asks. “Maybe you should lie down,” she suggests while studying him with renewed concern.
The idea is tempting. He would love to lay his head on his comfortable pillow and curl up beside her. She probably makes an even better pillow, Lucas thinks.
It’s another strange thought. One he’s never had before but entertains happily. He never imagined himself the type to want to cuddle.
“It’s fine,” he answers. “I’m all sweaty and bloodied anyway.”
“Okay,” Alaine replies, the skepticism returning to her eyes and voice. “Let’s take care of you. Where’s the kit?”
Each passing second his pain seems to intensify. Lucas can’t wait for those painkillers to kick in. If he knew Alaine wouldn’t protest, he would have taken four of them instead of two.
Grunting with the effort, he stretches to reach inside the top cabinet and pulls out a large white box. Given Alaine’s stature, he doubts that she will ever be able to reach it all the way up there. Not without a boost, at least.
Another wave of dizziness nauseates him as he resettles on his feet to hand over the kit. Still, Lucas cannot bring himself to complain.
“Weren’t there patrolmen in the park?” Alaine asks as determinedly she shifts her attention from his perfect physique to the task at hand.
Lucas shrugs. “I’m not certain,” he says.
The soft response draws Alaine’s focus back to his face, particularly his droopy eyes.
“You need to get checked out, Lucas,” Alaine states firmly. “By a doctor. And don’t tell me you’re fine,” she scolds, cutting off the words before he utters them.
“I have a concussion,” Lucas explains with his eyes closed. “A doctor is going to prescribe these same pain killers and suggest I refrain from any vigorous activities for the next few days. Rather disappointing really,” he grumbles as he sweeps a look over Alaine’s pert breasts.
She gives him a withering look that only makes him chuckle.
Choosing to ignore him and her rebellious libido, Alaine busies herself with the contents inside the first aid kit. She soaks a cotton ball with the clear antiseptic liquid then steadies Lucas’ face with one delicate hand before dabbing gently at the cut on his forehead.
When he winces, she goes up on the tips of her toes to blow on the cut.
This woman, Lucas thinks. This very little woman is destroying him. He stands in awe of the care she takes while tending his wounds. No one has ever treated him the way she does. Granted, he’s probably never given anyone else the opportunity to get this close and personal, but her tenderness latches on to his drumming heart.
Taking care of his lesser, non-life threatening injuries on his own was a normal thing during his childhood. He could do it again, but looking Alaine now, her beautiful face framed by riotous locks and scrunched up in concentration while catering to him, simply put, is infinitely better.
“Where else?” she asks, her voice cutting into his musings.
““Here,” Lucas says and lifts his elbow to reveal a pink bruise.
She repeats the action then waits for him to disclose his other injuries. At the sight of the deep purple spot on his side, Alaine gasps audibly.
“Point of impact,” Lucas explains.
Gently, Alaine fingers the wound. “That looks really painful,” she notes. “A warm compress will probably be better. No more?” she asks.
“Show me,” Alaine insists.
“Ali,” he begins to protest.
“Lucas,” she counters with raised eyebrows.
Stubborn little woman, Lucas thinks.
He sighs heavily but pulls down his waistband a bit, while trying to remain decent for her sake.
Her eyes shoot to his face, her cheeks peppered by a flush, at the sight of the finely sculpted V at his pelvis. Resisting the urge to run her hands along its shape, Alaine clears her suddenly dry throat.
“You don’t have to,” he says drawing the sweatpants back over his hip. “I can do it myself.”
Taking a deep breath, Alaine whispers, “pull it down.”
“Are you sure?” Lucas questions but eases the waistband lower.
With her hands still shaking, Alaine goes to work on that very sensitive area.
Goosebumps cover Lucas’ skin. He holds his breath the entire time and tries to divert his thoughts to anything but the feel of Alaine’s hand and how much he wants her to reach across and hold him. Stroke him like she did last night.
Neither his wounds nor the thoughts meant to distract him are enough to detract from the sensation of Alaine touching his body in such an intimate way.
She has to be aware of what she is doing to him. How can she not be?
“I hope nobody else got hurt,” Alaine says and leans closer to blow on the bruise. “That guy must have been insane. You’re lucky.”
Oblivious to his rising situation, she continues her ministrations. After discarding the first soiled ball of cotton, she takes another.
It becomes increasingly difficult to cover the enormous growth in his pants. Giving up, Lucas grabs Alaine’s wrist when she goes back to dabbing near his hip bone
“That’s enough, Alaine,” he cautions.
His voice is gruffer than he intended. Confused, Alaine lifts her head to look at him.
“Thank you,” Lucas amends. “I do appreciate the tender care but...” he says and looks down at himself.
“Oh,” she says as she follows his gaze.
“Yeah,” he replies.
Curious, she cocks her head to the side and asks, “does it hurt?”
Lucas growls his response. “Pleasantly so,” he states. “I should shower.”
After a quick nod, Alaine exits the bathroom without argument.
“Call if you need me,” she states from the doorway.
Not waiting for a response, nor the crude response on Lucas’ tongue, she pulls the door shut behind her and hurries from the bedroom.
Call if you need me?
Alaine plays those words over in her mind and feels herself dying from mortification. What does that even mean?
She keeps throwing herself at the man and every time she thinks they’ve made some headway he runs in the opposite direction. By now she should have learned a lesson. There’s only so much that she can take. She’s nobody’s toy.
Alaine descends the staircase, walks across the living room to flounce down onto the sofa. The same one where Lucas coaxed her first orgasm from her. Lord, it had felt heavenly. Even now that sweet, pulsing ache returns causing her thighs to press together. Despite her complaints, if he presses her again, she knows that she will do whatever he wants.
“Don’t be stupid,” she tells herself.
Lucas wants her. It’s evident. Of course, he couldn’t go through with his promise after suffering grievous bodily harm.
Even if he does change his mind and decides that it’s best to keep things between them platonic, she will forever have the memory of his kisses and his touch to fill her dreams.
A short while later, Lucas appears at the top of the stairs clad in sleeveless, shorts and barefoot. Alaine watches his trek downstairs, disappointed that he’d decided to cover up.
Noticing the way he cradles his discoloured, swelling right wrist in his left hand, those thoughts fade away.
As soon as he sits beside her, Lucas places his injured hand on Alaine’s bare thigh like it’s the most natural thing to do.
He pulls out the brace he’d stuffed in pocket and hands it to her.
Doing her best not to inflict more pain on her patient, she slides the neoprene material carefully over his fingers.
“Alaine?” Lucas calls, drawing her focus away from her task.
“What is it?” she asks when he says nothing.
Mentally reviewing the idea of a new proposition in their arrangement, Lucas searches for the right words to say what he wants. The longer he takes to formulate it, the more nervous Alaine becomes.
“There are probably a few things we need to address,” he begins.
The colour drains from Alaine’s face and her heart drops to her stomach at Lucas’ businesslike tone. That is the nature of their relationship, after all, she reminds herself. It’s just business. It has been from the getgo. Why she allowed herself to hope differently, is still beyond her.
Thinking that she knows exactly what he is going to say and that it’s best to take ahead on that particular topic, Alaine waves him off. To hear the words -- the rejection -- coming from him will be too painful and embarrassing.
“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a levity that she doesn’t feel.
The bottom of her stomach has hollows out and disappointment and hurt burn in her gut.
“I know,” she continues and turns her head back to wrapping his wrist. “We shouldn’t deviate from... It won’t happen again,” she assures him.
Lucas does a double take. That’s not what he was going to suggest at all. Far from it, in fact.
Thrown off balance, he strains to think around the haziness still fogging his brain and the whiplash from Alaine’s sudden change of heart.
Shaking his head slightly, Lucas regards Alaine with a deep, disapproving scowl.
Before he can begin his rebuttal, Alaine starts to speak again.
“Yesterday I was so scared,” she says, veering their conversation into a detour.
She slips the brace into place over his wrist and adjusts the straps, testing out different lengths for his comfort. “Mona was too heavy to carry,” she continues.
Deciding it’s best to table the previous discussion for a time when his concentration isn’t off and diluted by pain, Lucas follows her lead.
“You told me you were going home,” he notes. “What were you still doing there?”
“I did leave,” Alaine tells him. “I waited for my train. An uncrowded one,” she jokes.
Lucas smiles when she chuckles.
“I was already five stops into the journey home but I remembered I left my lunch,” she explains. “I couldn’t leave it. It would bring rodents and roaches. My battery was dead so I couldn’t call Mona. I had to go back.”
“Let me guess,” Lucas states. “You had to wait for another uncrowded train?”
Alaine rolls her eyes at the quip but nods.
“It was dark by the time I got back,” she continues. “I could smell the smoke but I didn’t know it was coming from inside. The lights at the front of the shop were off. When I opened the door, I was hit with this wall of smoke. I was scared,” she says and chances a glance at Lucas.
He angles himself towards her and his good hand picks up a gentle reassuring rhythm, stroking her bare thigh.
“I could hear Mona in the back,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears. “I called for her. She wanted me to leave but I couldn’t, Lucas,” she adds and wipes her tears with the back of her hands. “I couldn’t leave her there. I had to help her. The fire was everywhere so quickly. By the time I got to her, Mona was passed out. I had to drag her out.”
“Doesn’t the shop have sprinklers?” Lucas interrupts. “A fire extinguisher?”
“They never triggered,” Alaine explains. “Neither did the smoke detectors,” she says and shudders. “And I couldn’t find the extinguisher. I didn’t think we would make it out,” she confesses and sniffles quietly. “I couldn’t breathe. I knew I was going to die.”
I knew I would never see you again, she thinks.
Lucas sucks in a deep breath at her admission. He experiences that same acute stab of sorrow at the thought of her not being a part of his life.
“We were both going to die,” Alaine says. “I know I passed out for a little while, then I felt like I was floating. I heard sirens approaching but somebody carried me out. I don’t know who.”
Frowning at her, Lucas asks, “didn’t the person stick around after?”
Alaine shrugs. “I don’t remember what happened. The next thing I remember is you calling my name. You came for me,” she says again. “Thank you.”
“For what, baby?” Lucas asks.
This time, when their eyes meet, their gazes hold.
“For being there last night,” Alaine explains. “For letting us stay here. For making me feel safe,” she adds while wishing she could feel his arms around her one last time. That’s all she wants.
“You seem to care about me,” she says. “And I’ve only ever had one other person...” she starts to explain but chokes on a sob.
“There’s nothing to thank me for, Alaine,” Lucas assures her. “I was scared out of my mind,” he confesses. “Seeing you at the back of that ambulance, I can’t recall the last time I felt so relieved.”
His words are entreating, filling her with a kind of dangerous hope. Alaine tries to still the romantic part of her brain that tells her that she means more to him than this odd arrangement. It’s there in his words, in his actions, but he said it himself, he doesn’t want romance or a relationship.
And since when does she?
“I want to see Mona at the hospital,” she tells him.
“Sure,” Lucas agrees. “As soon as Seth returns, we’ll take you. Who is the other person?” he asks. “Who cares for you?”
Hopefully, it isn’t Angus. The thought makes his heart trip.
“Mona,” she replies.
Instinctively, Lucas moves to convey, without the use of words, that he does care. Drawing Alaine within the circle of his arms, he places a kiss on her forehead and rests his cheek atop her hair.
He keeps her there against his chest and strokes her back gently with his uninjured hand. Every day with Alaine is a surprise. The things he is willing to do for her are.
“Ali,” he breathes into her ear.
Before he can express what he really intended to say, the elevator chimes, it’s doors open and Jackie disembarks.
Lucas bolts from the sofa like a scalded cat. It doesn’t take him long to realize that he made another mistake reacting to rashly. He looks down just in time to register the hurt in Alaine’s features. Cursing himself inwardly, lucas lifts his head to the ceiling and lets out a frustrated breath.
He keeps messing everything up. The way Alaine closes off herself when he looks at her, it’s clear that if he keeps it up, she will walk away for sure.
He’ll never hear the end of this. Not from Jackie.
Though she says nothing, her excitement is palpable. His housekeeper stands perilously close to losing the battle against the broad grin threatening to split her face.
“Good morning,” Jackie greets, her voice humming with delight. “Lunch for two then?” she asks, moving briskly with her load of groceries to the kitchen.
Alaine tugs the t-shirt uncomfortably over her thighs before standing up. Unable to look at Lucas lest she witnesses the rejection in his eyes, she keeps her own watery eyes averted.
“I should probably start getting ready to leave,” she tells him.
Unwilling to say anything in Jackie’s presence, Lucas nods, though, he is fully aware that he has to do something to make this right.
Reaching out, he hooks his pinky finger in Alaine and gives her a wry smile.
It’s still unclear exactly what he wants from her but their original arrangement no longer suits.
As Alaine walks away, Lucas informs Jackie that her clothes from last night need to be laundered.
That’s the last thing Alaine hears before slipping down the hall back to the guest room.