In My Care
This is only part of this chapter but I am posting it anyway because it's been a while. I know that some of you are waiting patiently and I'm not sure I will be able to post the entire thing before the weekend. So happy reading. Don't forget to leave a comment and vote in the novel contest.
He could march after Alaine. Explain the way he reacted. And apologize.
Or, he can walk in the opposite direction and let her be.
These are the only two options available to Lucas. Whichever he chooses, it feels like his life somehow hangs in the balance. One wrong move – the wrong choice – which may very well be both of these routes – and life as he knows it is essentially over.
What will it mean if he goes after Alaine?
Most likely that he is far more committed to whatever is happening between them than he wants to be.
But what happens if he doesn’t go after her?
Something tells Lucas that subsequent to his blunder, she walks away from him. That is even less bearable than the consequences of the first.
Still rooted to the spot where Alaine left him, Lucas runs the fingers on his uninjured hand through his hair, more out of frustration than necessity. He smooths the slick strands away from his forehead, uncloaking the angry laceration near his temple.
He stands there staring at the glow of sunlight filtering through the windows, reflecting off the hardwood floor and ruminates in indecision.
In the kitchen, Jackie turns around after finishing stocking the shelves with the groceries she lugged in with her. Her first intention, of course, is to ask Lucas about the little woman she’d met in his embrace.
It was a stunning sight. A pleasing one, if she has to be honest and the moment she interrupted, Jackie damned her poor timing.
She likes her job, and her employer even more but the type of lonely existence he favours is an unhealthy one. A point she’s raised often but to no avail. So this morning is a surprise.
However, that glaring gash marring Lucas’ face immediately grabs her focus.
“What happened?” Jackie exclaims.
Too preoccupied with deciding what he should do, Jackie’s question to him goes unheard. So many seconds have already passed since Alaine left him, it seems pointless now to go after her.
“Mr. Bright,” Jackie calls as she moves out of the kitchen to stand a few feet away from Lucas.
Still, he remains oblivious.
“Are you alright?” she asks. “What happened to your forehead? And your wrist?” she continues.
Although he didn’t hear exactly what was asked, the mention of his swelling, throbbing joint is enough to deliver a breakthrough.
“Hmm?” Lucas inquires and turns a distracted glance in Jackie’s general direction.
“Your wrist,” she says. “...your...forehead?”
“It’s nothing,” Lucas responds dismissively. “Minor accident. Were you saying something else?”
Knowing by now that she won’t be receiving any further explanation, Jackie huffs a resigned sigh. “Initially, I asked about lunch. For two, I’m guessing? I was thinking seafood if that is alright with your...um...guest?”
Jackie’s curiosity has returned for the hunt. Lucas has no intention of falling prey to it. Despite the nervous rhythm of his heartbeat, he fits his housekeeper with the blandest of stares.
Seeing that Alaine enjoyed the scallops they had during their dinner together that first night they brokered their arrangement, rather than going to her to inquire about her preference, he chooses the coward’s way out again.
“That should be fine,” Lucas answers. “She doesn’t have anything to wear, so if you could get started on those clothes?”
“You’re really not going to tell me who she is, are you?” Jackie questions and folds her arms over her chest.
“No, I am not,” Lucas confirms.
Jackie huffs a breath.
“That’s fine,” she says. “Can you at least tell me if she will be here more often? What?” she asks to Lucas’ exasperated scowl. “That way I can cater to the lady’s needs?” she explains and points to the kitchen. “Like what’s...” she continues but pauses to think of something. “What’s her favourite brand of coffee, for example?”
“She doesn’t drink coffee,” Lucas states with an edge of victory in his voice.
“Hmm, already you know personal details about her,” Jackie presses with a pleased smile. “How long have you been seeing her?”
“Nice try,” Lucas states.
Again, Jackie huffs. “Well if she has to spend the night or nights here, I still need to know what the lady prefers. So you can have them on hand,” Jackie posits. “What’s her favourite...cereal. Or...or fruit?”
“Now you’re fishing,” Lucas tells her and folds his arms only to wince and set them back at his side.
“No, I’m not,” Jackie protests and follows Lucas as he turns his back on her to walk up the stairs. “Everyone eats,” she continues. “If she’s going to be here more often then you need to have the things that she likes on hand.”
Lucas pauses when he gets to the top of the landing and turns around to give Jackie a long study.
“Something tells me your intentions are not quite as altruistic as you are trying to make them seem,” he accuses. “If you want to know what she likes, you can ask her yourself.”
“So she is going to spending nights, I gather?” Jackie surmises with a victorious smirk.
Damn! Lucas thinks. Despite his best efforts, he’s been outwitted.
Since it is unlikely that she is going to receive any more answers, Jackie responds, “I’ll quit while I’m ahead.”
She takes a long, concerned look at Lucas. “Are you sure you’re alright?” she asks. “You don’t look well.”
“I am,” Lucas answers. “And since you are in such a helpful mood, the lady as you called her, needs her clothes.”
“Can you at least tell me her name?” Jackie asks. “So I know what to call her.”
“Alaine,” Lucas surrenders but that’s all she will learn from him today. “They’re in my bathroom.”
Before lunch, Lucas carries Alaine’s freshly laundered clothes, still hot from the dryer, in a neatly folded bundle – just as Jackie gave them to him.
He treats it as a matter of emergency because he knows Alaine. Lunch is about to be served but his guest will be most uncomfortable wearing nothing more than a t-shirt to the table. There is every possibility that she will choose to dine in the bedroom and considering the circumstances, he can’t fault her for that.
He’d had to work so hard to gather courage just to face her again after hiding from her for the past hour. Little good it did him. He should have gone after her straight away. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel so shitty.
He walks down the stairs with her little delicate white lace bra and matching panties seating atop the small pile. They provide a good distraction from his nervousness, teasing his mind to imagine what she looks like in them. He so wants to see what she looks like in them. Or better yet, what she looks like wearing nothing at all.
With the memory of their little tryst last night still fresh in his mind, by the time Lucas gets to the bedroom door, he is sporting a half-staff hard on. He takes a moment to breathe it down before knocking.
He listens to Alaine’s soft steps as she crosses the room until she opens the door. She stands before him, wrapped in a towel, one more suited for her size. For a while all Lucas can do is drink her in.
Her hair and skin are still wet and glistening from her shower and this smaller sized towel leaves so much of her exposed. It must be too long since he’s been without a woman because he all but salivates at the sight. Since meeting Alaine he’s not desired the body or company of any other woman but hers.
It’s also unhelpful that she looks at him with that same hunger inviting him in.
Maybe after he’s slaked his lust with Alaine, his libido will return to what it once was. With that thought, Lucas frowns down into the bright innocence of green and gold-flecked eyes.
Could he subject her to that? Could he use Alaine in such a manner and continue on as if nothing happened?
The fondness for Alaine, germinating in his heart, his niggling conscience and the fierce protectiveness he experiences when it comes to her answers those questions for him.
He can’t do it. Not to Alaine.
“Are those for me?” she asks, while he continues to study her like something alien.
“Yes,” Lucas answers after shaking himself loose from his thoughts.
Handing over the bundle of clothes he jokes, “I come bearing gifts. Lunch is ready,” he adds. “I thought you might like something to eat before we leave for the hospital. Do you think you can stand my company?” he asks.
Alaine’s lips turn up in a smile. “It seems I’m no good at resisting your charms,” she admits. “I’ll get dressed.”
“Alaine,” he calls when she makes a move to shut the door. “About earlier, I’m sorry. I was just...I’m not used to this,” he says gesturing between the two of them. “I told you what my life is like. So this, with you is strange. It’s also not what we’re supposed to be. It’s new and...”
“I understand,” Alaine mumbles quickly and drops her head to keep him from seeing the puddles forming in her eyes. “You don’t have to worry. I know what this is. And,” she adds with a shuddery breath. “You’re right. It’s not what it’s supposed to be. Don’t worry, I’m not about to fall for you.”
His words, mingled with his own, sear Alaine’s gut. It hurt to say them. As she expected, his reminder that they are no more than a verbal agreement was an excruciating blow. But one that she needed.
“I’ll see you in a bit,” she says before shutting the door and leaning back against it. There, her tears flow freely.
How could she have been so stupid?
Lucas hangs his head back on his shoulders, his eyes fixed on the ceiling.
That couldn’t have gone any worse.
When it comes to Alaine he cannot depend on the charm and eloquence that usually comes so naturally to him. He is the type of man who says what he means and means what he says. So he can’t understand, when it comes to this pint-sized figure, why he keeps putting his damn foot in his mouth.
Her words hurt. That hurt leaks like a fast-acting poison through his veins. He feels it ebbing into his heart, making the muscles constrict painfully.
All he wanted to do was to apologize for his behaviour earlier and explain what he’d wanted to say about the new terms of their arrangement before she interrupted him. He hadn’t expected her to be so cold. Not after the things they shared.
Clearing his throat to get rid of the lump lodged there, Lucas takes a step back from the door and walks away.
He makes it back into the dining area where Jackie is setting the table. His sullenness distracts her from her task.
“You look like someone just kicked your dog,” Jackie notes as she gives him a slanted glance.
Maybe more like someone trampled his heart, Lucas thinks as he rubs his fingers over the tightening in his chest. What the hell is happening to him?
“Are you okay?” Jackie asks before giving half her attention to setting the table and the other half to her boss.
Because Lucas honestly doesn’t have the answer to that question, nods his head.
“Will Alaine, be joining you?” she asks.
“She’s getting dressed,” he answers solemnly.
“Very well,” Jackie states.
After throwing one last concerned look his way, she returns to the kitchen to retrieve their meal.
If Lucas was hoping that a quiet lunch together would help to bridge the rift between Alaine and him and that they would regain the ease of conversation that existed between them a little over an hour ago, he was very wrong. It’s a quiet and tense affair, spent with the two of them mostly picking at the food on their plates.
Alaine clears her throat, the soft sound drawing his attention from the glass of untouched white wine standing in front of him.
“I should get going,” she says after dabbing the corners of her mouth with the cloth napkin and setting it on the table.
“Seth isn’t back as yet,” Lucas says, his brows pinched in confusion.
“I know but I’ll just use the subway,” she answers with a shrug.
“There’s no need for you to do that,” Lucas tells her. “I said I would take you and I will. I’ll just call another driver.”
“That’s not necessary,” Alaine states. “Believe me,” she says to his increasing frown. “I am very grateful and happy for everything that you’ve done for me. It’s more than I could have hoped for. So thank you, but you don’t need to do anymore.”
In silence, Lucas watches as she pushes her chair away from the table. Rising, Alaine picks up her half-empty plate and the empty glass beside it. Her heart is shattering but she won’t allow Lucas see.
He watches as she strides across to the kitchen, sets down the objects in her hand before heading back in the direction of the guest bedroom.
Like someone suddenly pushed the play button on a remote, Lucas breaks free from his inaction. Before he can talk himself out of following her, he springs from his seat. He will be damned if Alaine walks away from him a second time. With his long steps, he catches up to he just as she gets to the guest room door.
“Wait,” he says with his hand on her shoulder. “You’re not going alone,” he orders.
“What are you talking about?” Alaine asks.
“I am not letting you on the streets by yourself unless Seth gives the okay,” Lucas explains. “And until we get an update from the fire department, you are in my care,” he adds with finality.
“You don’t have to…” Alaine starts to say.
“I know I don’t,” Lucas says with determination. “But I want to.”
Why? Alaine wants to ask.
After a moment spent pondering him and his motives, she questions, “Are you sure?” Then to keep Lucas from seeing the hope blossoming in her heart, she drops her gaze away from his to her feet. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she states, “This isn’t part of our deal.”
“I know that too,” Lucas says in a gentle tone. "But I'm doing it anyway."
Placing his hand beneath her chin, Lucas lifts her eyes back to his. "I am sorry, Alaine," he states.