There's Something Here
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Arm in arm, Lucas, and Alaine step through the doors of New Jersey’s most elite country club and into the elegantly designed restaurant.
Large glass windows, standing without the encumbrance of curtains, allows the unfiltered rays of the midday sun to pour into the room. The beams bounce off the glass chandelier hanging in the middle of the ceiling, scattering little pinpoints of light over the shimmery finish.
In short, it’s bright – too bright and spacious; too airy and too exquisite for a girl who grew up in the small town in Idaho, who currently sleeps on a two-sitter sofa in the living room of a tiny apartment fit for one person where she and her two roommates are packed like sardines to fit into the small space. She’s too out of place here to be comfortable.
Had Alaine entered the posh setting on her own or without her body plastered to Lucas’ side, she probably would not be feeling as self-conscious as she does now.
Worse yet, everyone else in the room is already seated. Their little delay in the backseat of Lucas’ car has ensured that they are the only ones arriving late to lunch and it makes them the center of attention.
A few persons, mostly those clad in the facility’s uniform, try to continue on as if the sight of Lucas with Alaine on his arm is not an unusual occurrence.
Its top-tier patrons, however, do not extend them such courtesy. They stop, stare and whisper; some more overtly than others.
Alaine can just imagine what they’re all saying. Something to do with Lucas’ nobody, most assuredly.
Her off-the-rack dress from one of New York’s more affordable stores seems to stand out in contrast to the light grey designer suit escorting her. That’s the reason her original choice of wear had been something far less ostentatious than this attention-grabber her sister picked out.
The close observation from the people around them gives Alaine something other than a reintroduction to Lucas’ family to be nervous about. After the disastrous first one, she would prefer if this time, things went without a hitch.
She really feels like ducking for the nearest exit but instead tries to emulate Lucas’ confident strides.
Sensing her discomfort but not wanting to amplify it by saying something, Lucas pretends not to notice. He sweeps his eyes around the restaurant to locate his family and stifles a groan of embarrassment when he sees his father beckoning them over with a wave and a silly, excited grin pasted on his face.
“You know, we can just skip this,” Lucas suggests to Alaine. “We can make a run for it.”
Although she is aware that he is only joking, Alaine chortles softly and answers, “yes, let’s.”
Lucas chuckles beside her. “I have to say, you are the most beautiful woman in here,” he notes.
While his words are the absolute truth, he didn't speak them to heighten her uneasiness. Rather, he was hoping to alleviate her nerves by reassuring her that she belongs here with him.
He looks down at Alaine at the same time she looks up at him. However, the scowl rippling her forehead is not the answer he was expecting to his high praise. He was hoping for her usual blush.
“And probably the most cheaply dressed,” she mutters in reply as her eyes scan their surroundings.
Hiding his annoyance with her statement, Lucas hastens his steps towards his family’s long rectangular table, hustling Alaine along with him.
He just wants to get this over with.
When they approach the eager group, the zealous reception makes him cringe all over again. It’s the same as earlier. He’d have thought that after all the fawning they’d done over Alaine when they first met her, the novelty would have worn off by now.
His father rises and pulls Alaine into a bear hug…again.
Lucas rolls his eyes at Arlington’s antiques and tamps down on the temptation to grab Alaine by the arm and make good on his suggestion that they run away.
“I’m so happy that you could join us,” Arlington gushes when he finally lets her go. “You remember my wife,” he says. "My children."
Shanice, the more composed of the group, gives Alaine a wide smile but settles for a little wave instead of a hug this time.
“I’m happy you invited me,” Alaine responds but turns to Lucas to ascertain whether he is still in a pleasant mood.
In response to the uncertainty in her eyes, he gives her a soft look and pulls out a chair for her.
Feeling some of her tension ease away, Alaine smiles. “Thank you,” she tells Lucas before taking her seat.
“So, where have you two been?” Lucas’ younger brother enquires.
The question tinges Alaine’s ears a light shade of pink. Deep in her inner battle to remain calm and not appear flustered, she misses the silent interaction between the two brothers – Lucas’ cold, stern, warning glare versus Carter’s answering, playful wink.
As Lucas takes his seat beside Alaine, he gives her hand a comforting squeeze. To show her appreciation for his attentiveness, she grazes her thumb over his knuckles before he releases her.
In spite of that, after what happened back at the ceremony – the disastrous first introduction and the memory of how she behaved while they were in the backseat of his car, lunch with Lucas’ family starts off as an awkward affair.
Alaine can’t help but think that his earlier treatment has left a poor first impression of her in their minds and that they somehow know exactly where and how she and Lucas had made up.
The latter weighs more heavily on her mind. For one, the scent of Lucas’ cologne is all over her now where it wasn’t before. Secondly, everyone seated around the table keeps looking at her with so much interest and a smile hiding behind their eyes. It can only mean one thing – they know!
On top of that is her worry that she doesn’t quite fit into their circle. It’s as clear as day. They’re all dressed in the most expensive attire while she is clad in some off-brand dress from a store they’ve probably never even heard of.
If it wasn’t for her part-time job at a premier restaurant, she probably would have no idea how to wade through the refined meal with all its fancy cutlery.
Panic starts to tighten her chest. Not even their attempts at friendly conversation nor Lucas’ comforting presence beside her is enough to set her mind at ease.
Lucas slips a hand under the table cloth to give her knee a reassuring squeeze. His warm touch is enough to veer her away from her spiraling thoughts.
Then his fingers travel a little higher as he leans into her space to whisper, “relax.”
“I can’t,” Alaine whispers back. “And you're not really helping. And I feel like I’m intruding.”
“You’re not intruding,” Lucas tells her but respectfully removes his hand from her thigh and places it back on the table. “I want you here. You’re my guest,” he tells her.
“You’re the only one with a guest,” Alaine notes.
“So, Ms. Knight,” Lucas’ father calls, his voice interrupting his son’s response to Alaine’s observation.
They both look up to find Arlington watching her with curious interest.
“Lucas mentioned your harrowing experience,” he continues.
The table falls silent and all eyes pin on Alaine, each pair looking at her with anticipation.
“Dad, I told you not to bring that up,” Lucas scolds. “You don’t have to…” he tells Alaine.
“It’s fine,” she responds. “I don’t mind.”
She attempts a speed version of the events that nearly led to her death. All the while little shivers run through her body and when she gets to the point where she passed out, a mist of tears form in her eyes.
Obeying his need to comfort her, Lucas suppresses whatever reservations that arise about displaying how he feels for others to see. He takes Alaine’s hand in his and lifts her knuckles to his lips.
“That’s enough, guys,” he says to put an end to her tale and to shield her from the bombardment of questions he knows is coming – especially from his inquisitive teenage sister.
“The delivery man saved her life,” Lucas says, to draw their attention away from Alaine. “I will forever be in his debt.”
His show of tenderness stuns everyone around the table and the look Alaine finds him watching her with melts her heart and warms her to her toes.
That easily, she’s lost the battle against her misgivings about pursuing a casual relationship with Lucas.
“I think you should kiss her,” his sixteen-year-old sister announces.
Alaine's and Lucas' heads snap in the girl’s direction before their eyes find each other again.
“Shernie!” Shanice scolds her daughter after a beat. “Forgive my daughter,” she says to Alaine. “It’s all that social media,” she all but growls with a hard stare locked on the teenager.
“I want to know if this is real,” the girl adds, ignoring the caution in her mother's voice and giving Lucas a challenging stare.
His expression thoughtful, Lucas contemplates the dare. He wants to kiss Alaine. The taste and feel of her lips are still vivid in his mind. Will she let him kiss her here in front of his family?
“What do you think?” he hears himself ask. “Do you want me to kiss you?”
Before answering, Alaine swallows as she stares into Lucas’ eyes. The pulse at her neck quickens but she wants to satisfy the hopefulness she sees swirling in their light gray depths. Finally, responds, “yes.”
Lucas barely gives her a chance to get the one-syllable word out before pressing his mouth to hers, initiating a slow dance between their lips.
Again the table falls silent but it could be because they've left earth and transcended to the exosphere.
The bright flash and low click of a camera snap them back into the restaurant. As he breaks away from their kiss, Lucas’ gaze lingers on Alaine’s flushed face for a little longer. The pleasure he reads in her eyes, he feels it lower down in his body.
It’s only the sound of his sister's voice that reminds him of where they are.
“You guys are cute,” Shernie announces. “And you are a unicorn," she says to Alaine. "I’ll admit, I thought you were lying when you mentioned her," she tells Lucas. "But I can see now. There’s no faking this,” she says as she shows everyone the photo she snapped with her phone. “And I’m posting this to Insta and twitter, and FB. You guys are going to be trending,” she sings.
Wanting to have a heart to heart with his son before their busy schedules throw them back into one activity after another, Arlington declines the use of the valet service to bring their cars around to the front of the building.
There are some things about his son that he knows well. What he has to say to Lucas cannot be broached in the company of others. Not if he wants his cooperation.
The two trail slowly behind the rest of the group as they make their way out of the restaurant and across the concrete pathway to the parking lot. While they walk, Lucas’ eyes are glued to Alaine’s perfect figure.
Although she had been reserved the majority of the time, she’d survived lunch with his family. More than that, in fact. By the looks of things, they’ve all accepted her.
A little smile pulls his lips. She’d been so put out at the start and he’d worried that taking her to meet them had been a mistake. Now it makes him happy to see her buried in animated conversation with his sister and stepmother.
He doesn’t want to imagine the tales they must be spinning. Especially Shernie. The girl is a masterful storyteller with a panache for embellishing the truth.
“So, is she a keeper?” Arlington asks, his voice cutting into Lucas’ thoughts. “I like her,” he adds.
Measuring the weight of those words, Lucas sweeps a look in his father’s direction.
“She’s something,” he finally responds then refocuses his attention on Alaine in her ridiculous tall, thin heels.
“What’s with the cryptic talk?” Arlington chastises. “Either you think she’s a keeper or not, son.”
Still unsure of how to answer that question, Lucas squints up into the afternoon sunshine and rubs his fingers over his forehead. Maybe if things were different – if he was different – he could give a straight answer and say yes, she is. The truth is Alaine is a keeper. Just not for him.
Something sharp twists in his gut at the thought of letting her go. But how can he hold on to Alaine when he has nothing to give her? How long will she stay when she realizes that? How can she be happy with him when he will never be able to give her those little things that build the foundation of a relationship?
“I don’t know dad,” he answers, the pain in his gut easing into his voice. “I’m not the relationship type. I’ve told you that.”
“I’ve never understood what that meant,” Arlington admits. “And if you’re truly not after a relationship then what are you doing with her?”
Though he is liking the direction of the conversation less and less since it all points to him walking out of Alaine’s life, Lucas still asks, “what do you mean?”
“She looks like the relationship kind to me kid,” his father says plainly. “Does she know that you’re not?”
“I’ve told her,” Lucas answers.
Arlington falls silent for a bit as they continue their stroll and he tries to analyze his son. His best bet to get a clue into the workings of a genius' mind is simply to ask him direct questions.
“I don’t know what you think a relationship is Lucas, but they are about being happy,” he states, his tone beseeching. “Does the girl make you happy or not?”
Frowning, Lucas admits, “she does. I like her spirit,” he continues. “And her company. But you and Claudia were happy once. I mean you had to have been, right?”
A sadness – the kind that can only be associated with losing the first woman he ever loved – weighs on Arlington’s heart. That sadness grows even heavier every time he thinks of how it’s warped his son’s views of love.
With a sigh, he looks at Lucas and no longer sees the grown man he is. Rather, it is the wide-eyed, guileless child that he used to be who stares back at him.
“We were. We used to be very happy,” Arlington admits. “But sometimes, despite your best efforts, things don’t work out.”
“So what’s the point?” Lucas asks, his frustration with this whole situation and conversation rising to the surface. “What is the point of trying if there is no guarantee that this is going to work?”
Arlington suppresses a victorious smile. Though Lucas hasn't admitted it right out, he suspects that his son might well be on his way to falling in love if he isn’t there already.
Instead of pointing that out he says, “you are a businessman, Lucas. You know about risks. Sometimes they are lucrative and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose but when you win, you know it’s worth it. When you lose, you learn. You can’t allow your fear to interfere in something that could be…wonderful,” he explains in a pensive tone. “Both your mother and I remarried,” he notes.
A chill runs through Lucas. “But when you lose there are consequences,” he spits.
“What is it with you?” his father demands. “Every time I bring up your mother and your stepfather you act like you smell something foul in the air.”
“Maybe I wish my parents were part of the forty-seven percent that made it,” Lucas answers with a sneer.
Like a slow poison, bitterness creeps into him and threatens to derail their conversation – bitterness at his father for not saving him, for settling with a new family, for abandoning him to suffer at the hands of a man and a woman who never once showed him love.
His jaws clench against the urge to come right out and accuse Arlington for his suffering.
“I wish you would tell me what happened with you, Luc,” his father says in a pleading tone. With a gentle touch on Lucas’ arm, he stops walking to look at his son. “I know something did,” he says. “Talk to me, son.”
Just as easily as it came, Lucas' anger ebbs away. He draws a deep breath, this time to suppress the urge to confess everything to his father.
The question and hurt in Arlington’s eyes always threaten to undo him – to make him want to bare the secrets he’s been carrying alone for twenty years. What good would it do now?
As always, he closes himself off against the gentle probe.
“It doesn’t matter dad,” he answers. “I’m a grown man now and a billionaire no less.”
Arlington scoffs, but relents. “Then act like it,” he says. “If the girl makes you happy and you make her happy, then how about you forgo your silly rules for a little while. Just a little,” he adds when Lucas opens his mouth to oppose him. “And if it works out, great. I’ll be happy for you. If it doesn’t you can say, I told you so and go back to your state of perpetual bachelorhood.”
Lucas takes those words to heart as his eyes settle on Alaine where she is ahead of him, almost teetering in her shoes.
“She’s special,” he admits as they start walking again. “I don’t know what it is about her,” he continues. “You met her once before, you know,” he says. “At Connie’s wedding three years ago. The waitress.”
“Ahhh,” Arlington breathes then chuckles knowingly. “I thought she looked familiar.”
Lucas huffs, wistfully then shakes his head. Could he try to be something else? Could there be more than this for him? For them? Could he be more than what he is? Could he do it for Alaine? She seems to think so.
“She makes me feel,” he admits to his father as his heart does that strange dance in his chest.
“Then tell her, son,” Arlington states.
Lucas continues to watch her and wonders if it’s really that simple.
It’s no longer just Alaine’s physique that he’s attracted to anymore. It’s what she embodies. It’s who she is. It’s what she represents to him that keeps him coming back for more of her – solace, sanctuary and salvation.
“Don’t let your fear rule you,” his father continues.
“Maybe I will do that, dad,” Lucas answers thoughtfully.
Smiling at his son, Arlington reaches over to ruffle Lucas’ hair like he used to when he was a child. “That’s my boy,” he says. “I love you son. I just want to see you happy.”
“I know, old man,” Lucas answers. “Excuse me a second,” he says and hastens his steps when Alaine trips and struggles to remain steady in her heels.
“Luc,” his father calls after him. “Your mom and I didn’t work out, but she gave me you. You are everything to me, son. Always have been. And, I’m proud of who you are.”
Swallowing the lump of emotion in his throat, Lucas stays silent while he watches the man who he so closely resembles. Then he nods his head. “Thanks, dad,” he says and turns abruptly to chase after Alaine with a wolf whistle.
As she turns around to admonish him about calling attention to them he sweeps her up into his arms. Alaine squeals her surprise.
“If you wanted me to carry you again, all you had to do was ask,” he accuses. “I am more than willing to comply.”
“Lucas your wrist,” Alaine protests. “Put me down,” she hisses and wiggles around in his arms. “Lucas,” she continues when he ignores her. “Everyone is watching.”
“You’re making a scene,” he informs her coolly and continues his unwavering strides towards their SUV.
Chancing a glance around his shoulder, Alaine pouts. “You’re the one making a scene,” she grumbles. “Put me down.”
“Mmmm,” Lucas hums thoughtfully. “I don’t think so,” he says. “And if you don’t stop wriggling, I will toss you over my shoulder and really give them something to look at.”
His hand schemes over her round backside and she gapes at him.
“You wouldn’t,” Alaine declares but doesn’t challenge him any further. Resigned to her fate, she settles herself in Lucas’ arms and begins toying with the knot in his tie.
“Wise choice,” he mutters. “So what do you think about my insane family?” he asks and looks down between them to watch what she is doing. “We can take this back to my apartment, you know,” he suggests playfully.
Alaine looks up into his eyes and the amusement Lucas felt easily gives way to desire.
“I think they’re really nice,” Alaine breathes in reply, her gaze never leaving his.
Remembering where they are, she shakes herself out of their heated stare. Suddenly nervous again, she admits the first thing that pops into her head. “I never had family lunches and dinners as a child,” she announces.
“Finally,” Lucas says. “A deeper glimpse into the elusive Alaine Knight.”
A dark cloud covers her features. Lucas immediately regrets his comment.
“I didn’t grow up with them," he tells her. "I lived with my mom. Except, I visited my dad during some holidays and whatever my sister told you," he rambles. "Don’t believe it, unless it’s all glowing reviews,” he adds to end the depressing topic of their childhoods.
Alaine laughs. “Don’t worry, they were pretty generous with their accolades. You’re not close with your mom?” she asks.
“She was more interested in her career and husband than me, I guess," he explains. "But my dad made up for it when I visited. I don’t want to talk about this, Alaine. What are we doing with the rest of our afternoon?" he asks hopefully. "I'm free. Do you want to come back to my place?”
As tempting as the offer is, Alaine shakes her head and Lucas' features fall.
"It's not that I don't want to," she explains quickly. “I promised Delah I would babysit this afternoon. She has a job interview. And I need to get busy on job applications.”
“I can give you a job," Lucas offers.
“Tempting," Alaine tells him. "Except I would be kind of dating the boss. Where’s your driver?” she asks when she notices they are next to the vehicle and Seth is absent.
“I sent him home," Lucas informs her. "I thought it would be nice just the two of us. I'll finally know what it feels like to drive a pretty girl in the front seat of my car," he adds with a goofy grin.
“Isn’t the backseat where all the action is supposed to happen?” Alaine responds just as playfully.
Lucas' smile widens and he winks at her as he opens the front passenger door.
Alaine glides into the seat.
Leaning down unexpectedly, Lucas takes her chin in a gentle grip, angles her head toward him and initiates a slow, languid kiss that Alaine immediately surrenders to.
She arches her neck and back to accept the sweep of his tongue inside her mouth.
Forgetting that they are in a public parking lot, the kiss grows sensual and demanding as Lucas tugs her up from the seat to pin her against the car and press his body into hers.
Alaine moans and tangles her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck.
“Ali,” Lucas says as he pulls back an inch. “There's something here," he says as he looks into her eyes. "I don’t want to resist this anymore. Do you?”