“An escort?” Alaine questions.
“Those weren’t my exact words,” Lucas argues. “But for all intents and purposes, yes, an escort.”
Understanding and incredulity creeps slowly into her features. Slack jawed, Alaine looks from one man to the other. “An escort!” she says more firmly. “You thought I was in your office to interview for the position of an escort?”
She snorts in disbelief and cannot suppress the cynical chortle behind her words. “That’s the service you were referring too? What on earth...?”
She shifts accusing eyes to her cousin, who stands there quietly, hands in his pockets, rocking nervously back and forth on his heels. Alaine glares at him.
“You son of a gun,” she breathes out right before her small hand moves swiftly to slap him across the cheek. In the small, quiet space it is resounding. “You off all people,” she accuses but stops mid-sentence.
He looks appropriately morose, while Lucas is frowning at them both. “And you,” she says pointing her finger at Lucas’ chest, but she doesn’t continue that either. She would probably have gotten much more satisfaction if she’d struck the billionaire, but something in his stare is warning her she shouldn’t. Well too bad for him. Her hand shoots out again.
Like he anticipated it was coming, he grabs her delicate wrist and squeezes lightly, using his hold to tug her closer. Heat penetrates the barrier of her still damp clothing. Alaine sucks in a deep breath, inhaling him. She is overcome by a dizzying intoxication. Oh, he smells good. Her breathing picks up at his nearness, fear creeping up her spine. But there is something else there. A need to remain﹘ to feel more of him, of this warmth﹘ spreading across her skin, seeping into her body. She doesn’t have time to examine it as his eyes turn into slits of fire.
“I think you’ve hit me quite enough for one night, Ms. Knight.”
When Lucas speaks, his voice is low, dangerously so, and he too inhales deeply. He sets her back suddenly, regretting the action when she stumbles and winces.
Alaine steadies herself. “”Look,” she says. “I don’t know what my idiot cousin has told you, but I am no escort.”
Lucas grunts. “That is flagrantly obvious, minus your attire.”
Alaine blanches in the same manner she did earlier in his office.Her eyes turn to fire, her voice ice. “And I am sorry to have wasted your valuable time.”
“This is not an ideal situation, obviously,” Lucas says, cutting her off while his brain works to find an explanation that might cajole Alaine Knight into accepting his proposal. He really wants her to. “But,” he continues, “I am in a bind and I need a companion for an event which I must attend on Saturday evening, which is only five nights from now. I will forever be in your debt if you do me this one favour. There is no way I can vet another participant in such a short space of time.”
Alaine’s eyebrow quirks up. “Participant?” she snaps, a sharp reply, ready on the tip of her tongue.
“Mr. Bright,” Seth speaks up, finally breaking his vow of silence so two pairs of eyes turn to him, suddenly. “If I could speak to Alaine alone.”
Lucas eyes him warily, then looks over to Alaine, whose expression tells him that she is not wholly against the idea, though her nostrils flare noticeably. He turns back to Seth, his expression threatening and grave, but exits the shop to stand outside the door.
“What is wrong with you?” he hears Alaine’s accusation right before the door closes behind him. Lucas turns his eyes heavenward. If anybody could see him now.
For no other reason, than he’s standing alone on the sidewalk of a poorly lit street, wearing designer clothing and jewelry, in a neighbourhood that he is unfamiliar with, Lucas glances around him. That man is still standing there where they left him - tall and looming - causing his eyes to narrow with suspicion. In the dark it is impossible for Lucas to get a good read on him, or a look for that matter. Not to mention, the guy slinks away behind the brick building at the end of the block.
“Ali just listen...”
Her features contort at the moniker. She is livid, her body vibrating as a result.
“Don’t call me that,” Alaine spits. “You don’t get to call me pet names. What? Do you think that just because your father tried to...” she cannot finish the sentence as bile rises in her throat. “You think that I wanted him to, so I must be okay with being an escort?” She jabs her finger into his chest. “You’re despicable.”
“Alaine!” Seth says more forcefully, in the hopes that the plea in his voice will entreat her to listen. It’s not likely, but he hopes that she can forgive him too for a stupid decision made so long ago. A stupid, thoughtless act, that he can see was a mistake and can never take back. At the time he thought he was doing the right thing for her and he wants to tell her so. Any excuse, any attempt at apologizing seems weak and will likely be met with indifference so he leaves it alone and allows her to be angry instead.
“No Seth! No!” Alaine declares which is no great surprise, but still gravely disappointing. “How dare you?” she demands, her body still shuddering with her ire at his audacity. “I am not an escort, or a prostitute, or a call girl, despite whatever your father told you. I am not going to be paid to be some rich guy’s booty call. Honestly, what made you think I would do this? I have forgotten things of the past.” She squares her shoulders when he scoffs.
“Have you? You don’t live. You don’t go out. You spend all your time holed up in this tiny shop or your tinier apartment,” Seth accuses. “That’s not forgetting things of the past. You’re chained by it,” he continues as the memory of an almost decade old event builds a lump in his throat. “You don’t trust people and I know you don’t trust me...”
Now it’s her turn to scoff. “With good reason,” she reminds him.
“What I did was wrong and cowardly, I admit,” Seth sighs. “I was young and I was stupid, but I have apologized so many times and I am truly sorry Alaine.”
He throws his hands down as if in surrender, his chin hanging low. “I don’t know what I can do to make it right. Maybe there is nothing. But this job pays five hundred dollars an hour and I figured with Delah and her kid, you would need the cash.”
Alaine gasps. “You know that Delah is here?”
He nods solemnly. “I went back home for a few days over Christmas,” Seth explains. “She was black and blue. Hal had done a real good number on her and it wasn’t just the first or second time. If she doesn’t get out he will kill her. So I worked some stuff out and got her down here without him knowing. I figure she’d have us to look out for her. I figured I owe you guys at least that.”
Alaine breathes in deeply and exhales slowly. A long pause continues between the two of them.
“He’s not the type of man to force himself on a woman,” Seth says for her benefit. “And I already told him, you’re not into that stuff,” he adds uncomfortably.
“Oh God,” Alaine groans, palming her face.
“I’m just staying, he’s a standup guy,” Seth mutters again for reassurance. “A bit entitled and arrogant but honest. And generous,” he adds when he thinks of the salary and the perks that come along with this job.
“Five hundred you say?” Alaine asks, after a while of considering her new familial and financial obligations.
Seth makes a sound somewhere between a laugh and a grunt but nods. “It’s not permanent. He leads a complicated life, so if you accept it, be prepared.
“I don’t think he likes you very much,” Alaine comments seriously. “He must be a judge of character too,” she suggests, unable to help throwing one more dagger at him.
Seth visibly brushes of the hurt. “Probably not,” he replies. “But he wants me by his side as a bodyguard. I’m the legit shit.”
She rolls her eyes at him. “Fine, I will hear what he has to say. But hear only. If he tries anything I will Taser him.”
“I will let him know that.” Seth leads them back outside to an impatient Lucas.
“And this doesn’t change anything between us. I still hate you.”
“Okay, got it,” he says with a heavy sigh.
“Family drama dealt with?” Lucas asks when they meet him outside.
“Yes,” she answers simply, turning to lock the door again. Her eyes shift apologetically to her cousin. “I am open to discuss this with you, just please not tonight. I am beat. Tomorrow?”
He nods and she breathes a sigh of relief, turning to leave them. “Great. I will see you tomorrow.”
“Seven sharp, Knight. Don’t be late,” Lucas calls after her already retreating form.
Without turning around, she raises her hand high and fits him with a thumbs up. Lucas shakes his head, marveling after her. What a little woman. He chuckles.
She leaves them standing at the door and heads in the direction of the train station, her limp a little more pronounced as a drizzle starts.
“Ms. Knight,” Lucas calls to her. “How are you getting home?”
She pulls out her metro card and waves it at him again without a backward glance. “Subway,” she replies, loud enough so he can hear.
Lucas turns his eyes heavenward to see thick clouds rolling across the sky. He sighs heavily. He may regret this. “Why don’t I give you a ride home?”
That finally captures her full attention. She spins around very suddenly. If it wasn’t so dark and she wasn’t so far away he would probably read the surprise and hesitation in her eyes.
Looking up at the dark sky, Alaine sees what must have prompted Lucas’ offer -The new thunderclouds rolling in. Stupid is not a word she would ever use to describe herself. A choice between a ride to her doorstep and braving the weather, subway and bus ride to the same is an easy one. She shoves her hesitation to the side with purposeful steps back in their direction.
They cross the street to his car which is colossal. The insides are wide, warm and luxurious with black leather seats. It smells like him. Oh God, she is surrounded by him. The thought is unsettling as Lucas holds the door open, climbing in after her.
“We got off on the wrong foot,” he offers demurely.
She doesn’t respond, merely sinks against the leather backrest and shuts her eyes.
“I am truly sorry for the way I spoke to you earlier.”
“Are you really?” Alaine asks, remembering the way he’d responded to her figure three years ago.
“It was a misunderstanding about your profession,” he explains. “When Seth told me about you, I just assumed. I can tell that you are tired so I won’t say much else about our potential arrangement. But please give it some thought. At least for Saturday evening?”
Alaine nods her head, pinching her nose as she experiences the makings of a migraine.
The rest of the ride is spent in uncomfortable silence, Lucas too aware of the female sitting next to him. Even his chatty driver seems to be at a loss for words, which is no small miracle. Come to think of it, maybe the silence isn’t uncomfortable at all, then. He settles into his seat much like Alaine, trying to regain control of his system which seems to be going awry with her in such close proximity.
His eyes shift to her resting form beside him. Three years he’d thought incessantly about her and here she is. It’s strange. Lucas smiles, shaking his head, continuing in the golden silence.
“Why do you need an escort?” she asks further into their journey. “You’re Lucas Bright. I find it hard to believe you can’t find a date.”
The sound of her soft, sultry voice in the darkness stuns him, accelerating his heart beat. Lucas opens his eyes, turning to her. The way people say, you’re Lucas Bright. He hates it. He could find a date, that’s just it. But dates come with expectations. He expresses as much.
“Then why not use a professional escort service?” she questions.
“Because I refuse to end up like the patrons of Ashley Madison Ms. Knight,” he explains. “That’s why. If we do this, we make our terms and no one has to know.”
She becomes thoughtful, then turns to him pointedly. “I’m not an escort. I don’t know what escorts do generally, but I am just letting you know. I am not an escort.”
Laughter rumbles from him. “I get it Ms. Knight,” he sobers up to reply. “I didn’t honestly think you were.”
His driver pulls up once more next to her apartment building. “I believe this is you.”
She startles awake. Lucas hadn’t noticed she’d fallen asleep. He regards her sympathetically.
“Thank you,” she says quietly. “And I’m sorry for hitting you tonight. You scared me.”
His heart softens at her gentle apology. “It’s fine. You didn’t do any damage.”
She stalls, seeming almost like she doesn’t want to leave. He is not yet ready to be free of her company, either, so he works his mind to come up with something, anything to say to prolong their time together.
As if waking from a trance, Alaine takes a deep breath. “Goodnight, Mr. Bright,” she says softly.
“Goodnight, Ms. Knight,” Lucas responds. Then he scoffs at his driver’s ignorance, when Alaine reaches for the door herself.“Please, let me,” he offers, opening his passenger side door so she can exit after him.
A grimace pulls her features as she does, but she still attempts a small smile.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promises, crossing the dark street as quickly as her hobble will let her.
Lucas stands outside the car, finally joined by his driver. They watch until she opens the gated entrance. There, she glances over her shoulder and waves under the yellow light hanging over the door.
He nods his head in acknowledgement, ignoring the way his heart leaps in response to the little gesture, and remains there until the gate closes behind her, before reentering the SUV.
“Why is she limping?” Lucas asks thoughtfully, while he continues to survey the neighbourhood and the three story apartment building she’d disappeared into. He doesn’t like it. If she does this with him he can have her living situation rectified too.
Seth glances at him through the rear view mirror, something dark clouding his features. In the dim lights of street lamps, Lucas can see his throat working, like something is lodged in it. “You heard her,” he finally replies, his voice gruff. “Old injury.”
Delah and Isabella are already asleep by the time she gets into the apartment. She tiptoes into the bedroom, moving about silently in the darkness to retrieve her favourite worn out, white t-shirt to sleep in. She opts for a hot shower in a pointless attempt to soothe the kinks and knots out of her burning muscles and throbbing bones.
It has been a long and tiring day. A very strange day. An uncontrollable scowl laces her eyebrows as she considers Lucas Bright, owner of Bright industry and Technology. He is a strange one, and her reaction to him is equally bizarre and baffling. She nibbles lightly on her fingernail, trying to decipher it. He is handsome and smells good. Alaine picks up the clothes she dropped on the vanity, sniffing them curiously. His essence is alluring, and has replaced the light vanilla scented body mist she sprayed over herself this morning. Intent on stopping her foolishness, she drops the clothing into the laundry basket.
Now, she’s ready for bed, but she no longer has one. Alaine looks with dread at the unforgiving two sitter sofa she has to sleep on again. It is the reason her old pains are acting up again, reminding her of painful memories that torment her even in sleep. This is going to be a long and terrible week for her, but for the time being, it’s beyond her control. There is no way three of them can fit comfortably on her twin sized bed, even if she is miniature, and she couldn’t very well have her four-year-old niece sleep on the floor.
She unfolds the blanket she’d left hanging over the back of the chair and lies on her back. A small price to pay to help her sister.
Willing sleep to come swiftly, Alaine shuts her eyes. But behind her eyelids, pictures of Lucas Bright dance across her mind. He has an effect on her she’s never experienced before. It’s not entirely unpleasant. She realizes that she loves the way his hair skims over his forehead and loves how the light reflects in those bright grey eyes and she loves his sculpted look and his height. And more importantly, the way he feels. Oh, stop it, Alaine.
“He’s just a man,” she whispers in the dark. “Nothing more than a very disturbingly handsome man.”
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