As usual, your opinions are important to me. It’s very encouraging to read your thoughts on my work. Don’t be shy. Let me know what you think. It goes a long way in helping to build my confidence.
The sound of Alaine’s voice jolts Lucas from his very dark thoughts that are crashing into each other. Unsure of how long they’ve been lying there, he turns his head to glance at the clock on the bedside table. It’s been over an hour with neither of them saying a word, but at least, she has stopped crying now.
“Seth’s father is my uncle,” she says taking a deep steadying breath. “He was always at our house and my parents were never around. Everyone thought he was just doing a good deed looking after his brother’s kids,” she explains and pauses.
Knowing what is coming, Lucas pulls her closer. After all this time being curious about the cause of her old injury, he is no longer certain he wants the information. There’s already so much going on in his head. He just wants to quiet it all.
What can he tell Alaine? That he’s soul weary? That he’s tired and hasn’t had more than a few winks of sleep since he left? That there is just too much going on to listen to anything more?
He’d die before he abandoned her in when she needs him. Stealing himself as best as he can for the news, he takes a deep breath and waits for her to get comfortable enough to continue.
“I was thirteen when it happened,” she says as her breath hitches from all the crying she’s done for the night. “By that time, Delah no longer hung out with me. She was eighteen after all. So I was almost always on my own. Uncle Topper,” she says and takes a much-needed pause after speaking the name of her attacker. “That’s what we called him. I don’t know why.”
For a little while, she speaks slowly skirting around the facts she is trying to get to. Unable to abide the mystery any longer, after another lengthy pause, Lucas asks, “what did he do to you, Alaine?” Then holds his breath.
“He was the only one who stuck around,” she whimpers. Him and Seth. And I trusted him and he tried to rape me. I was thirteen and he tried to...”
An uncontrollable shudder runs through her as her mind plants her back into her childhood home on the afternoon of that horrific day.
“I tried to run,” she explains. “But he must have hit my head against the door because when I woke I was naked and he was already on top of me on my bed. I started to scream but he covered my mouth with his hand. I hit him,” she says. “I kept a flashlight under my pillow so I could read at night. It was a heavy thing. Maglite,” she adds with a mirthless chuckle. I reached for it and I hit him with it in his head as hard as I could and tried to run. He grabbed me and I fought, Lucas. I did,” she swears on a broken sob. “I didn’t want it,” she cries, growing hysterical. “He said I wanted it but I didn’t. I didn’t,” she repeats, shaking her head.
Feeling completely helpless and clueless as to what he should do, Lucas runs his palm in soothing circles over her back.
“I know, baby, I know,” Lucas assures her. “I know you didn’t.”
Finding encouragement in his words and touch she says, “I fought him but he caught me on the landing on the second floor. He hit me again. The railing was loose. I fell back against it and into the coffee table downstairs.”
An image of Alaine broken and hurt forms in Lucas mind and he wants to tell her no more -- that he is saturated. Instead, he sucks in a deep breath and soldiers on.
“And Seth?” he questions.
She lets out a bitter laugh.
“He walked into the front door. I asked him to help me,” she says. “That was all I could say. They were both looking at me and talking. He told his father to leave and before he called 9-11, Seth dressed me. He dressed me, Lucas and I felt when my rib punctured my lung.”
After that, they lie there in silence. Once again Lucas finds himself in a place where he has no idea what to do or say. His mind churns aimlessly, refusing to latch on to a coherent thought.
“I always thought,” Alaine begins again. “If I made myself look plain and uninteresting -- if I avoided people -- just keep my head down nothing like that would ever happen to me again. But it did,” she says as her body quakes with the effort of trying to swallow her sobs. “It did,” she repeats. “And I’m sorry, Lucas. I’m so sorry.”
“Shhhh, Alaine,” Lucas scolds gently. “It’s not your fault,” he tells her urgently. “None of this is your fault. God baby, you are brave and a fighter do you hear me?” he says as he leans up on his elbow to look down at her. With a finger under her chin, he lifts her eyes to his. “You are the bravest person I know and you have no fault in what happened to you, not tonight and not then.”
Nodding her head, she sniffles loudly. “I’m sorry about what I did tonight,” she tells him. “I shouldn’t have. And I’m so sorry I hit you. I don’t know why I did it.”
Trying to get her to smile, he says, “I have no problem with a pretty girl taking advantage of me,” and seeing her lips curl up against his chest is a small victory.
“Believe me, I understand,” Lucas assures her. “I know what it feels like to want control of what happens to you and what it feels like to have that control taken away,” he explains. Then he asks, “so that’s how you got your old injury?”
“Shhhh,” he croons softly. “I have no problems with a pretty girl having her way with me,” he says trying to get her to smile. Her lips curl up against his chest. A small victory. “So that’s how you got your old injuries.”
“I’d lost my memory,” she answers as confirmation. “I underwent a lot of surgery and months of physical therapy. I basically had to learn how to walk again.”
“What about your parents?” Lucas asks afraid to hear the answer. If anyone knows the results of negligent parents, it’s him, but Alaine, she’d paid dearly. Nearly with her life.
“I’m so tired, baby,” she says closing her eyes. “Another time okay?”
Never in his wildest imagination would he have guessed that was what she went through. It guts him. He wants to strike out -- to maim -- to kill.
In all his life, he’s only ever thought of ending one person’s life. Now he has a list of four with Angus at the top. He will end Angus and he would get her uncle too. Seth, he will deal with tonight!
He tries to process all that she’d revealed but she hardly touched on the issue of Angus. The mystery kills him.
“I don’t want to talk about Angus,” she says as if reading his mind. “I can’t, not yet, but he didn’t, he didn’t get far, okay?”
“Okay,” Lucas agrees with a sigh of relief. “When you’re ready.”
After another long silence settles between them he says, “I came inside you tonight, Alaine.”
Lucas lies stiffly beside her, his blood boiling with his churning thoughts. The light stroke of his fingers along her arm, lying across his torso contradicts the violent storm building inside him.
Long after Alaine stops talking, he holds her, until her gentle even breathing lets him know she is finally asleep.
Everything in him wants to stay with her but there is the matter of Seth to deal with.
After easing out of her hold, he watches to ensure she hasn’t stirred. He tucks the sheet around her naked form, before dressing silently to creep out of the bedroom.
Seth is still at the kitchen counter where he left him a few hours ago. On the sofa, Alaine’s sister has her daughter resting against her shoulder both of them fast asleep.
Seth looks up from the drink he is nursing and into Lucas’ unforgiving features.
“She told you,” he says, sounding grim.
Approaching the counter Lucas’ voice is low and he is dangerously close to closing his fingers around Seth’s neck.
“You have two minutes to explain yourself,” he says folding his arms so they don’t lie idly by his sides. “And do not get confused,” he adds. “This isn’t a courtesy. I just need to know. Why?” he demands.
He decides that it’s very necessary to leave some distance between him and Seth. Each step towards the counter where the head of security is seating increases the temptation to act on his dark and turbulent thoughts.
Pausing beside the sofa, he nudges Delah awake. When her bleary eyes flutter open, he says, “take your daughter and go to the guest room.”
Confused by the threat of violence emanating from Lucas, she turns questioning eyes to Seth. He gives her a solemn nod so she lifts Isabella and follows the path to the bedroom.
“My father and I were never close,” Seth begins when she is out of earshot.
Lucas’ eyebrows draw together. His lips curl into a sneer.
“I don’t care about your relationship with your father,” he snaps.
“Fine!” Seth almost shouts. “I was supposed to pick her up after school that day and I didn’t. I was with a girl,” he explains with contempt, aimed at himself. “I tried to look out for her, you know? Her parents were never around and Delah,” he says with a shake of his head. “Who knows with her. I called the school and told her to catch the bus -- that I would check on her later. I heard the crash from the driveway. I didn’t see what happened but it was pretty obvious the way he was leaning over her. If I hadn’t walked in when I did, I know he would have finished her,” he continues, with tears in his eyes. “He was already kneeling over her and I could see it in his eyes. Her voice was so soft when she asked me to help her. But I couldn’t leave her there with him, man. I couldn’t take the chance. She was naked for Christ’s sake and broken. What was I supposed to do? Let everyone see her that way? I told him to get out, so I could get her something to wear and then I called 9-11.”
Lucas listens silently while studying the demeanor of the man before him. The pain in his voice, the guilt, and remorse in his eyes are unmistakable.
“Why didn’t you say something after?” he asks a little more tempered. “Why didn’t you report what he did.”
Shaking his head, Seth answers with a shrug.
“You do realize you could have killed her,” Lucas speaks softly. “That you let a rapist and pedophile get away with this? You punctured her lung when you dressed her, do you know that? Why didn’t you say something after?” he demands.
Seth scoffs. There is no easy answer to that. It’s a question he has asked himself a million times already and the answer is always the same. There will never be an end to his torment.
“It was hard,” he admits finally. “I didn’t know what to do. But I should have. She was the closest thing I had to a sibling and I hurt her, maybe more than he did. And I regret it every day,” he confesses.
Pausing to meet Lucas’ gaze and hoping to convey the truth in his words he says, “I should have told the police, but I didn’t know how. She was put in a coma because of the swelling in her brain. When she woke up a few weeks later, she could remember everything, except what happened that day. I guess I felt it was easier to say nothing. For her sake, not my father’s,” he clarifies. “But she remembered and when she did, I couldn’t face her. I ran off, joined the Marines. Penance, I guess.”
While he listens, the only visible sign of movement in Lucas is the occasional tick in his jaws.
“I didn’t do it to cover for him,” Seth says again. “I was discharged from the army for beating the crap out of my CO. He was trying to force himself on a little refugee. All I saw was my father and Alaine. That shit doesn’t leave your head,” he states. “Of course, he claimed he was ′helping her’ and his father was even higher up the chain of command. They trumped up the charges and Seth Knight was dishonourably discharged -- lucky to have escaped prison time.”
A humourless chuckle escapes him.
“After I was dismissed I went back home,” he says. “When I heard she was in New York, I came looking for her, but she knows how to hold a grudge. And who can blame her.”
Lucas remains quiet, pensive, trying to figure out what do do with this new information. When he exited his bedroom, it had been with a clear path in mind. Now, he doesn’t know what should be done about Seth. Of one thing he is certain, the man before him would never hurt Alaine.
Deciding to stay his judgment until he discusses it with Alaine, he resigns the topic for now.
“Angus,” Lucas says. “She won’t tell me anything. What did he do? Where is he?”
“The big son of a bitch got away,” Seth answers.
Lucas swears violently and beats his fist against the sofa.
“The police were about to leave when I showed up,” Seth explains. “If I hadn’t gotten there in time, they would have left. They didn’t want to breach the door so I did,” he continues. “He took off into her bedroom and went out the window. I went to cover her,” he says. “I thought they would catch him. How do you lose sight of a freaking giant?” he adds more to himself than the man who still has murder in his eyes. “My best guess,” Seth posits. “If he scaled down that fire escape that quickly, and disappeared, it’s because he’s been there before. A lot.”
Remembering the few times Alaine told him that she felt like some was watching her or was in her apartment has Lucas tensing. He’d known she wasn’t safe and he’s still left her.
He didn’t get far with her,” Seth says his voice interrupting Lucas’ self-recrimination and his next words cause bile to rise in his throat.
“The doctor said there wasn’t any... penetration,” Seth says with a cringe.
“I get it,” Lucas snaps. “You were supposed to be watching her? Why weren’t you there?” he demands.
Feeling shame, Seth admits, “she disappeared on me. “She was upset, about you, I think,” he states.
At Lucas’ stunned expression, he adds, “I don’t know why. I am not privy to the inner workings of Alaine. But she was pretty damn upset. She said that I was officially relieved of my duties. I had no idea where she went. She wasn’t answering her phone. I sat in a park a few minutes from her apartment to wait for her. I was just a few minutes away, and...” he says but trails off.
For a while, the two of them stand there, each one quietly assessing the situation in their minds.
Lucas wants to get back to Alaine but there is the matter of Angus to deal with. He needs a plan that doesn’t just involve him dead. He needs to ensure that while he is on the loose, Alaine is out of danger.
“I need you to find out everything that you can about Angus Maloney,” Lucas says interrupting the silence. “I want to know everything about him. Anywhere he can hide. I don’t care what stones you have to overturn. I want every detail. Tomorrow you go to the police with the envelope. And find him. He doesn’t get away with this, Seth,” he declares with finality.
Nodding his agreement, Seth downs the remainder of the contents in his glass.
“I’m already on it,” he answers.
“And put a tracker on her phone,” Lucas orders before turning back to the stairs.
“Hey boss,” Seth calls causing him to slow his steps. “How is she?” He asks when Lucas turns around.
Since meeting Alaine, Lucas knows her to be a vibrant, spirited woman with a bit of haughtiness sometimes but it is endearing. She is sweet, caring and selfless.
What will this do to her?
Considering the way she behaved with him tonight, it’s very likely that she is not okay.
To Seth’s question, he responds, “honestly, I have no idea.” And it is a scary thought.
“The doc who checked her out suggested therapy or counseling,” Seth offers.
Nodding his head, Lucas says, “goodnight. And please, drop the ‘boss’. It’s Mr. Bright or sir or even Lucas. Anything but that really.”
“Okay El Cap-i-tan,” Seth jokes.
“Definitely not that,” Lucas responds.
Seth joins in with his amused chuckle.
When he returns to bed, he is relieved to find Alaine still asleep. He stands beside the bed watching her for a few moments.
The things she’s endured, Lucas thinks. The things she’d survived. They would have broken anyone else. But not her. Not his little fairy. She’d turned out to be a much better person than him.
Leaning down, he runs a gentle hand along her cheek. The soft touch makes her shift in her sleep but that’s the extent of her reaction.
The dull ache in Lucas’ chest is now a full-blown throbbing as he contemplates how differently the night could have gone.
Damn him for what he’d done. Why had he goaded Angus? Alaine had been right when she’d said it. It was his insecurities that had him wanting to stamp his claim on Alaine. But he had no way of knowing at the time that the man was so unhinged.
If he’d just stayed away from her -- if he’d only had the restraint, the ability to resist, none of this would have happened.
He is a weak man. He’s always been.
A guilty conscience batters away at him. Tonight he should have comforted her. Soothed her. That’s what she needed. Not sex. To compound things, he emptied recklessly inside her.
Lucas scrubs his hand over his face then goes back to watching the woman he... loves.
Settling on the edge of his bed, he groans, as if in physical pain. What a mess he’d made for her.
The soft sound of her voice, smooth as warm honey, flows through his bloodstream, quickening his heartbeat. Lucas lifts his head from where he rested it in his hands.
“Are you okay?” She asks softly.
I’m not, he wants to say.
His chest aches.
Her movement rustles the sheets behind him so he knows that she is coming closer. Despite everything, a sense of tranquility engulfs him when her arms circle around his abdomen from the back. She kisses his neck, causing tingles to run along his spine and then her cheek rests against his shoulder.
Her display of tenderness and concern touches him in ways too profound for any other words than, I love you.
It rests at the tip of his tongue. Now probably isn’t the best time to tell her. When he finally makes that confession, he wants it to be perfect and not marred by the events or sorrows of tonight.
Instead, he says, “I should be asking you that.”
He looks down at delicate her hands snaked possessively around him. They’re so tiny he has no idea how she was ever able to keep two full grown men from hurting her.
It’s that indomitable spirit she embodies. It has to be.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping with me,” she complains.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he admits, placing his fingers over hers. “I was trying not to wake you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she breathes against his neck. When silence persists, Alaine whispers again, “Angus got away.”
Another of those little shudders, that he is coming to despise, shakes her body behind him.
Lucas strokes her arm snaked about his waist. Taking a deep breath, he answers, “I know. Seth told me.”
Still convinced that all of this happened because of him and he somehow has to make up for it, he promises, “I won’t let him near you again, baby.”
He twists himself around and pulls her to sit in his lap then wraps her tightly in his embrace before placing a firm kiss against her hair.
The little smile she gives him feels like an undeserved reward. Nonetheless, his heart responds to it, causing even him to smile. Only Alaine could achieve something like that when he feels such despair.
“Lucas?” she says as she looks up at him.
“Mmm?” he replies.
“I missed you. I’m glad you’re home,” she confesses.
With a heavy sigh, he answers, “me too baby,” though he wishes it was under different circumstances.
“Whatever you’re thinking, I want you to stop,” Alaine orders softly while she nuzzles into the crook of his neck. “This isn’t your fault. You must be so tired, baby,” she says.
Easing back onto the bed, she takes his hand in hers and tugs gently. “Come to bed,” she commands. “Sleep with me tonight. Keep the monsters away.”
Fighting the threat of tears threatening to spill over, Lucas nods. He siles up beside Alaine. When she curls herself into him in that way he likes, he sighs, wraps her in his arms and pulls her closer.
“Lucas?” she whispers.
“Yeah, babe?” he forces out beyond the lump in his throat.
“Don’t leave me, okay?” she begs. “Stay with me, please.”
“I’m here, sweetheart,” he promises. “I won’t leave you again. I swear it.”
After a long silence, he whispers into the darkness, “I missed you, so much, Ali,” while silent tears spill from his eyes.
“Sleep,” she commands.
His body remains tense but the soft chuckle he gives in response to her playful command is a small victory for her too.