She was supposed to meet him at his office at seven but again Alaine Knight is late or quite possibly a no show. Has she changed her mind? She didn’t even give him the chance to clearly state his case. Lucas stares at the watch on his wrist, a feeling, something akin to disappointment, unfurling hotly in his gut.
It is well past nine by now and he would not forgo another item on his calendar in the event that she might show up. Alaine knight would not be spared another moment of his thought. Maybe she got the time mixed up.
Lucas groans at his inability to put her out of his mind. It is infuriating. He’s met women. He’s slept with many women since his fifteenth birthday. Not once had be been hung up on any of them. She could at least have the courtesy to call.
“Damnation,” he mutters before trying her number again.
He’d thought about the dark haired pixie profusely last night. Pleasant thoughts and not so pleasant thoughts. Somehow, she’d wandered into his dreams as well.
That ‘old injury’ comment still troubles him. The way she responded after walking into him, they both speak of something dark and sinister. Something her cousin, his driver, is a part of. For that, he drums his fingers anxiously against the glass desk. He could probably coerce a confession out of Seth, but that would be an invasion into her privacy. And why should he care? But he does.
If he could convince her to accept his proposal, maybe she could also be convinced to confide in him. Confide in him? Confide in him! His subconscious rebels at the idea.Shaking his head, Lucas refuses to analyse his sudden fixation with one itty bitty woman. Itty bitty and luscious, in all the right places. That must be the reason for his obsession. Hadn’t he obsessed about her in the same manner three years ago? His thoughts take a different turn, just as they had last night when he’d gripped his thick erection and spilled himself into a dissatisfying orgasm, to the image of Alaine Knight, kneeling in that wet, see-through white shirt, with her full pink mouth around him. Damnation indeed.
The clock in the conference room seems to be working in slow motion. The equally slow conversation around the large table is a low buzz as his mind shifts from Alaine to business and back again. Now he is no longer cognizant of what is being said. It’s entirely bizarre.
Lucas peeks up from where his eyes are trained on a non-existent spot on the desk in front of him. Obviously something of great import had been conveyed and he’d missed it.
“I’m afraid I am distracted today, Louise,” he says, puzzled by his own admission. Usually he immerses himself in work. Aside from his acute eidetic memory and genius bestowed on him by grace, he likes to credit his success to that. His willingness to work, to succeed and win. Nothing has ever distracted him from his target. But today is anomalous.
He hears the hush around the table, almost feeling the pokes against his consciousness from their enquiring minds. “Give me a minute will you.”
Needing a reprieve from his management team’s questioning stares, and from himself, Lucas exits the conference room. In the hall Natasha looks at him curiously, then smiles that pretty smile.Lucas ignores it.
“If Alaine Knight, the girl from yesterday, tries to contact me at any time during the day, cancel whatever is on the calendar and get her in my office.”
Why hadn’t he thought of that earlier? The little snippet has thrown him completely off his game.Just the mention of that name does away with Natasha’s smile. She tries to hide her heavy sigh. Lucas ignores that too, turning away hastily from her starry-eyed stare, lest she misconstrue the meaning behind his dawdling.
He takes a minute in his private bathroom, staring into the gray eyes looking back at him. What he sees there is never pleasant. An attractive face, yes. Over an empty shell. Compose yourself.
But lunch time comes around and she is still MIA. He is furious, more at himself than her. After two brief meetings she is consuming his every thought.
What is worse, he seriously doubts she is equally plagued. It’s not difficult to imagine she isn’t when she so easily brushed him off yesterday. And more than once. If today is any indication, he should clearly be moving on.
Yet, at two o’clock he is calling her phone again only to be greeted once more by the robotic voice of the automated voice messaging service that has become the most vexing thing Lucas has ever heard.
There is always the option of returning to the flower shop, but that is a sign of desperation and unseemly for a man his caliber. Plus, she will probably think he is stalking her.How many of his past lovers did he have to turn out for doing this very thing? Seeking him out at work, calling and leaving messages when he was indisposed?
At five he needs a distraction. Today has been an unproductive day. A waste really. The only thing he’d done successfully was irritate himself.
The office empties slowly. Just needing some exercise to relieve his tension, Lucas prowls his building. It’s not the tallest in Manhattan, but it’s something he created and is proud of. Something he wouldn’t mind sharing with her. Showing her, rather, he corrects mentally. It’s something he wouldn’t mind showing her. They’re like minded people if he considers her chosen field of study. She’d be impressed.
He sighs heavily. Giving up on seeing Alaine Knight now, he changes his mind about trying her one last time and stuffs his phone back in his pocket. New tech always excites him, so he heads to the underground design lab which they’ve ‘creatively’ dubbed, The Basement. Hopefully it’s a pick-me-up from his dour mood.
“Mr Bright,” his Tech Lead acknowledges, with some measure of surprise. “We didn’t know you would be visiting today.”
“I did not realize you were still in the building,” Lucas replies. “I just need a distraction. How is the F.I. prototype coming along?”
His time in the basement is always fruitful. After hovering over the shoulders of his diligent employees, for longer than he would like if he were in their shoes, Lucas heads back to his office to say goodnight to work.
Natasha is still at her desk. After wondering why, Lucas briefly considers her as a replacement for Alaine at the charity dinner. A thought quickly dismissed. She’s starry-eyed enough as it is, without encouragement.
Yesterday, in his haste to acquire Alaine Knight, he’d completely forgotten their meeting with his director of personnel concerning this issue. Thoughts of the dark-haired pixie were throwing him off in ridiculous ways. Even distracting him from matters like this.
“Why are you still here, Ms. Ingram?” Lucas addresses her. “It’s almost seven.”
“I’m your assistant,” she replies. “You’re still here.”
“I’m the boss,” Lucas huffs. “Go home.”
The brusque dismissal dampens her mood. It should act as a deterrent. However, Natasha takes a deep breath.
“Would you like to get dinner with me?” she asks. “Since we’re both here. I noticed you skipped lunch.”
“I have dinner at home,” Lucas says blandly and can read in her expression that she wouldn’t mind having dinner at his place. “Please Ms. Ingram, go home,” Lucas says softly.
Not waiting to see her crestfallen features, he turns to his office door. What a disappointing day today had turned out to be.
Being late a second time meeting with a billionaire, regardless the reason, is absolutely unacceptable. Alaine sits on the park bench, a short distance from his building, after failing to walk out her anxiety.
The last person she’d asked about the time told her it was six-fifteen. Only? Though she’d thanked the stranger kindly. It’s curious how time always seems to move slower at the most inopportune moments. She just wants to get this over with.
Changing in Mona’s bathroom and leaving two hours before her meeting with Lucas Bright had obviously been an exaggerated attempt to be on time. One that she is now paying for - with high blood pressure. Her heart can’t survive more of this incessant pounding.
The final countdown nears. A fine sheen of sweat glazes her forehead despite the cool early evening temperatures. That most likely can be ascribed to both the adrenaline high she is currently riding, and the nervous pacing the visitors in the Rosa D. Roosevelt Park had been subject to witness. Unable to sit still, she gets up again.
Three blocks is all that stands between Alaine and Lucas Bright. That and the seventy-something floors in his building. She’ll just stroll her way there. It will be better if she’s early.
She’d spent much of the day considering him and her own reaction to his presence. Nothing has changed. Her imagination runs away from her, forming images of a different relationship with Lucas Bright. One where the two of them walk easily together, arm in arm﹘ or maybe hand in hand, if the former is too outmoded﹘ through the streets of Manhattan. Strangely it’s a comfortable thought.
Tremulous legs guide her up the steps. Yesterday morning, she’d thought she was stepping into his office for a job interview. Tapering her nerviness had been easier. This is something entirely different.
Alaine pauses before the heavy glass door, trying to gain supremacy over her rebellious heartbeat and unsteady breathing. They remain uncooperative as she pulls the long metal handle. Why is she surprised that it’s locked?
A security guard, an older gentleman, abandons his post at the counter in the lobby and approaches her. He looks at her quizzically but doesn’t open. After finding her ID in her purse, Alaine presses it up against the glass. “I have an appointment,” she shouts.
He disappears to consult his log, then returns with the same condemning expression, to unlock the door.“You’re very late, child,” he scolds and she frowns.
She doesn’t have a watch, but if she is late it can’t be by much.
“You were supposed to be here at seven this morning,” he clarifies when he reads the confusion in her features.
The announcement makes Alaine gasp and in her mind, she envisions the end of her encounter with Lucas. There’s no way he’s still here. Even if he is, it’s impossible he wants to see her. He’s probably assuming she thinks this whole thing is a joke. How the heck had this happened?
“Mr. Bright said to send you up whenever you arrive so...” the security guard announces, to transform Alaine’s features into bewilderment.
Despite his disapproving glare, the man hands her the visitor’s pass, that Alaine accepts, maybe a little too eagerly, and informs her that Mr. Bright is still in his office.
Smiling tightly, she walks to the elevator, trying to gauge what his mood might be and what her apology should say. Extraordinarily, her thoughts are scattered by the echo of her heartbeat in her ears.
The last time she had butterflies in her stomach was as a teenager who listened to boy band music, daydreaming of marrying a member of One Direction. That feels like eons ago. But they are there, again, frolicking freely in her stomach.
Slipping into the elevator, she smooths her hand over her attire. At least she is appropriately dressed. She dons a pair of slick heels that clicked across the glossy floor. She would pay for that later but they fit perfectly with her smart pencil skirt and navy button-down shirt, which is pinned all the way to the collar in case his eyes decide to stray again.
A flush heats her cheeks at the thought. In the glossy cabin, it becomes apparent that it is still a little snug at her chest and hugs her waist. But she looks smart. With Lucas Bright and her reaction to him, she needs to be.
On the top floor, Alaine takes a deep steadying breath and steps out into the corridor. His assistant is still at her post, though she seems to be packing up. Her actions slow when she notices Alaine. It’s not wholly surprising that the people in his employ are like worker bees. How else could he account for his success? Or is this something else?
Alaine decides to focus on everything but the glum feeling the thought evokes.
“I’m here to see Mr. Bright,” she explains, presenting the pass.
Natasha breathes deeply. Something like annoyance flitters across her features before a feigned smile graces her pretty red lips. “You do know what time it is,” she tells Alaine. “It is well past working hours.”
Alaine opens her mouth then shuts it. It does seem a little ridiculous that she thought he meant seven in the evening. But he is ridiculous, too, to think that she could leave Far Rockaway and make it lower Manhattan for seven in the morning, on the A train. It’s a legitimate mistake, considering he showed up to her workplace at eight-thirty in the evening.
“The security guard said he would see me,” she explains.
“I’m his assistant and I’m saying he won’t. Good evening Ms. Knight.”
She could probably guess the reason for Natasha’s antagonism, but it would be inappropriate to inform the woman that she has no romantic interest in Lucas Bright whatsoever. That he is merely a means to an end.
“If you could just inform him that I’m here,” Alaine says instead. “He’s expecting me. I have an arrangement with him.”
The woman looks her up and down then scoffs. “I’m sure you do.”
Before Alaine can come up with a retort to that statement, Natasha rounds her desk and grips her elbow, a little too firmly, to lead her back to the elevator.
“What are you doing?” Alaine squeaks with the fear of confrontation rising to tingle her spine. “Please let go of me.”
The voices, muffled by the glass walls of his office, catch Lucas’ attention. He is certain they belong to two women. A quick glance at the time reveals that it will be seven in a few seconds so he wonders just who could be here, now.
Disappointment still burns hotly that Alaine Knight hadn’t shown up and he is perturbed at his inability to dislodge the unmoving sentiment. It would eat away at him all night long, although he’s used to his sleep being interrupted.
Still, the fact that she blew him off is disconcerting to say the least. He leaves his desk, intent on investigating which other employee of the month still lurks in the building.
Shock, excitement, and strangely elation filter into him in quick succession and mingle together, making him dizzy. Lucas’ eyes immediately narrow at the interaction between his assistant and the woman who currently has his heart beating a hectic rhythm. More specifically, at the way Natasha forces Alaine’s smaller form into the elevator ahead of her, with a grip on her elbow.
For now, her extreme tardiness is forgotten. He should probably address Natasha for her impropriety, but it’s Alaine’s name that eases its way out of his throat.
“Ms. Knight?” Lucas calls.
At the sound of his voice, Alaine steps back, bumping into the blonde towering over her. He really should address Natasha, who simply stands there, still staring and scowling, but he is distracted when Alaine smiles. At him. It’s so unexpected. So beautiful. His own lips incline mildly in response.
“Mr. Bright,” she responds and finds herself immediately freed from Natasha’s death grip. It dawns on her that the sudden reaction is a result of Lucas’ stern and accusing stare, now that his attention is directed to her assailant.
Relief floods her while she stands there, rubbing her arm where manicured nails bit into her flesh. Lucas focuses on that tiny action, where she tries to soothe the burning on her skin. His eyebrows draw into an even deeper scowl.
“Natasha,” he addresses seriously. “I’m certain my instructions were clear. Ms. Knight should be seen to my office with immediacy.”
The guilt in her features is discernible, but still, she tries to offer an excuse.
“I did not think you would see her at this hour. I apologize, Lucas.”
“You’re smarter than that, Ms. Ingram,” Lucas tells her, dismissing the informality. “Which part of ‘whenever she arrives’ didn’t you understand? Come with me Ms. Knight,” he encourages Alaine. An effective dismissal that has Natasha sulking while she waits for the elevator’s doors to open again.
Lucas stands waiting at the entrance to his office to usher Alaine inside. She seems to carry a breeze of coconut and vanilla along with her. The light fragrance wraps around him as he inhales deeply. Standing at more than a foot above her, Lucas can’t help but note how small she is. Strangely, he feels like laughing at that.
“You’re late again Ms. Knight,” he acknowledges, his tone serious, though still amused by her for whatever reason. “By twelve hours, no less,” he adds. “That has to break some kind of record.”
Closing the door behind them, he moves across to stand before her. He can’t believe how he’d spend the day entire brewing over nothing. They’d obviously gotten the wires crossed again and he can see the reason for the mix-up. It doesn’t bother him in the slightest. Not while she is looking at him with those pretty, wide eyes and embarrassed flush. Surprisingly, for some reason, they bring out a long dormant playful side in Lucas. All he wants to do is tease her. Just a bit to see her reaction. “I told you to come at seven,” he continues.
That he would meet her thrice in two days, after wondering after her for just as many years, is monumental. Lucas tries his damnedest to remain aloof, while his heart pounds against his chest. He can hear the heavy pulsing in his ears, so glances down briefly at his left side to ensure that it is not also discernible.
“What are you doing here at this hour?” he questions calmly.
Leaning against his desk, in a false attempt to be casual, he chucks his hands into his pockets to hide their light tremor. To Alaine, though, he looks unbelievably edible. Oh behave, she chides the errant thought and her neglected womanhood, while she stands in the middle of the room under the scrutiny of his bright gray stare.
The longer she stays there, the more erratic her heartbeat becomes. She chooses to chalk it up to fear and nervousness. She is in an enclosed space, with who she can only assume, from their small conversation yesterday, is a very virile man. He looks the part, too, and they’re completely alone.
Besides that, he continues to assess her with that air of suave and calm that is more than just slightly irritating when she considers her own dissipating equilibrium.
“Seven in the morning from Far Rockaway? Are you insane?” she asks him. Her own outburst causes her eyes to widen further. She’d thought it, but never expected that the words would slip out. Her intention was to apologize profusely but there is something about Lucas Bright that just trips her.
He is equally stunned by her fearlessness, though he knows that is not a true composite after their encounter last night. She’s terrified of something. Even now he can see it in her eyes, though she meets his gaze head-on. So he maintains his distance. Lucas gives her a little laugh. He’s heard of the Napoleon Complex. The same must apply to little women too.
“Insane?” he repeats.
“I’m really sorry,” Alaine amends. “I misunderstood. But Far Rockaway is really far. And with the A train and 113 bus always off schedule, I could never make it here for seven. It’s impossible.”
With limited knowledge of New York’s MTA, Lucas decides to accept her excuse. He’s heard about that struggle. “Okay,” he concedes simply. “That might have been a little ambitious.”
When he crosses his arms over his chest, Alaine’s eyes follow the movement of his muscles all on their own. The way the soft, blue shirt stretches, and the tight, sinewy tissue beneath bunches, holds her attention for a few moments.
He’s abandoned his jacket and tie. The top three buttons of his shirt are undone, teasing her eyesight with smooth, glowing skin at the collar.
Yesterday she’d been upset when he watched her so shamelessly. She stares down at her shoes instead, praying her flush doesn’t reach her cheeks.
“I tried to reach you all day,” Lucas says to call her attention back to him. “I thought you’d changed your mind. Have you?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I did,” she says, garnering the courage to look up at his face again. “I haven’t decided on anything as yet and my phone is out of commission after the rain yesterday.”
“Okay,” he says in understanding. “If it’s not too late, I intended on taking you to a quiet breakfast this morning to discuss the details of this potential arrangement,” he explains. “But we can always do dinner if you are disposed. I missed lunch.”
“Dinner? With me?” Alaine asks surprised.
Again he nods. “Breakfast, dinner, they’re just meals,” he says with a flippant shrug, but waits impatiently for her answer.
“Sure,” she breathes softly.
Walking around his desk, Lucas gathers his jacket and tie from the back of his chair. “Excuse me a moment?” he requests while heading for the bathroom door. There he turns to study her, his expression grave. “That means wait.”
With an amused huff, Alaine replies, “I’m waiting.
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