A Man's Hope
Here’s a surprise chapter for you, my few faithful readers. As usual, I’m looking forward to the comments. I have readers from all over the world now including the Caribbean and all the continents. I’m so pleased. I hope you all enjoy this chapter and I’ll try to post the next one tomorrow.
The silence around the dining room table is so strained, Lucas is certain it will snap at any moment. And when it does, he doesn’t want to be anywhere near.
He’d known that accepting the invitation to participate in their little family breakfast Delah invited him to this morning was a bad idea. Damn his agreeableness. That’s what stood in the way of him saying no. Even if he’s the one hosting them, he hadn’t wanted to come off as rude.
Last night, he’d kept himself from addressing this obvious awkwardness that exists between Alaine and her sister. As far as he was concerned, he had enough to deal with without taking on anything else. He still feels that way but his eyes dart between the two of them and he can’t help but scowl.
Beside him, Alaine toys with the food on her plate. On the other side of the table, her sister isn’t doing much different. The only clear distinction between the two of them is that, while Alaine skillfully ignores her older sibling; completely avoiding eye contact unless it’s to shoot fiery darts at her with an occasional glare; Delah looks so morose and on the brink of tears, Lucas feels sorry for her.
The only person who seems oblivious to the dark cloud hanging over the table is the little four-year-old girl busy playing with her teddy bear.
She talks to it, whispering secrets in its lifeless ears and giggles.
Lucas gets lost looking at her before tuning his attention to Alaine. What if she does get pregnant?” he thinks for the millionth time. What if they had one of those?
She’d be a pretty girl or he’d be a handsome boy if his and Alaine’s looks are taken into account. Considering Alaine’s petite stature, however, he just hopes that if they do have a son that he takes after him instead. Whichever they have, girl or boy, their child will have the indomitable spirit of their mother.
Rather than giving in to panic created by these thoughts, an unexpected and strange longing burns inside him. He concentrates on Alaine and frowns. It’s barely been a month since they met and already he’s thinking about having kids with her.
Jeez, he thinks and gives himself a mental shake.
Not wanting to focus any further on this elemental shift in the workings of his psyche, he gathers his unfinished plate and glass to excuse himself from what feels like a negotiation between Israel and Palestine.
Alaine rises in the same manner to follow him but he scowls at her sternly while shaking his head. He doesn’t know why he expected her to listen to his silent request when she’s proven her stubbornness time again.
She watches him with her lips pressed together in a hard line and one eyebrow cocked up high in a challenge that dares him to defy her.
Lucas breaks the deadlock with a heavy sigh. He jerks his head; an indication for her to follow him. The internal decision he made not to intervene in their family squabble crumbles in the wake of woman he loves defiant nature. He’s going to have to play big brother.
They walk well out of earshot before he asks, “what is going on?”
Lucas pushes his office door open and shuts it behind Alaine before walking to his desk.
“It’s colder than the arctic out there,” he says.
“She said something really stupid yesterday,” Alaine mumbles.
“Siblings often do,” Lucas states. “I have enough of them to know.”
Shamed by her own pettiness, she drops her gaze from his and says nothing.
“Ali, I don’t mind that your sister and her daughter are here. They’re here for you,” Lucas tells her. “But a rivalry between the two of you is not something you need right now. And quite frankly, it’s not something I want to have to step in the middle of.”
“I didn’t ask you to,” she retorts feeling offended.
Again, Lucas sighs.
“Ali,” he says. “I need you to listen to me okay. I don’t bring anybody here. Aside from Jackie and Seth, no one comes here. Not even my dad has been here. I want it this way for a reason. Your family is here only because of you. So can you please, be the bigger person and negotiate a peace talk before we leave. I don’t...”
“Me?” she interrupts defiantly. “I’m not apologizing. You don’t know what she said.”
“And I don’t want to know, baby. That’s the truth,” Lucas interjects. “Right now I am so saturated, Ali,” he pleads. “I can’t get the sound of you on the phone out of my head. I can’t get the taste of fear out of my mouth,” he confesses as he regards her with a look the speaks of desperation. “I just want a quiet, peaceful day with you,” he begs. “Nothing more.”
Because he can see the way her eyes and her shoulders soften, he presses, “can you do that for me, please?”
Although she is still sour in the face, Alaine nods.
“Thank you. Now come here,” he orders as he drops into his chair.
She walks over to him with a little pout, dragging her feet and stops behind his desk.
“Come here,” Lucas directs again.
One side of her lips jerks upward in a smile while Lucas regards her seriously as she rounds the desk to stand in front of him.
“Sit,” he commands.
Alaine snorts but plants her butt on his lap.
“I woke up this morning to find you gone. You’re going to have to stop trying to give me a heart attack,” he says as he nuzzles her neck and jaw. “You left our bed this morning without this,” he scolds.
Touching her bruised cheek gently, he leans in to kiss her slowly -- a kiss she sighs for as she sags into the support of his sturdy chest and strong arms.
“Now go and be a good girl,” he whispers. “Then we’ll get ready to take our leave of the city.”
Before she obeys his command this time, Alaine tucks her stray hairs behind her ears to ensure that there is no obstruction when she presses her lips to his.
When she gets up, Lucas takes the liberty of patting her shapely rear end. She rewards him with a pretty blush and his pleased laughter follows her out of his office.
Once she closes the door behind her locking him inside so he doesn’t see, she allows her heart to shatter. He confirmed everything she already feared. He is saturated and rightly so. He may not want to admit it but she’s become a burden with her tempestuous emotions and constant crying.
Had their plans for New Jersey not been discussed and agreed upon, she would have given him the day to himself after that announcement. Clearly, he thinks she needs to sort her shit out and maybe he’s right.
Not wanting to have to explain why she is changing her mind about going with him, Alaine decides to stay the course.
Tomorrow, however, she’ll give him a day where he won’t have to worry about her.
Her emotions tilt sideways again, clogging her throat as she tries to quell the urge to cry.
Damn it! she scolds herself silently. Damn Angus too for ruining everything.
Without realizing that her feet were leading her that way, she stops outside the guest bedroom and takes a deep breath. During the short walk, she realized that Lucas is right. She is behaving like a child. Still, she chooses to remain at the entrance, with folded arms after opening the door.
All she really wants to do is curl up beside her big sister for a good cry like she used to when she was nine and constantly picked on at school for being smaller than everyone.
Instead, she clears her throat and announces, “I’m going to New Jersey with Lucas today. We’re spending the night.”
Delah doesn’t look up at but she answers, “I will go back to your apartment if I’m still welcomed there.”
“You should stay with Seth,” Alaine suggests.
Delah’s surprise registers in her wide eyes but she recovers quickly and nods.
“It’s not because I don’t want you there, Delah,” Alaine assures her quickly. “I would never put you and Izzy out on the streets. I’m just not sure it’s a good idea to go back there as yet.”
“Oh,” Delah responds, her voice cracking just a little. “I want you to know that I’m really sorry about what I said,” she says Alaine. “There is no excuse for it but I honestly did not mean it that way,” she offers.
“Then why would you say it?” Alaine questions.
“You’ve always been the ‘good’ sister,” Delah explains. “The one with potential. Everyone has always been so proud of and impressed with Alaine Knight. Once again you outshine me,” she says indicating to the bedroom space.
“I have a child with an abusive drunk,” she continues. “And here you are, worried about having a billionaire’s baby,” she says with a bout of laughter that borders a sob. “Is it really that wrong to want what you have? And I don’t mean Lucas Bright. I mean the relationship, with a man who loves you. Who treats you like you are the only thing in the world that matters.”
By the end of Delah’s monologue, Alaine has taken enough steps into the room to stand beside the bed and sits when Delah pats the spot beside her.
“I wasn’t there for you when you needed me, Ali,” her sister says. “I was selfish, stupid and immature. Yet, when I needed you, you opened your tiny apartment to me and my bundle, without question.”
“You were a child yourself,” Alaine reminds her.
“I was seventeen,” Delah returns with a scoff. “I should have been there for you. I know that there is nothing I can do to make up for being a terrible older sister back then but I want to do better. I want to be here now. I won’t do anything to jeopardize that. Betrayal is not how I will repay your kindness.”
After mulling it over, Alaine relaxes on the bed.
“I suppose you were right. I overreacted,” she concedes. “I just feel like everything is so much and I’m sorry for taking it out on you.”
“So you’re forgiving me?” Delah asks.
“Of course. Besides, who’s going to cover up my purple cheek if I’m not speaking to you?” Alaine jokes.
Delah sputters with laughter but reaches out to take Alaine’s hand.
“This time around, we have to stick together, Ali,” she says.
Lucas’ head perks up from his computer screen when the door to his office opens. That familiar, rhythmic flip-flop he feels in his chest every time he sees Alaine goes slightly off-beat. There’s a hint of pain attached to it because of that mark on her cheek.
He’s already told himself to just be grateful that she’s alive but he can’t help the surge of anger and hurt over what she went through. Nor the tinge of fear that ripples down his spine every time he remembers Angus’ escape.
The mixture of emotions inside him is a weird, strong cocktail. They throw him into a tailspin. He wants to tell her how he feels but he’s afraid doing so will do more harm than good. He wants to live every day with her by his side and flaunt her to the world so everyone one knows that she is his. Simultaneously, he wants to secret her somewhere far, far away -- where no one else will ever be able to hurt her again.
He wants to be enough for her -- enough to protect her and keep her happy. Enough to not disappoint her. At the same time, he’s afraid of his own inadequacies. He already failed at all of these things when he left her behind knowing that she was in danger.
Deciding to try not to obsess over it so they can enjoy a good day, he averts his gaze back to the report in front him and asks, “problem solved?”
“I hope so,” she responds and he can’t help glancing at her again.
God, how he loves her. His heart is overripe with it. He loves everything about her, from her wild hair down to her unpainted toenails. He loves the fire in her spirit and the passion in her arms. He’s even crazy about that stubborn streak that makes him want to throttle her half the time.
He clips back those words threatening to spill from the depth of his being to respond, “I’m glad to hear it.”
Pointing to her cheek, she tries to joke, “well, I do need her to cover this.”
Lucas ignores the comment and the way it makes his gut twist. In his periphery, he can see her moving toward him but is afraid that if she takes one look in his eyes right now, he’ll bare his soul.
“I’m really sorry about how I acted before,” she says.
This time, when he answers, his eyes remain on the computer screen. “You’ve been through an ordeal,” he tells her. “It’s fine.”
“Am I disturbing?” she asks to his unmoving concentration.
“Not at all,” he tells her. “Just trying to get this out of the way before we have to leave but...”
“Don’t stop on my account. I’ll go do...” she starts to say.
“No, it’s fine,” Lucas assures her.
Feeling a bit more in control of himself, he forgets the laptop and leans back in his chair. “I can get back to this later. I’ve actually been doing a lot of thinking,” he says.
“Oh? What about?” Alaine asks as she sits down on the leather sofa.
The blush in her cheeks makes Lucas chuckle. He knows exactly what she’s thinking about -- their little reading exercise they participated in the day before.
“I like how things are revealed in your blush,” he tells her.
“And you reveal nothing,” she accuses.
“Nothing?” Lucas objects. “I’ve revealed plenty, goddess. Maybe you’re not paying close enough attention.”
Not giving her a chance to analyze his words, he asks quickly, “do you want to know what I’ve been thinking?”
“I’m all ears,” she answers.
“I’ve got a list,” he says sheepishly before diving right into it. “Number one: I was thinking that we could leave around ten to go to New Jersey. We’ll make it there well before lunch. My step-mother is a mean cook.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Alaine agrees. “What else?”
“Number two,” he says. “You don’t really have anything to wear here...and this is where it gets a bit complex,” he explains with a bit of hesitation.
Laughing at the seriousness of his expression, she says, “go slowly then.”
“Alright,” Lucas breathes. “I was thinking that we could run by your apartment to pick up a few things but I really don’t want you to go back there.”
Taking her silence as a sign of her concurrence, he continues, “therefore, I think it might be a good idea to purchase a few things for you and leave them here.”
His suggestion is much more an uncertain question than it is a confident statement. He regards her with the same amount of uncertainty in his eyes as there is in his request. Or maybe it’s more hopefulness or a little bit of both carved into his features.
Alaine looks at him not saying anything.
“Not a closet load of things if you don’t want that,” Lucas adds quickly to her stunned quietness. “Just a few things so that while you’re here, I don’t run out of t-shirts and boxers,” he notes.
She looks down at herself clad in the very same and he follows the path her eyes trail over her body before they go back to looking at each other.
“You want me to leave my things at your apartment?” Alaine questions.
“Well yeah, why not?” Lucas asks with a shrug. “I mean, I like having you here and I intend on having you here a whole lot more. It seems logical to me.”
Still thrown by the suggestion, Alaine struggles to find the correct thing to say. Dragging her teeth over her bottom lip, she runs nervous hands through the tangled strands of her hair and says, “that’s a really big move really fast.”
“I know,” Lucas agrees.
“It’s not like we’re officially together,” she muses. “I mean, are we? When you think of it, we’ve spent two weekends together and we were basically thrown together both times. Just because we’re forced to...”
“Forced?” Lucas bites out in a forcible objection. “Nobody is forcing me to do anything, Alaine,” he asserts while his gut sickens at the notion that after everything they’ve shared, she still thinks so little of him. “I’m doing what I want to do.”
“But why?” she cries.
Confused lines crease Lucas’ forehead. Alaine is by far the most confounding woman he’s ever met. Had she missed the last two days where he’s been trying to pour his heart out to her? The only thing he hasn’t done is break out in song.
“Don’t be upset with me,” she requests softly. “I appreciate everything you’re doing for me so much,” she assures him. “I just want to understand why and be certain that you are certain.”
“Because I...” he says and trips over the words. “I care for you Alaine, deeply,” he says instead of saying I love you.
Even if he’s watered down the words, the soft admission is measured with a touch of sadness and heartache. While he’s accustom to pain, he’s never been through anything on this level before. Her responses to him are disappointing and just further confirmation that maybe she really isn’t ready for what he feels.
Still, he admits, “for whatever reason, I care about you. So forgive me if I don’t feel an urge to relinquish you to the apartment where you were...”
Unable to finish the sentence, he stops and pushes himself away from his desk.
“I know that it’s soon,” he says as he walks across to where she sits. “And you’re right, we’ve just started this. But I know that I like having you here and I think you like being here with me.”
“I do,” she answers.
“Then what is the problem?” Lucas asks. “It’s just a few things, Ali. So that you’re comfortable.”
Chewing on her bottom lip while she thinks about his offer, she watches each of his movements as sits beside her and takes her hand in his.
Realizing that he’s waiting for her response, she nods her head. “Okay, a few things. I guess that makes sense,” she agrees.
Although not fully satisfied, he responds, “good. There’s one more thing.”
“You’re just full of ideas today,” Alaine quips.
“A man can hope,” he replies. “I have something for you.”
Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a copy of his electronic key card and presses it in her open palm.
“The four-digit code was already inputted on your phone,” he tells her.
Alaine looks down at the small rectangular piece of plastic then up at him in wonder.
“Since you’re going to be leaving your things here, it’s only right that you have unfettered access to them,” he explains to the question in her eyes. “Why are you crying?” Lucas asks as tears cling to her long lashes before rolling down her cheeks. “Don’t cry, Ali,” he begs.
She throws all her weight into his body almost knocking him over as her arms wind around him and she hides her face in his neck.
“You’re so sweet and thoughtful,” she sniffles against his skin.
Unable to help himself, Lucas smiles and wraps his arms around her.
“And that makes you cry?” he asks. “Sometimes you confuse me,” he breathes into her hair.
“Thank you, Lucas,” she whispers.
“Nothing is too hard or too much for me to do for you, Alaine,” he confesses.
As soon as the words leave his mouth he regrets saying them. His heart continues to beat a hopeful rhythm waiting for her to acknowledge his admission but she gives him nothing.
She does pull her shoulders away to kiss him, however. Like the glutton he is for any morsel she is willing to bequeath to him, he falls right into it. Her lips are seasoned with the salt of her tears and damn if it doesn’t undo him further. Under the slight pressure of her lips, he opens for her allowing her to take what she wants.
“This is my new favourite pastime,” Alaine drawls the comment surprising him.
She nips playfully at his bottom lip, swipes her tongue across the seam making Lucas growl low in his throat.
“We’ll have a lot of fun then because it’s mine too,” he says as he squeezes her butt cheeks. Not wanting to get far off their set course for the day he asks, “so shopping it is?”
She nods up at him and replies quickly, “you don’t have to come. I’m sure Delah will be eager to go with me. I think you need the downtime from emotional women.”
“I’m not letting you out of my sight, Alaine,” Lucas counters. “The man who attacked you is still out there. I’m not letting you out on the streets alone.”
Keeping her acquiescence to herself, she says, “Delah is going to stay with Seth while we’re gone and until the doors and windows on the apartment are replaced.”
“Will you stay with me in the meantime?” Lucas asks.
“I would like that, yes,” she responds.