A Steadfast Woman
So the second part of this chapter isn't exactly complete. It's actually the rough construct but because I promised I'm posting it anyway. Please leave your comments below or a review or a like or a vote in the novel contest or hit that supportme button. Whichever you choose is going to mean the world to me, guys. Keep the love coming!
Up until the moment they cleared the confines of Manhattan, Lucas had been inundated with second thoughts about making this trip to New Jersey. Alaine meeting his family again suddenly seemed even more daunting than it was the first time around and he knows exactly what is fueling those doubts.
The fact is, his family sometimes has boundary issues -- his father being chief and should they run into one of his siblings...god help him. He doesn’t want Alaine to be made to feel uncomfortable, especially not at this time. If that does happen, then someone is going to be on the receiving end of a good thrashing.
However, as soon as he hit the highway with the heavens stretched out before him -- an infinite, seamless shade of the clearest blue -- his doubts are swept behind him. He had no idea how strangling being in the city had been following Alaine’s attack until he pulled onto the open road. It’s like a weight lifted off his shoulders.
The length of asphalt in front of him is, at least for a little while, a chance at freedom from his worst fears and a quick glance at Alaine sitting across from him -- with her head leaned back against the headrest, her eyes closed and a wispy smile on her face -- makes him even more confident in this decision.
He’d like to know what that smile is about -- to know what she's thinking -- but the peaceful air around her stops him. He’d rather not disturb her.
Forcing his attention back on the highway, he returns to his own thoughts.
There’s not a thread of clouds interspersed across the expanse of gleaming sky. All in all, the weather is almost a perfect match for how the morning has been going so far. The only real downside he can feel is the sharp nip the air that keeps him from dropping the top down on his convertible. It probably would have added a little something extra to their drive if he could but he won’t complain. It’s just him and Alaine today so nothing needs to be added to make the time they spend together any more worthwhile.
Soft music pours through the speakers filling the silence between them. This type of quietness is nothing unbearable though. Far from it, in fact. It’s the easy kind of silence that creates the perfect channel to transmit a series of memories that has Lucas smirking to himself. He calls on each one deliberately and they all feature this fae-like goddess and the powerful magic she’s woven around his heart.
He made the playlist especially for this trip -- for her and had put a lot of thought into it. Each song is supposed to send a message to convey what he’s known since the day he left for Italy -- that he’s in love with her.
Sure, Alaine seems to be a little obtuse despite all the not so subtle hints he’s been giving her but he’s not about to give up. He’s already yielded to these emotions and he wants more. He wants more than what they started out as.
He’ll give her time if that’s what she needs and during that time he’ll show her rather than tell since telling obviously isn’t working.
With one hand on the steering wheel, Lucas beats out the rhythm with his fingers and hums out the tune while reaching across the console to take Alaine’s little hand in his. Never taking his eyes off the road, he brings her fingers to his lips.
In his periphery, he can see her pretty smile widen. He can feel it even; like warm beams of sunlight radiating into his soul. Even if he is staring straight ahead, he returns her grin.
At some point, he’ll have to thank his stepmother for suggesting an escape from the city -- for the further they drive away from New York, the more at ease Alaine becomes.
That observation makes him that much more determined to get her to agree to go to Italy with him. He’ll do everything he can to make it a memorable trip. The only reason he hadn’t asked her to join him the first time around was Kurt. He hadn’t wanted her to meet his stepfather. By all reports, he’s sticking close to Claudia’s bedside. It’s a curious phenomenon considering he was ready to pull the plug on her since the first night the doctor gave her grim prognosis. Quite frankly, it makes Lucas nervous.
Refusing to allow thoughts of his mother and her husband to creep in and ruin his time with Alaine, he lets go of her hand but only long enough to turn up the music.
“You’re showing me a whole new world,” she looks at him to say.
“Yeah? How so?” Lucas asks.
“Before you, I’d only been to New York,” she informs him. “Now I’ve been to Washington. I’m going to New Jersey. I’m really living it up,” she quips.
Lucas laughs too but more because of the joviality in her voice than at the joke.
Seizing the opportunity she gives him he says, “then come to Italy with me,” and gives her hand a gentle, nervous squeeze.
Alaine mulls over the invitation. Her lack of response causes Lucas to swing his gaze quickly away from the swiftly moving traffic ahead of them and to her before finding the stretch of road again. She still doesn’t say anything but at least, this time she doesn’t immediately shoot him down. That is enough to make him hopeful.
The truth is, since he mentioned it last night, she hasn’t given his invitation much thought. All that’s really been occupying her mind is the fact that Angus is in the wind; of what he will do if he finds her again. And what might he be will to do to Lucas? It's that thought which scares her the most and had kept her awake while Lucas slept, unawares to her distress, beside her.
Even now, she gnaws her bottom lip in worry but buries those fears deep down.
“Your playlist is just as surprising as you are,” she says when another pop song filters through the speakers.
“I hope that’s a good thing,” Lucas laughs. “I made it for you. What do you think?”
“It’s growing on me,” she answers.
“That’s good,” he replies.
The two hours they spend on the public road comes to an end at an imposing stone wall. Lucas pulls up in front of a wide metal gate, turns down his window and swipes a card over the electronic keypad before punching in the four-digit code. The doors take their sweet time to spread open allowing him to drive through onto a small dirt road flanked by a wooded area.
Alaine expects him to keep driving but he kills the engine, gets out of the car and closes the door behind him. Confused, she places her hand on the door handle ready to follow him but her eyes track his path around the hood until he comes to stand by her window.
He pops open her door and says, “hop over. You’re getting your first driving lesson.”
“What?” Alaine squeaks. “I can’t drive.”
“That’s why I said, first lesson," he reiterates. Then he commands, “now move over.”
“You’re serious?” she questions. “You’re going to let me drive this?” she asks about the luxury sports car. “I don’t know how to drive,” she adds to his silence and the persistence in his twinkling gray eyes.
She huffs but smiles because of the frisson of excitement doing a jig inside her. Still, she complains, “aren’t you afraid I drive us into a tree?” even as she crosses over the gearbox into the driver’s seat and wraps her palms around the steering wheel.
Taking the seat she just vacated, Lucas reminds her, “you rode a motorcycle.” Then he laughs loudly at the way her small frame is eaten up by the distance between her seat and the steering wheel.
Unamused at the obvious amusement he finds in poking fun at her diminutive stature, Alaine glares at him.
“I’m going to adjust your seat,” he says to her with a hint of merriment lingering in his tone. “Tell me what feels comfortable.”
Once he’s gotten that out of the way, he leans his elbow onto the armrest between the two seats and explains, “the first thing you need to know is that this is a stick shift.”
On Alaine’s fifth attempt to move the car, Lucas cringes again. The sound of the grinding gears travels all the way to his teeth. He clenches his jaws suppressing a pained groan at hearing his favorite car suffer this kind of abuse. What can he say? He’d invited it.
The car lurches before coming to a sudden shuddery, jolting halt when the engine cuts off again.
Alaine gives him an apologetic look that kills his annoyance.
"It's fine," Lucas lies so he doesn't make her feel bad as she starts up the engine for the sixth time.
“Remember, feel the engine, babe,” he encourages. “It will let you know when it’s time to change the gears.”
“I have no idea what that means,” she snaps in irritation. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she says with an embarrassed whimper.
She gives him a pout that makes her bottom lip quiver. It takes a lot for Lucas not to reach across to kiss it away and soothe her prickly consternation since it might only lead her to try again. Something he absolutely doesn’t want.
Grabbing the out she’s giving him to preserve the expensive ride, he concedes, “it’s fine. Maybe we’ll get you something cheaper and automatic to practice on,” he suggests and pushes open the passenger side door.
By the time he gets to the other side, Alaine has already crawled back in her seat, her pout still in place.
“Don’t be upset, love,” Lucas croons.
“I hate failure,” she gripes.
That makes Lucas laugh. “I’d hardly call your first attempt a failure,” he says as he starts the engine.
“That’s easy for you to say,” she mumbles. “You haven’t failed at anything.”
“So you’ve finally googled me, I see,” he says with a satisfied smirk.
When she rolls her eyes, he can’t resist pulling her in for a quick kiss. “You’ll get it,” he promises. “Just listen to this. You can hear and feel the rev changing,” he tells her as he shifts into gear and begins to maneuver his way up the empty road. “Once you get that, you won’t need to take your eyes off the road to look at the rev meter.”
“I don’t need to learn to drive in New York,” she reasons. “I hate to ask this, but are you sure you know where we’re going?” she asks as she peers out at the thick woodland around them.
“The house is a few miles up the property,” he explains. “There are motion sensors and cameras all over. They already know we’re here,” he adds. “Since I reached the property’s border, in fact.”
The dirt road ends at a second set of large gates beyond which lies a clearing of acres and acres of a healthy lawn. This time, a man dressed fully in tactical gear allows Lucas entry. They climb a small incline before a sprawling white mansion comes into view in the middle of the perfectly manicured yard.
“This is so beautiful,” Alaine gasps. “You grew up here?”
“Not in the true sense,” Lucas answers. “I lived with Claudia, remember?” he reminds her. “I visited during the holidays if she didn’t have a reason to keep me home," he explains. "And if she had shows that took up too much of her time, then I was allowed extended visits but...”
“It’s so lovely and serene,” Alaine gapes.
Rolling his eyes, Lucas answers, “wait until you get inside.”
He knows well that Alaine will most likely be accosted before they actually make it into the foyer. Although he’d informed Shanice about the attack, all he can do is hope she’s prepared herself and his father for injuries.
As if she read his mind, subconsciously, she lifts her fingers to touch her cheek and looks at him with wariness in her eyes. Lucas reaches for her hand and gives her fingers a reassuring squeeze.
Whatever her sister had done hadn’t gotten rid of the swelling but at least the wound is no longer a glaring shade of purple, blue and black.
“It’ll be fine baby,” he tells her. “I spoke to Shanice. They know to give us our space and if it gets to be too much, we can seclude ourselves in the guest house or my old bedroom or we can leave right now if you want.”
“I hate him,” she announces softly. “Angus. I hate him for what he did to me. He was my friend.”
Lucas wants to tell her that the man was never her friend -- that he is nothing more than a vile predator who took advantage of her. Afraid to upset her further, he keeps his opinion to himself. In the meantime, he will do whatever it takes to keep her mind off of him.
Despite the chill, he drops the top down on the car and revs the engine. Alaine squeaks at the sudden burst of speed that whips her hair behind her in the wind. Lucas drives up the long driveway and circles the roundabout in front of the house, the tires screeching and raising a cloud of smoke around them before coming to a lurching stop.
A little green, Alaine clutches her stomach and swallows down the urge to hurl.
“Are you okay?” Lucas asks his tone inflected with amusement rather than concern.
Nodding to the unapologetic inquiry, she answers, “I’m good.”
“Wait here, my lady,” he says as he pushes his door open.
It’s not surprising that she doesn’t listen. By the time he gets out, Alaine is already beating his exit and informing him, “I don’t need you to open doors for me, Lucas.”
Rounding the front of the car to meet her where she stands asks when he stops before her, “then what does my lady need?” When she looks up at him he repeats, “seriously, Ali. Whatever you need, it’s yours.”
Just as she is about to say that she already has everything, a squeal from the front of the house distracts them both. They whip around to see Lucas’ sister, inbound from the doorway, her reddish-brown curls bouncing around her, a grin plastered on her face and excitement flushing her skin.
Before Alaine can prepare herself, the sixteen-year-old barrels into her, jostling her and pastes her arms to a side with as she wraps her in a bear hug.
“I can’t believe Luc actually has a girlfriend,” Shernie squeals loudly. “And you’re spending the night.”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Lucas scolds while trying to pry his sister off Alaine.
She obeys his order taking a step back but keeps her eyes averted from the deformity on Alaine’s cheek.
“You’re strong,” Alaine responds to fill the awkwardness settling in the March morning air and feels a little silly after the words leave her mouth.
Seeming to have recovered to her bubbly personality, Shernie greets her brother with a fist bump then hooks her arm through Alaine’s.
“I play soccer,” she answers as she uses her hold to guide Alaine to the front door.
“Hey,” Lucas calls to her in a cautioning tone. “Behave,” he warns.
"You already told me," she reminds him in exasperation. Then she whispers to Alaine, "I've got to show you something."Lucas watches the two of them go while he grabs his little sac and all of Alaine’s shopping bags from the back seat. The sensible thing to do, he believes, is to stuff everything into the almost empty bag he carried with him. That’s why he toted it along in the first place. The stubborn little waif refused.
The opportunity to sneak a girl into his room... or is it the other way around? he contemplates before shaking away the internal query. Either way, it never presented itself when it should have. It seems long overdue and now that it has appeared, she best believe he is not likely to miss it.
The thought excites him, probably like it would a sixteen-year-old.
Fearful about his sister's antics he hurries to follow after the two of them straining to listen to whatever Shernie is prattling on about. Yes, he's warned her but still, Shernie is still Shernie and that alone is enough to give him chills.
Arlington and Shanice fill the doorway with their tall frames. A picture of perfect marital bliss, with their arms wrapped around the other's waist, they both try to contain their grins.
Lucas groans inwardly, as the thought, give them space, grows wings and flutters away. It's going to be one of those days, he just knows it.
Poor Alaine, he thinks.
Seeing them so lovey-dovey is always surprising. Arlington fifty and Shanice, most probably somewhere not too far behind, they just seem a little too old for this type of public displays of affection.
Yet, when his eyes shift to Alaine standing nervously in front of parents, he can't help but think...maybe that's how it's supposed to be.
“It’s really nice to see you again, Alaine,” Shanice says.
The sound of her voice draws Lucas' eye in time to see the way she reaches out to take Alaine's chin in her hand to examine the welt on her face.
Maybe it's the doctor or mother in her, but he's happy to see it.
“You poor dear,” he hears Shanice say.
“I’m fine really," Alaine offers but, in spite of her assurance, she finds herself enveloped into her tight embrace though this one is not born out of teenage exuberance.
With no control over it, tears pool in Alaine's eyes causing her to sniffle. The arms around her tighten and it's so comforting, her body automatically leans into it.
“You’ll be fine dear,” Shanice whispers for her ears alone. “Any woman who can subdue Lucas Bright is a steadfast woman.”
Though her tears are flowing freely now, that makes Alaine laugh a little. She glances at Lucas briefly out of the corner of her eye to see him shaking his father's hand.
As soon a Shanice releases her, Arlington takes her place. He pulls Alaine to his chest, his embrace firm but warm -- just what she imagines a father's hug should feel like, though she's never been privileged enough to share such an experience.
Surreptitiously, Alaine dries her tears in his shirt.
“Thank you for having me,” she whispers stepping back when his arms fall to his side.
“You are welcome at any time,” Arlington assures her. “It’s always good to see my son and if you can get him here outside a scheduled visit, then my doors are always open."
"Dad," Lucas starts to complain but one look at the wetness still streaming down Alaine's face distracts him. "Baby, what's wrong?" he asks as she steps up to her and captures a tear with his finger.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help it,” she starts to sobs. "I'm so sorry," she says to Lucas' family.
Instantly, he fits her against his chest and she buries her face there while her shoulders shake uncontrollably.
Lucas places a kiss atop her head and strokes his fingers over her hair without a care as to what his family will make about his actions.
“Give us a minute, guys,” he requests of the three figures in the doorway.
"Of course," Shanice tells him. "We've prepared something for you all to eat whenever you're ready," she informs them before herding her husband and daughter into the house.
“Why are you crying, Alaine?” Lucas asks when they're alone.
“I don't know," she answers truthfully. "I’m just a little overwhelmed I guess.”
“Do you want to go back?" he offers. "I’ll take you back.”
“No, no, not at all," she assures him. "They’re all so nice. I just...I’m fine, I promise. I’m happy you brought me.”
Skepticism draws his brows together. This is one of those confounding moments that he's yet to get a handle on and he doesn't feel equipped to deal with it. Needing some clarity he says, "baby, you're crying and I don't know what to do. Just tell me what to do."
Going up on her toes, Alaine hides her tear-stained face in the crook of his neck.
"I'm fine," she whispers her breath on his skin making him shiver. "I haven't had many hugs in my life," she admits. "And with everything that's happened -- is happening," she amends. "I'm a little emotional."
Still unsure of how to respond, Lucas leans back and tilts her head to look up at him. "I don't know what to do here, Ali," he confesses with a sense of uselessness settling like a weight on his chest. “I thought some time away from the city would help. I...”
Leaning up, Alaine cuts him off with a chaste kiss on the lips. "Thank you for bringing me," she tells him.
Still uncertain, he answers, “okay...Would you like another minute or are you ready to go in?”