Surprise! I spent most of last night working on this and all of this morning. It's not nearly enough time to get it fully polished but I don't want to keep you all eager readers waiting. Happy reading and If you like it, please say so in the comments. Thanks guys!
"Please tell me that you have something," Lucas tells Seth.
The two of them enter the front door of his family's guest house and Lucas closes the door behind him.
"You might want to sit down for this," Seth suggests in reply.
With his brows furrowed, Lucas obeys planting himself on the sofa in the living room. Growing impatient with his driver's cryptic behavior, he stretches out his palm -- a silent demand that Seth obeys with a sigh.
He places the small but stuffed bag reluctantly in Lucas' open hand before crossing his arms over his chest to wait.
The only sound in the room is the grating zipper as Lucas drags it open. For some reason, his heart is pounding in his chest as he pulls out the first envelope his fingers touch. He flips the tab open to a wad of photographs unceremoniously onto the coffee table in front of him.
The majority of them fall face down but it only takes one brief glance for him to understand exactly what is going on. Horrified by the scenes before him, he pulls out three more similar sized envelopes packed with portraits, treats them the exact same way and as they spill out in front him, his gut cinches tight.
Lucas goes through them slowly with waves of nausea curling his stomach pushing bile up to the back of his throat. His blood turns to ice in his veins as the documents in front of him shed light on the gravity of Alaine’s situation with Angus.
Had he known the depth of the man’s depravity, he never would have left her to go to Italy. Although Alaine tried to absolve his conscience, it’s only now he truly recognizes how lucky she is that he’d called her when he did.
The guilt he feels is still strangling like a noose around his neck, however, because he had in fact known that she was in some kind of trouble. He’d known there was something wrong with Angus Maloney, almost from the getgo and he’d brushed it off.
But he never expected this.
Still unsure of what to say about the bulk of files in front of him, he looks up at Seth with dread in his eyes.
“There were more,” Seth tells him.
Visibly Lucas shudders, cringes and a wince pinches his features together all at the same time.
“Where are they?” he croaks when he’s finally able to speak through the bitterness in his throat. “Don’t tell me you left them for him.”
“I didn’t think it wise to walk away with all the evidence,” Seth explains. “I just took the more...graphic ones,” he says.
“Is this all you found?” Lucas questions. “What about his personal records?” he asks as he keeps sifting through the documents.
“Angus Maloney is from an Irish small crime family in Queens,” Seth reports.
“Small?” Lucas interrupts. Then he says, “maybe it wasn’t a good idea for you to show up here with these,” as his mind travels to Alaine’s reaction should come across them -- which, quite frankly, if he has anything to say about it, will never happen. The only thing keeping him from lighting a fire and burning them all is his knowledge that Seth is right. Destroying evidence is a poor idea
“You said to find you when I had anything,” Seth answers.
“She can’t know about this, ever,” Lucas orders and waits for confirmation from his sleuth that he understands.
“I think that’s a really terrible idea,” Seth posits.
“What good will it do?” Lucas reasons. “Have you seen her? Have you seen how jumpy and terrified she is? They’ll only scare her more.”
Though he senses his driver’s reluctance, Lucas nods in acknowledgment when Seth responds, “you’re the boss.”
Satisfied with that answer, he asks, “can you qualify the term small crime?”
“Burglary, theft, Drug possession, assault charges, a few copyright infringement warnings that never amounted to anything. There’s a record for grand theft auto though but like many other charges, those were thrown out of court,” Seth announces and proceeds down a long list of infractions.
“The lot of them seem to be bad news but nothing that ever climbed up to major crimes level or so it appears. A weapon was never recovered for the assault charges. Burglary and theft again, those weapons disappeared. Most likely they’re flying under the radar for some heavier shit but we’ll keep digging. If it’s there we’ll find it,” he promises.
“What about Angus?” Lucas queries. “Is he involved in any this? If he isn’t, it’s not our problem. I don’t want any entanglement with a crime syndicate if I don’t have to be,” he warns.
“Got it,” Seth answers. “Angus is as clean as a whistle though,” he says.“We spoke to his mother. She lives in Queens but also has a home in Staten Island. That’s where we found these,” he informs Lucas pointing to the stacks of papers on the coffee table. “They were in her basement. The poor woman almost keeled over when she saw them. He has no police record, no license and has been an upstanding, tax-paying citizen until...” he continues but lets his statement fade.
“Until me,” Lucas finishes for him. “This is my fault,” he whispers.
“No it’s not,” Seth tells him firmly. “And maybe thank God you came along when you did because these?” he says as he picks up one of the more decent photographs of Alaine wearing nothing but her underwear inside her apartment. “He was going to snap sooner or later,” he states. “There are videos as well. From the little I saw, he has hours and hours of footage of her, of you of the two of you together. Of him in her apartment doing stuff that you don’t even want to...” he reveals with a shudder.
Reaching into his back pocket, he pulls out a little black box and places it on the coffee table in front of Lucas. “And this, I pulled from underneath the SUV.”
Lucas frowns up at him and shakes his head.
“What?” he demands incredulously. “How did that happen?”
“Once I realized that he’d been tailing us, I checked and found it pinned under the car,” Seth explains. “I checked all of the other vehicles. They’re clean which means he hasn’t breached the garage at the apartment. But he had access to the SUV at some point. We tried to pull data off that tracking device to determine when and where exactly he slipped it in but so far, it’s useless. I thought you might have more luck with it.”
“Jesus Christ,” Lucas mutters as he picks up the tracking device. “And if you had to guess?” he requests.
“The office garage is our working theory,” Seth answers confirming Lucas’ suspicion. “We’re checking footage frame by frame to try to identify him in the parking lot. That will take some time.”
“What else?” Lucas demands.
“The mother claims she hasn’t seen or heard from him since Thursday evening. I’m not sure I believe her. She’s seen these photographs and she refuses to believe that he did what he did,” Seth says. “I have two guys sitting on both houses in case he shows up but I doubt he will. He’s smart. The only other place she thinks he might be is with his father and Owen Maloney is no walk in the park. Right now, he’s either under the surveillance or the protection of the FBI. They’re not letting us anywhere near him.”
Mirthless laughter gurgles in Lucas’ throat. “FBI?” he states incredulously. “This just keeps getting better, doesn’t it? Do go on,” he presses Seth with sarcasm dripping from each word. “What do the police have?”
“Unfortunately, not much more than we do,” Seth answers. “The guy's mostly off the grid. I'm just glad we got to his mother before they did. According to her, there’s nowhere that he frequents. He’s a couch potato. The problem is, Mr. Bright, the boy’s supposedly a genius. He has an IQ that’s all the way up there and had a full ride to MIT.”
“It’s not higher than mine,” Lucas mumbles darkly. “If he is that smart why was he a delivery man?” he queries even if he already knows the answer to that question.
“A way to get to Alaine,” Seth confirms. “Apparently he came home one spring break two years ago and that was it. He never went back. I’m guessing that was the beginning of his obsession. That’s how long he’s been dogging her.”
Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, Lucas leans his head back against the couch.
“He’s not going to stop, is he?” he whispers to no one in particular.
Seth shakes his head in reply. “Not likely,” he answers.
“I’m way out of my depth here, Seth,” Lucas admits as he breathes out a slow breath. “I have no idea what to do.”
“I’m not,” his driver assures him. “It’s why you have me. You have the means and I have the skills. We’ll keep her safe.”
As much as he wants it to, Seth’s confidence does little to ease his qualms. There are so many variables here some of which they probably haven’t even considered as yet. A full scholarship to MIT means that beyond being smart, Angus must be skilled. Possibly skilled enough to break into a security system or that phone that’s still missing.
“And her phone?” Lucas asks when the thought pops into his head.
“I already contacted the provider. We still haven’t found it so he had to have grabbed it before he fled her apartment,” Seth answers.
Just as Lucas opens his mouth to speak again, a soft knock sounds on the front door distracting them both. He watches the doorknob rotate and feels a spike in his adrenaline when he hears Alaine’s soft voice.
“Lucas?” she calls and both men look down at the evidence lying haphazardly between them.
Alaine pokes her head inside beyond the doorframe and looks from one man to the other. The sense that something is drastically wrong intensifies as they both try to retain an illusion of calm.
Shernie’s scrapbook still clutched to her chest, she steps inside but hovers by the door.
“We need to talk,” she says to Lucas.
“That’s never good,” Seth mutters in warning to his boss while casually gathering the scattered documents back into the bag.
Despite his outward calm, Alaine notices the movement and steps fully into the living room.
“Hey,” Lucas greets her.
He gets up from his seat and moves away from the spread on the coffee table to stand in front of her. “What about? I thought Shernie had you sequestered,” he says guiltily.
Going up on the tips of her toes, Alaine tries peeking around him to see exactly what it is Seth is trying to hide. Lucas’ frame keeps her vision obstructed to she asks blatantly, “why are you here, Seth?”
Turning her attention back to Lucas before Seth gives her answer, she demands, “why is Seth here? Did something happen?”
To calm her rising panic, Lucas places both his hands on her shoulders to keep her focus on him. “Nothing’s happened,” he lies. “What did you want to talk about?”
Ignoring his question she demands, “then let me through.”
Lucas sighs. There is no logical explanation he can give her if he tells her no. All he can manage to say is, “that’s not a good idea, Ali,” yet, he offers no resistance when she shoves past him.
Lucas turns to see her hovering over the coffee table. He and Seth exchange looks and they both hold their breaths waiting for a reaction from Alaine.
She doesn’t blink. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t say anything. She just stands there looking at the photographs completely expressionlessness.
The hairs at the back of Lucas’ neck rise together with his worry as he takes a tentative step towards her.
“Ali?” he calls softly. “Babe?” he says again when she doesn’t respond.
Finally, she moves her hand to finger the portraits like something toxic and becomes paler with each one she sees.
There are so many of them and the deeper she digs the more intimate they become. There are so many of her in the bathroom while showering and other things. So many naked pictures and so many with Lucas’ face torn to shreds or covered over with red paint.
When she makes her way to the stills of that night Lucas had cajoled her into phone sex with him, Alaine gasps loudly and Lucas closes his eyes against the horror on her face.
This is the reaction he was afraid of -- why he didn’t want her to know.
He watches helplessly as she begins to gather up the condemning portraits with trembling hands.
“Where did you get these?” she demands from both of them. “Who else has seen them?”
Gathering his composure, Lucas steps forward to intervene as the papers spill from her unsteady fingers. Her eyes filled with tears, fear and confusion, embarrassment and a mixture of other emotions shift from the coffee table to him.
“Where did you get these?” she asks again even though she already knows the answer.
“From his house,” Seth confirms for Lucas, who struggles to find his speech. “I took the more revealing ones before the police got them. His camera too and I wiped his hard drive. I didn’t allow anyone else to see or collect them,” he assures her. “But I’m not sure if he has any more copies, Ali,” he tells her honestly.
Feeling her airways becoming constricted, Alaine’s chest begins to rise and fall rapidly. When she stumbles backward, both men reach out to steady but it’s Lucas arms that find her first.
For a short while, she leans into his strength and he allows her until she remembers just why she came to look for him in the first place.
“How long has he been doing this?” she asks as she straightens herself on her weakened knees.
“A while,” Seth answers again. “At least two years. He has pictures of you from college. He followed you around but seems to have escalated after the two of you met,” he explains.
“You were going to keep this from me?” she accuses almost inaudibly and wrenches herself out of Lucas’ grasp. “Why would you want to keep this from me? That’s why you’re having this secret meeting with Seth, isn’t it?”
She turns to the man mentioned for confirmation but finds no help there as, with his palms raised in front of him, Seth steps back and shakes his head.
He has no intention of being caught in the crossfire of a lovers spat between his boss and his cousin. Especially not now that he’s made some headway in both relationships. Getting involved is a no-win situation for him and he knows that well.
“We’re just trying to look out for you,” is all he is willing to offer her.
“Did you know about these?” she asks shoving the scrapbook at Lucas.
“I asked her not to show you this,” he snaps in frustration and from Seth’s grimace he can tell that such an admission is likely another faux pas.
“So just another thing you were going to lie about,” Alaine accuses.
“Seth, can you...” Lucas begins to say.
Happy to oblige, Seth cuts him off and responds, “say no more.”
After a quick consolatory hand on Alaine’s shoulder and a pitying look in Lucas’ direction, he makes a beeline for the exit.
“Do you want me to wait?” he asks Lucas from the doorway. When he receives his answer he darts outside.
“Calm down, Ali,” Lucas says when they’re alone.
“Calm?” she spits. “How can you expect me to be calm? How long have you known about these, Lucas?” she interrogates.
Grabbing the scrapbook from her hand, he dumps it onto the heap of garbage already lying on the table.
“I only found out about the ones Angus took when Seth got here and these?” he says pointing to Shernie’s scrapbook. “I’ve known about for a bit,” he admits. “Initially, I thought it was just a photographer trying to make a quick buck. I thought it would all blow over. Whoever it is wasn’t digging into either of us so I thought it was harmless. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it.”
“You didn’t want to make a big deal about someone stalking me - us - you?” She reacts, her voice hard and bordering hysteria. “All of these are credited to one man. They could be...”
“I know,” Lucas hisses at her. “Don’t you think I know that?” he snaps the guilt and fear gnawing away at him making his words harsh. “I also know,” Lucas continues. “That if Angus isn’t the one taking Shernie’s prized pictures then they’re part of what set him off. I asked her not to show it to you. Especially not now. I told her.”
“But why?” Alaine asks. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why would you keep it from me?”
He looks at her remorsefully and takes her hands in his.
“Because of that stupid clause in our arrangement,” he answers. “Honestly Alaine, one of the things I have come to love about you is that you’re just as private as I am. I couldn’t believe you never noticed how popular you became by being with me. And I thought once you found out, you would renege on our arrangement. I was afraid that you would. So I decided...”
“You decided,” she scoffs.
It hurts when she yanks her hands out of his. Lucas feels it with every fiber of his being just like he has every other time she’s done something like this. He takes a step toward her in a silent plea that she steps back from causing his heart to splinter.
“I’m sorry, Ali,” he tells her. “If I’d known how dangerous this was for you...” he starts to say but changes his mind. “I wasn’t aware of how serious this whole situation was or could turn,” he amends. “I knew something was wrong, hence the reason I told you to stay away from him. Hence the reason I asked Seth to stay behind with you when I left. But had I known, baby, I swear I never would have left you. And me not telling you about those pictures? I thought they would scare you away. I am sorry,” he pleads. “Please, baby,” he begs again.
Though her emotions swing wildly, the earnestness of Lucas’ admission and his supplication are enough to pierce through and reach inside to that part of her that loves him. His own anguish wraps like a fist around her heart and squeezes tightly.
Everything else he’s done for her comes to the fore of her mind and takes precedence over his one lie of omission. To blame him for any of it is wrong. She can’t fault him for something Angus did. Her fear and anger are not because of Lucas. With that thought, she takes a small step toward him.
Besides, she really doesn’t want to fight him. Especially not here at his parents’ home. What good would it do anyway? If anything she wants to run into his arms to hear him assure her that it will all be okay. Accordingly, she closes the gap that she created between them quickly making Lucas' eyes light up with hope.
“You should have told me about these, Lucas,” she scolds though the touch of her hands on his chest is gentle.
"I'm sorry," he repeats.
“What if these pictures of me go public?" she asks. "What happens if they go public? You’ll be ruined," she tells him. "We could take a break,” she suggests. “Until this is over we should. Obviously you’re a target for Angus now and he can hurt you with this or...or...worse.”
“No,” Lucas tells her with a vehement shake of his head. “That’s not happening. Just calm down, okay?” he instructs. “We’re not making any rash decisions here. I’m aware it could go public,” he informs her. “But being ruined is the least of my concerns and should it happen, I have a protocol in place to deal with it. My primary concern is you, Alaine,” he declares.
“But...” she starts to complain.
“No,” Lucas interjects again. “I’m not letting you go,” he states. “I will take you half a world away from this if that’s what it takes to keep you safe and keep us together. If you want, we can go back to New York right now. But you’re not leaving me, Alaine. Not over this.”
Somehow his passionate declaration soothes her restless emotions and she nods as she lays her head against his chest.
When she suggested they take a break, her heart had split in two. She honestly tried to stick to her guns for a full ten seconds but now she quietly gives Lucas her submission.
“I’m so scared,” she whimpers putting an end to the silence that allowed his promises to sink in and restore a part of her that crumbled at the thought of walking away from him. “I’m so afraid for you,” she tells him.
Lucas gathers her in a comforting embrace and sighs with relief that she's no longer fighting with him.
“I’m scared, Lucas,” she repeats against his chest. “How could I have not known? I’ve tried to be so careful. How could I not know he was in my apartment, taking pictures of me, following me?” she whimpers.
“I know your scared, baby,” he says leaning back to look into her eyes. “but I won’t let him hurt you again. I will do everything to keep you safe. Do you hear me?” he presses.
Sniffling, she nods up at him and returns her cheek to the place over his heart and the way he tightens his arms around her, she truly feels that way -- safe -- and can believe that they'll be alright.
“We’ll go back to the apartment,” he offers. “Just let me talk to Shanice and my dad first.”
“No,” she objects. “No, you’re not. I’m here with you,” she assures him.
"Are you certain?" he asks.
Taking a seat against the arm of the couch, he pulls Alaine to stand between his legs and plants both hands on her hips to keep her there. He looks up into her eyes and asks, "you're not mad anymore?"
“I’m not, not mad," she responds. "But being mad isn’t going to solve anything. Not talking to you isn’t going to solve anything and if I go back to New York it’s to your apartment anyway," she jokes while ruffling his thick hair.
Lucas chuckles and she joins him. When her lips touch his it’s unexpected causing his breath to catch. Instantly, he pulls her closer, holds her tighter and kisses her that much sweeter with the memory that she is considering walking away from him at the back of his mind.
Their make up after their brief disagreement becomes fervent as questing hands and lips turn busy. Lucas kisses his way down her jaw and neck and nips his way down to swell of her breasts beneath her knitted sweater dress. The need to remind her of how good they are to together drive him to slip his hand under the knee-length hem and she spreads her legs for him as far as the prison between his thighs will allow her.
When he gets like this, desperate for her, he doesn't know how to stop. Each second that passes, he tells himself one more kiss, one more touch, but one turns infinite.
"Baby," he growls as the pressure of restraint becomes tenuous. "Seth is waiting," he reminds her.
She mumbles some type of protest while pressing herself closer to him.
"We can't," he breathes while kissing his way back up to her lips. "Not right now. Let me deal with this first, okay?" he requests. Then he growls against her mouth, "you're a temptress."
Curling his fingers around her biceps, Lucas deliberately pushes her an arm's length away. Alaine gives him a sultry smile but accepts the wide berth he puts between them.
"This is not over," he vows. "I need a minute," he says looking down at himself."
When he's once again comfortable with his appearance, he leads her to the front door and opens it so they can step outside together.
"No more trouble in paradise, I see," Seth chuckles with a knowing look.
Shaking his head, Lucas decides to forgo his response. This is something he has to get used to since the consensus is that Seth remains in his employ.
“I am going to walk my lady back to the house,” he says instead. “Wait for me.”