I spent all day working on this chapter. Hopefully, from here it will be easier to post. This is mostly a filler chapter but after this, the plot thickens you guys. Don't forget, if you've come this far and haven't done so as yet, leave a like or comment to show your appreciation. Thanks for reading to all my favourite people.
Before sunrise, the alarm on Lucas' phone starts blaring right beside his ear. The harsh noise cutting through the predawn stillness yanks him out of deep sleep. He groans groggily and has to blink a few times to clear his vision.
Even if they need to be up for their long drive back to the city, he is intent on letting Alaine rest for a little while longer. Given the night’s activities, it’s hard to determine exactly how much sleep they’ve managed to get but it can’t be more than a couple of hours. As far as he is concerned, it was well worth the sacrifice.
He smiles the smile of the Cheshire cat and swipes the phone back to silence. Then peeks at Alaine.
For all her principles, she'd let go of all her inhibitions. The sound of the alarm hadn't succeeded in getting her to twitch a muscle. She is face down in the pillows with her mop of hair spilling out in just about every direction. The rest of her is practically draped over and beneath his body. They’re a web of limbs and he’s not sure how possible it is to unweave himself without disturbing her.
Their time together in his old bed had been spent alternating between making love and talking. Sometimes they did both simultaneously. The topics of conversation varied between serious and nonsensical themes; the latter often causing them to break into fits of laughter. It was a unique experience -- conversing while making love -- and in his mind, they’re now connected on some otherworldly level because of it.
Plus, his assessment was right. Alaine had been ready to expand the boundaries of their lovemaking. Taking into consideration her current fragile state, he hadn’t pushed her too far.
At first, she’d tensed for the briefest of moments when he maneuvered her onto her stomach. Once he leaned over her body to whisper into her ear, “do you trust me, baby?” she’d relaxed and turned to watch him over her shoulder.
He’d been prepared to back off if she insisted. But she gave him that demure look, bit her lip and nodded her head. What else was a man supposed to do?
She’d given in to him raising her hips off the bed and had clutched the sheets with a long moan as he watched himself get swallowed up by her warmth.
“Push back against me,” he’d instructed with his hands clamped to her hips.
Before long, she’d taken control.
Just thinking about it, of how good it felt has Lucas biting back a groan. He glances down at his body. If he doesn’t get out of bed now and out of his head, he won’t muster the will to leave it at all. But for the early morning meeting which he must attend, he would stay right here.
Although he really should wake Alaine, he disentangles himself from the network of her arms and legs as gently as possible. He searches the darkness for the clothes he discarded last night and dresses quietly before sneaking out of the room.
He’d planned on giving her the time it takes to fix and drink his coffee downstairs before rousing her but by the time he returns to her, she’s sitting up in bed with the lamp glowing from the bedside table.
“Good, you’re up,” Lucas states.
“I wish I weren’t,” she mumbles in reply. “How are you so...awake?”
“Well, I had a magnificent night,” he answers and flops down onto the bed beside her. "I feel like I can conquer the world."
Leaning in closer to her, he whispers, “I made love to the most beautiful girl in the world...repeatedly. It was a mind-bending experience,” he boasts before taking her lips in a provocative kiss.
Moaning softly as he releases her lips, he says, “We really should be getting ready. Seth will be here before too long.”
Reluctantly, Alaine shifts out of bed. She grabs the sheet along with her clutching the soft material to her chest while securing it around her body.
Lucas cocks an eyebrow up at her.
“Really?” he says.
The look in his eyes transforms to something potent. It knocks the air out of Alaine’s lungs and pins her feet to the floor. He walks around the bed to where she is standing and stops just short of running into her. Without another word, he reaches for the sheet to tear it out of her hands.
Shocked, Alaine gasps. Before she can vocalize her protest, Lucas' hands follow the contours of her waist and take her hips in a possessive grip.
“You have nothing to hide,” he declares. “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” he asks. “How perfect your body is? What you do to me when you’re like this? Don’t hide from me,” he requests softly.
Red as a beet under his intense scrutiny, Alaine croaks, “okay,” because it’s all her mind can come up with.
Quite unexpectedly, his mood shifts from extreme to playful. He smacks one side of her butt cheek causing her to yelp. Then he grasps her shoulders, spins her around and guides her towards the bathroom.
“I’m going to use the one downstairs,” he informs her. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
With that, he leaves her standing there.
Because learned that Lucas is a stickler for punctuality, Alaine wastes no time to spring into action. It takes her a few seconds to hunt down the hair tie she’d lost during their marathon of sex. Once she finds it, she piles her hair high atop her head while walking into the bathroom. Yes, it’s sweaty and in need of a wash but the clock is working against her.
Remembering the last time she stepped into the shower with Lucas and the unpleasant shock of being assaulted by ice-cold water, she stands outside of the glass stall to turn on the rain shower head. When the water starts to flow, she sticks her hand out to test the temperature and isn’t surprised to find it freezing. After adjusting it to lukewarm, she closes her eyes and steps beneath the spray.
Little images from last night flash behind her eyelids. She gets lost in the memory of how he’d loved her with his touch and his kisses -- with his soft words -- while he was deep inside her. She hadn’t understood most of his utterings but spoken against her skin they’d sent shivers all through her body. Someday, she’ll have to ask him to translate. Right now, she’ll just accept them for what they were -- incredibly sexy.
At the end of her bath, she grabs the towel to wrap around her dripping body and walks to stand in front of the foggy mirror. She swipes a hand over the glass to see her reflection. Immediately, she does a double-take. Those marks that Lucas left on her neck are incredibly bright and are going to be impossible to camouflage. Not with her very limited skills in applying make-up.
She yanks the hair tie out of her hair in desperation and tries to get the strands to cover the hickeys.
"No, no, no," Alaine groans at her reflection.
Why would he do this here and now?
Exiting the bathroom in a hurry, she heads to her haul of clothing he'd paid for in search of an outfit that might be helpful. There is absolutely nothing.
Grunting in frustration, she grabs a dress with a high boat neckline and slips it over her head. She rifles through her handbag for the miniature make-up kit Delah had given her with instructions on how to apply the stuff to cover her bruised eye. It will take a miracle for her to do it successfully and she isn't sure if the same can be done to her love bite.
For a long while, she just stands in front of the mirror in the bathroom staring at herself. Eventually, she works up enough determination to rub a bit of gunk over her face.
Then the urgent knocking on the door begins.
“Baby, we need to go," Lucas calls.
"Just a second," she answers as she studies the spot on her neck while wondering if she should follow the same pattern she used on her face.
"Ali," Lucas calls again.
This time she ignores him, the impatience in his voice and the persistent knocking. She fiddles with her hair and berates herself for not heeding her own warning about not having sex with him in his parents’ home. If she had, then she wouldn’t be faced with this extremely awkward situation this morning.
Maybe if she wasn’t a total invalid when it comes to grooming her hair and applying make-up it wouldn't matter.
But she is dammit!
It's not her area of expertise...at all.
The knocking stops and her annoyance mounts when the door opens without an invitation from her to enter and Lucas peeps inside.
“Seth is already at the gate,” he announces with a pointed glance at his wristwatch. “Ali, I told you, I have an 8 o’ clock meeting for which I would like to be present and on time. I absolutely abhor being late for meetings, especially the ones that I’ve arranged. Why are you still in here?”
At the end of his speech, she turns ninety degrees from her reflection in the mirror to address him.
“I am trying to cover this,” she says, pointing to the deep red mark on her neck.
He walks into the bathroom, wearing a little pleased smirk and sweeps her hair off her shoulders. After a brief and thoughtful assessment of his handiwork, he kisses her forehead before taking her by the hand to lead her out of the bathroom.
There’s no apology, no attempt to show some form of contrition so Alaine plants her feet when they get to the door.
“Lucas,” she cries.
He turns around to look at her and crosses his arms over his chest.
"You weren’t complaining last night,” he accuses and Alaine huffs.
“I can’t go traipsing through your parents’ home or the streets with a hickey on my neck,” she hisses. “And God alone knows what comments Seth is going to make about it this time.”
“First of all,” Lucas says with his finger pointing at her neck. “This doesn’t bother me one bit and it seems to me, you should be more concerned with what pleases me rather than what others think. Secondly,” he adds, cutting off her interjection. “I would much prefer if you use the term love bite.”
Alaine seethes at his attempt at making light of the situation.
“...And thirdly,” he adds. “What do you mean about Seth making a comment about it this time? What has he said in the past?”
“You’ve completely missed the point,” she argues. “I don’t mind the marks, Lucas,” she explains. “I like them.”
Perplexed, he asks, “then what is the problem?”
“I don’t need any more attention thrown my way right now,” she explains. ”We don’t need any more attention,” she reiterates. “Maybe next time, somewhere no one sees, okay?”
For a loaded second, Lucas doesn’t say a word but it’s clear that he understands. His eyes speak the volume of his remorse and guilt. More of the sorrow he feels shows in the little smile he tries to give her.
“I will do my utmost to accommodate that request,” he promises. “May I?” he asks.
He rearranges her hair over her left shoulder, sweeping the heavy waves over to one side. “There,” he says. “Covered. You should put on the jacket. The one with the stand collar. That should help to keep it hidden. We should hurry.”
“Thank you,” Alaine mumbles as he clears his throat and turns away from her."Are those for me?" she asks.
"Shanice made them," he answers with a nod.
She picks up one of the freshly baked cinnamon rolls and sinks her teeth into the fluffy warmth.
“This is amazing,” she says to herself.
“No,” Lucas tells her before snatching the delicacy away.
She objects and tries to grab it from him. Then glares and finds herself laughed at when he raises his hand above his head.
“Finish getting ready,” he scolds. “You can eat in the car.”
New York has no landscape. No rolling mountain ranges or peaks, no valleys nor winding rivers. Nothing remotely reminiscent of home. It’s never been a bother before.
The stark difference is one of the reasons Alaine loves it here. Maybe now it’s loved. Her appreciation for the majestic city seems to have weakened into the past tense.
Most of it is gray and brown and lifeless. At night, the lights and things constantly in motion are exhilarating, particularly when you’re new to the city. In the early light of day, however, it's nothing if not dull and just a stain on her memory.
The roads are clear which is surprising. She wasn't aware that there was any hour of the day when New York actually slowed down.
Other than her interview with Lucas, she’s never had reason to venture into Manhattan before eight in the morning. Whenever she did come to this part of the city, it was usually late morning and in turn, the streets would be congested with motorists and pedestrians alike. At the moment all is quiet. Almost eerily so.
A sigh slips from her forming a condensation cloud on the window. The fact that she is contemplating leaving New York for Idaho is at the very least confusing. At worst, she is more affected by recent events than she would like to believe.
What about her sister? What about Lucas? Is she willing to leave him behind?
Alaine turns to him then. He is engrossed in another phone call for the morning. Apparently, during the two-day hiatus he'd taken from being a major contributor to this capitalist society, the world is now on the brink of spinning off its axis and he is now scrambling to do damage control.
The scenery, or lack thereof, has been commanding her attention for the better part of their ride back home, so she’s not sure what number this call is but she is well aware that whatever problem he is facing, she is the cause of it. He'd abandoned his duties as captain of his company for almost two days for her.
At 7:59, the gates of the city seem to open somewhere, releasing a flood of traffic, human and vehicular from every nook and cranny, on to the streets. That piques her interest. One second ago, they'd been driving through a ghost town and now they're held up in this Monday morning mayhem.
It's like a reality check. They're really back. She's back in New York and the dread she'd managed to suppress for a little while yesterday overruns her.
Lucas will go to the office and she will be left on her own. Something tells her, if she requests it, he will find a way to stay with her but she refrains. So far, she's managed to interrupt his life enough.
Taking a deep breath, she tells herself that everything will be fine.
With her fingers tapping anxiously on the door, Alaine makes a list of possibilities to occupy her time.
She can visit Mona. Sit with Delah. Volunteer to pick Isabella up from school. Return to the job hunt.
None of these ideas features a plan to keep her hidden away from Angus.
When Lucas taps on her shoulder, she turns to face him but fails to keep the worry out of her eyes.
His little crooked smile and tender look, his gentle squeeze on her knee, makes her heart trip over itself.
She can’t leave him to go back to Idaho.
She’s not willing to walk away if things can work between them -- If he wants more than what they currently have.
Besides, what is there to go back to anyway?
“Are you okay?” Lucas asks after.
When she nods her reply, he takes her hand in his.
“I’m going directly to the office," he tells her. "Would you like to join me? I'd like you to," he amends.
Somewhere at the back of her mind, she must have been hoping that he would make the offer because her heart soars and she breaks into a smile. However, she's not sure if she should go with him. Weighing her options -- spending the day alone or spending it with Lucas -- she chews that famous bottom lip.
He reaches forward to tug it out of her mouth.
"Well?" he asks.
Alaine's eyebrows knit together in contemplation. If she says yes, her big worry of being alone will be laid to rest. On the other hand, joining her boyfriend at work just seems so weird; like she'll be an item at a show and tell.
And...boyfriend? she thinks. She glances at him again and knows that this is her silent prayer.
“I don’t know babe,” she finally answers. “Don’t you think it will be weird to take your...umm...me to work with you? What will your employees think?”
Lucas smiles and chuckles silently at her slip up.
“I don’t care what they think," he reminds her. "You and I are none of their concern. And I’m not going to be announcing from the rafters that I’ve brought my...you to work,” he counters.
“Is this a ploy to get me to work for you?" she asks ignoring his deliberate error while fighting off her own grin. "If it is, my answer is still no," she adds.
“If it has the potential to accomplish that, then, definitely," Lucas responds. "But that's not my intention today. I guess I want you close while I work on a few security changes. I am having some upgrades done at the apartment. It shouldn’t take long but...just say yes, Alaine." he says as Seth pulls into the underground garage at his building.
One month ago, they met here for the first time. Lucas recalls it vividly like it's happening now -- her, standing in his doorway, wet, shivering and even more alluring than the first time he’d encountered her and he gawking at her.
Now here she is again. Here they are. So much has changed since then.
But, not all things.
Natasha is just as displeased to see Alaine when the two of them walk off the elevator on his office floor. It's like Deja Vu. She's even less thrilled to see Lucas holding Alaine's hand in his. Her greeting is curter that she would have liked for it to be but she couldn't contain all the bitter jealousy inflaming her.
Lucas responds to she short, "sir," with a dip of his head in her direction but holds his sigh inside. By the end of this meeting with Louise, she may be even more disgruntled.
Better can't be done.
“So you really want me to sit in your office all day?” Alaine asks distracting him. “And look at you?”
“Trust me, that is a very tempting idea," Lucas replies as he unlocks his door.
Guiding her inside he says, "there are other possibilities that are even more tempting. But I was thinking more along the lines of you visiting with the IT Department. Like a one day internship of sorts."
She watches him in mock seriousness and says, "I'm weighing my options."
He laughs again.
"Don't joke about that," he warns. "I’ll ring and let them know to expect you.”
A short while later, Lucas informs her that Kenneth, his tech lead, is waiting for her on Ground Level One. She won’t admit it out loud, but it’s pretty exciting to get to experience what goes on here. This is her dream world for employment; everything she’s ever wanted and more and he’s just handing it to her.
Alaine walks around the desk, goes up on tiptoe to reward him with a light and undemanding kiss. That’s all she has to give right now and there is likely nothing in the world that can ever repay his efforts or generosity.
“Thank you, for everything, Lucas," she tells him.
Smoothing his thumb over her cheek, he responds, "it's nothing, Ali." Then he adds, "if you want to leave at any time, let me know. I’ll do my best to be available but if I can’t be, please take Seth with you.”
"I will," she promises as they walk to the door.
Louise, the chief of personnel, appears at the doorway with Natasha in tow. Lucas acknowledges the two women briefly while Alaine tries to avoid direct eye contact.
Unmindful of both of them looking back at him, he ducks his head to sweep a soft kiss over Alaine's lips when they step into the hall.
"I think your assistant hates me," she whispers to him. "She might hate you a little bit too."
"If that is truly the case, then she is about to hate us both a lot more," he mumbles.
He swipes his keycard over the electronic keypad to open the elevator and steps aside to allow her to go in.
"I'll see you later," he tells her and waits for the doors to close.
Back in his office, Lucas sits at his desk, his eyes shifting between Louise and his assistant. For a final time, he wonders if this measure with Natasha is too drastic. Yet, somehow he knows it’s not. Her interest in him, since Alaine, has become bolder and more glaring, including her work attire.
The deep V in her snug shirt beneath an equally snug, beige jacket eliminates whatever misgivings he has about transferring her.
“Louise, Ms. Ingram,” he begins with a glance at his watch. “We’ll keep this brief since I'm sure we all have a busy day ahead of us. Natasha, you are being transferred effective immediately.”
Her brown eyes widen in surprise. “Excuse me? I don’t understand.”
“Mr. Bright,” Louise interjects. “Has informed me that you are very exceptional at your job as his assistant, but your conduct borders impropriety. We do not tolerate even the smallest gestures toward sexual harassment here and...”
“Sexual harassment?” Natasha blurts out indignantly.
“Have you invited Mr. Bright to dinner?” Louise asks unfazed.
“Yes but I...”
“The young woman who left earlier,” Louise continues. “Have you been physical with her? And be careful how you respond to that," she warns.
After a moment gawking, Natasha recovers and says, “I may have taken her by the elbow to lead her to the..."
“Have you ever initiated any physical contact with Mr. Bright?" Louise interrupts. "And again, be careful how you answer that,” she cautions firmly at the beginning of Natasha’s rebuttal. “There are cameras all over this office building, Ms. Ingram," she reminds Natasha. "I don’t want to have to fire you. Mr. Bright, against my better judgment, wants you transferred. You may be good at your job but I will not allow you to drag this company nor Mr. Bright’s good name through the mud when you don’t get what you want. Not to mention, your attire, breaks the company's dress code. This time, and this time only you receive a verbal warning so as not to tarnish your record and a transfer. I suggest you take it."
Both women turn to Lucas then, one wearing smug satisfaction and the other a myriad of shifting emotions in teary brown eyes.
“Ms. Ingram, is there anything you would like to say?” Lucas asks.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she mutters softly.
“If there is nothing else,” Louise says already standing. “I will take you to your new post in personnel," she tells Natasha. "Your temp is just signing her contract now and we'll get her acquainted with your routine," she tells Lucas.
“Thank you, Louise," he responds.
Throughout the day, he makes every effort to concentrate on and fulfill the demands of his schedule. The events of the past two weeks caused him to fall behind in many things. Come Wednesday, he will be out of New York again and Friday, out of state. It doesn't leave a big enough window to compensate for the time he's already lost. If he has to accomplish anything meaningful, he'll need to pack as much work into the next seventy-two hours as possible.
Yet, his mind constantly wanders to ground level one and the girl waiting for him there. She is the only person who has the power to inhibit his concentration. Unlike when they first met, it no longer bothers him when thoughts of her drift into his mind. As a matter of fact, he smiles whenever he thinks of her.
Just before lunch, Seth joins him in his office and hands him Alaine’s new phone.
“I put the tracker on it like you asked," he informs Lucas. "It is up and running. And I strongly suggest that you tell her about it.”
“Duly noted,” Lucas answers and rises from his chair. “Is there anything else?”
“The security system has been updated. We’re picking up the keys in a few. The security guards and doormen have been apprised of changes in protocol. They also know any sighting of Angus should be reported to me and the police. I’m working on that other thing," Seth explains.
“Good,” Lucas responds as he follows his driver out of his office and to the elevator. “Let’s get our girl.”