It's Not A Date
What is going on! Lucas asks himself. Looking at his reflection, he tries to decode this unusual reaction to Alaine Knight. Each encounter they share seems to unravel him further, and even with a door between them his heart still refuses to find calm.
The sexual attraction is unmistakable but never has his response to a woman been so immediate and confusing. Not since his teens. Honestly, he has no idea what to do with it, which is why he needs these few private moments in his bathroom to get it under control.
It’s her eyes. It must be. They are enthralling. It’s the natural heavy-lidded dreaminess like she is turned on, for him. Bedroom eyes. That’s what he would call them. How do they look in the throes of passion? He finds himself wondering. Meanwhile the part of him that runs from romance issues a stern warning. Don’t go there, Bright.
He takes his time adjusting his clothing. He’d stewed for twelve hours today waiting for her. She can wait two minutes. All he requires is a moment to fortify his constitution.
It’s entirely vexing that she doesn’t seem at all affected by him the way he is by her. She’s still given no indication that she remembers him. The idea that she doesn’t upsets him even further and he is stuck in this quandary, wondering whether or not she does. Maybe it is possible to shock the answer out of her. Picking up his phone he calls ahead, securing reservations at his favourite Manhattan restaurant, before leaving the bathroom.
Alaine turns around, stunned by his stealthy reentry into the office and his arresting features. Her heart muscles clench then leap, first at the sound of his voice and then again when she sees him.
“Certainly,” she responds calmly.
Then he guides her out of the office with that heated palm conforming to the shape of her back. While Lucas relishes the contact, Alaine’s determination to keep her response to this man a well-guarded secret staggers just a bit.
Being in the closed cabin of the elevator, just the two of them is extremely nerve-racking. Alaine breathes his warm, clean scent filling the air around them. Lucas steals glances at her in the mirrored enclosure. The ride is a silent but charged one. Lucas is tempted to abandon principle and test her reaction if he presses her up against the elevator wall. Dammit! To make bad matters worse, she catches his expression in the mirror ahead and he is certain she can read his thoughts.
“After you,” Lucas says, when they stop in the lobby, happy to escape the confined space with no one else but her as company.
Seth is parked outside and waiting with the SUV’s door already open. Lucas acknowledges him with a nod of the head and allows Alaine to enter ahead of him.
After spouting their intended address for dinner, Lucas tries desperately to think of something to say to fill the silence on the short ride. He wants to know what’s on her mind. He wants to know if she is as nervous as he. It’s impossible to tell just by looking at her. She sits there, quietly composed, ignoring him and the uncontrollable, furtive glances he keeps throwing her way.
As they approach the building on Rockefeller Plaza, Alaine straightens in her seat and gasps when Seth slows to a stop at the front of the stoop. This is where she worked three years ago. It was that same job that crossed their paths at that wedding. Lucas Bright remembers her?
A quick glance to the side, at him, convinces her that she is mistaken. He doesn’t remember her. If he does it’s difficult to tell with his cool expression, giving no view into his thoughts. Why would a man like him commit someone like her to memory? It was foolish to even contemplate.
Meanwhile, Lucas experiences a moment of enlightenment. Her sudden attention has given her away. She remembers him, he can just tell by her open-mouthed gasp. Pleased, he continues to stare straight ahead, loving the upper-hand she’s just conceded. Yet his aloofness is betrayed by a small but irrepressible smile that lifts, very slightly, the corners of his mouth.
Alaine follows hesitantly after accepting his hand to climb out of the tall vehicle. She cannot imagine how the evening will go when she walks in on the arm of Lucas Bright. If Bethany Sawyer is on duty, it may be a spectacle.
She’s never actually been inside the building. The waitressing job was a part-time gig that came through an employment agency. All she’d ever done was work a few private events and they were never held here at the restaurant. But stepping off the elevator on the sixtieth floor, into the refined atmosphere, with hushed murmurs and high profile patrons, immediately confirms that she is a guest at a fine dining eatery.
The music, too, is just right for the ambiance. Soft jazz and the smooth voice of the vocalist have Alaine on tiptoes to get a glimpse of the band. An action that causes her to wince, noticeably, and results in a flash of concern from Lucas.
He leads her along to her seat, forgoing the aid of the Maitre d’ to pull out her chair in an intimate area, sectioned off from the rest of the restaurant, with only a table for two. Eyes follow them. Where Alaine is visibly ruffled, Lucas appears unfazed by all the attention.
His fingers close over her delicate shoulders when she sits and he applies a minimal amount of pressure. The contact is brief, but the warm touch seeps into Alaine’s pores. He’s not sure what possessed him to do it. Must be a need to just touch her. He doesn’t regret it. Not even a little.
With a curt bow, the Maitre d’ informs them that their server will be with them shortly. Suddenly Alaine finds herself alone again with Lucas Bright.
“Chandler Dubois,” he says, finally breaking their silence. She looks up to find him watching her.
“The singer,” he explains. “I noticed you were watching when we entered. He is very versatile and a preference at many high end events.”
Despite the cautions issued by her brain, which is usually geared toward self-preservation, Alaine is not immune to the effect of his soft voice, lulling her to lean into the table and embrace the romantic setting.
“What do you think of him?” he asks.
The question releases her from the spell of dim lighting, sweet music and whether or not he knows he is doing it, the gentle seduction of the man sitting across from her. She seats back in her chair, putting some distance between them before offering a reply.
“I like his voice,” she says, surprised that he wants her opinion.
“I can tell you have good taste,” Lucas offers with a devilish smile.
“Is he a preference of yours?” she asks, ignoring the compliment, his tone, and her own reaction to his smile.
“He is,” Lucas responds. “Though he has no original tracks,” he tells her eagerly, content to keep the conversation going. “He is the highlight at the charity dinner on Saturday.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be the end of their brief and meaningless dialogue. They’ve reached a stalemate, and Lucas is stumped for an icebreaker. The little fairy possesses a supernatural ability to snuff out his usual charm and flair.
Her eyes remain glued to the table top, still avoiding eye contact with him. Why he still finds it amusing is a three-year-old mystery. He wants to comment on it but judging by her previous reactions, it probably won’t be well received.
The appearance of their waitress draws a sigh of relief from both of them. That is, until Alaine looks up into the wildly excited, twin blue eyes of Bethany Sawyer. That’s just her luck. The comical expression on the waitress’s face as she tries to maintain the professional façade over her piqued curiosity, makes Alaine groan inwardly.
“Your menus for the evening sir, madam,” Bethany manages evenly, and hands Lucas three glossy sheets of paper which he accepts with thanks.
Alaine takes them when he passes them along and probably pours too much attention into reading from the list, while trying to avoid Bethany’s intrigued stare.
“We also have a fine selection of wines for each menu,” Bethany continues, silently willing Alaine to look up at her and offer an explanation with her eyes. No luck there, or surprise that she doesn’t.
Lucas continues to watch their interaction, or lack of it, with amusement. “Do you know her?” he asks, after the server walks away. “Is everything okay?” he queries after noticing Alaine’s eyebrows cinch together.
“I have no idea what any of this is,” she admits handing the menus back to him.
“Well, you can wing it,” Lucas suggests. “Or you can trust me to order for you.”
“Or, you can detail what each of these is,” Alaine counters quickly.
Her suggestion is met with warm male chuckle, the sound of it electrifying her nerves.
“I do enjoy your quiet company, Ms. Knight,” Lucas confesses. “But we’d be here forever. What will it be?”
While she mulls over what should be a trivial matter, Lucas waits with an expectancy that surprises him. What should it matter if she chooses to entrust him with something as this little as this? Finally, he has the answer he wants and though it might mean nothing to her, to Lucas it is oddly satisfying.
“You choose,” she says.
After a short glance over each menu, Lucas drops two on to the table, then hands her his preference. “This one,” he says.
“You barely even looked at it,” Alaine notes.
“I’ve a gift,” he says with a shrug, to be as vague as possible. “So? You’re trusting me?”
She cocks her head to the side, studies him with narrowed eyes and nods slowly. “With this,” she specifies, a little teasing smile pulling her lips - one Lucas feels inclined to return. “Yes.”
He summons the waitress to request a glass of wine to accompany his meal. “And for my...companion?” he asks, indicating to Alaine that she should state her pleasure. For whatever reason, he’d been about to say 'date'. The error causes his eyebrows to crease together. He’s never dated. He doesn’t want to. Never has. Why had the thought come to mind, then? Not wanting to rest on it for too long, Lucas dismisses it as just that— an error.
“I don’t drink alcohol,” Alaine declines softly. “I will have a glass of your finest water, however.”
The waitress looks at her with glaring disapproval but dips her head in confirmation of their requests, before turning sharply to disappear again.
“That was a joke,” Alaine says. “There is no finest water,” she adds unnecessarily.
Lucas chuckles at her.
“Is there?” she asks, with the realization that she is by zero means au courant with the lifestyle of the rich and famous. A glance at the menu tells her that there very well might be. “Twelve dollars for a bottle of water!” Alaine exclaims, to which Lucas snorts.
“Why?” she continues. “Did it spring from the fountain of youth?” she questions, only to encounter more chuckles at her expense.
When their glasses are brought on a wide tray Alaine shakes her head at how excessive and ridiculous all of this seems. Examining hers, she scoffs her amusement.
“I’m beginning to think you are poking fun at my kind,” Lucas tells her.
“Right now it’s too easy to pass up,” she replies and samples her drink, critically.
“Does it meet your approval?” he asks.
Her shoulders lift in a delicate shrug. A simple movement he finds enticing, while she licks off the remnants of water clinging to her pink lips. Lips he noticed earlier are shiny with lip gloss. Shiny and full. The image in his mind is now carnal.
“It tastes like regular water to me,” she answers, ignorant of his inappropriate thoughts. If he clued her in on them, the poor girl might run for the hills. “It could be pipe water for all you know,” she adds.
“That possibility genuinely makes me shudder,” Lucas replies, trying to cling to the distraction from her pink tongue and the vivid fantasy playing in his mind. He drags his eyes away from her lush lips to focus on his own glass, instead. The sharp taste of the wine at least gives him something else to focus on. She’s not the type, he reminds himself. Considering his reaction to her, maybe that’s a fortunate thing.
To her, he appears bored, maybe a little irritated as he clears his throat for a second time and his features shift into a frown. “I’m really sorry for being late this time, Mr. Bright,” Alaine offers. “Now you’re stuck with my boring company.”
“Quite to the contrary,” Lucas assures her. “I find you fascinating,” he admits. “You’re probably the most interesting woman I’ve ever met.”
“Thank you?” she replies, thrown by the compliment. Despite her suspicion that he is only being gracious, her cheeks still heat like the fluttery female she never knew she was.
The next few minutes they spend in strained and stilted conversation. They are evidently extreme opposites, with nothing to discuss aside from the weather. The evening is on a straight path south. For two strangers, both having limited experience in dining with company, it is undeniably hard to find a comfortable rhythm.
The extent of Lucas’s expertise in entertaining guests ends with business associates where all that is ever discussed is just that - business. And the women with whom he socializes, outside of the corporate arena, know not to expect this. It’s his curiosity about Alaine that has him enduring this evening.
For his companion, it’s far worse. She’s never participated in anything of this sort. Since moving to New York, her dining company is limited to Mona and her family during special holidays.
Silently, both consider the quickest way to end their torture.
Alaine studies their first course while considering the price on the menu. “It’s pretty and small on a very large plate,” she says after Lucas asks her opinion.
“Try it,” he encourages with a smile at her response, as a part of him enjoys treating her to a fine meal.
“What is it?” she says.
“Essentially, it’s scallops,” Lucas explains. “Just flourished. Have you ever tried it?”
Alaine shakes her head and gives the morsel a tentative taste after another gentle encouragement.
“Mmmm,” she says with delight, her eyes widening at the burst of flavour on her tongue.
Lucas helplessly notes the sound in her throat and expressiveness of her eyes. Now his question has been answered. He knows what a moan from her sounds like.
“You’re pleased, then?” he queries. “With my choice?” he adds because he needs a diversion from the lascivious path his mind wants to tread.
“Very,” Alaine replies with a nod.
“Do you mind if we discuss business during dinner?” he asks, focusing on his meal instead of her mouth. “Or would you prefer to wait until we’re done?”
“I don’t mind,” she confirms, returning to the delicacy before her.
“Have you given my proposal any thought?”
“I have, and honestly I’m not sure,” she tells him. “I don’t really know what you expect of me.”
The word ‘date’ pops into his mind again. Mentally, Lucas erases it. “For now, I would like accompaniment, on Saturday evening, to a charity dinner I must attend. You will be paid by the hour. Five hundred is my offer, though we can negotiate.”
“Negotiate?” Alaine questions. “For more?”
“This is a business deal, after all,” he explains, more as a reminder to himself than for her benefit. “How are your negotiating skills?”
“Five hundred dollars an hour for my time seems quite fair,” Alaine says with an incredulous chuckle. “What would I have to do on this date?”
“It’s not a date,” Lucas feels an immediate need to clarify. “You’re accompanying me to a dinner. That’s all.”
“Okay,” Alaine agrees with a light shrug to cover a surge disappointment. “Point taken,” she mumbles. “What will I have to do when I accompany you?”
“Smile and look beautiful,” Lucas tells her. “Which you will have no trouble with at all.”
Her eyes narrow at his unveiled compliment. Yesterday, wet and shivering she’d looked beautiful. Tonight she looks exceptional, though maybe a little too covered. Lucas examines the navy colored shirt, buttoned almost to the neck, and hides his smile.
Her hair is pulled back in a thick, loose ponytail, leaving her entire face— high cheekbones, bedroom eyes, and rose petal pink lips— open to his inspection. “You’re quite beautiful,” he adds earnestly but without thought.
The surprise in her eyes is quickly shuttered by her long lashes. She has no idea how to respond to that and doesn’t even bother with a thank you. On the streets of New York, it is easy to ignore male attention. But sitting across from Lucas Bright it’s near impossible when he turns on the charm with his little smirks, huge compliments, and playful sultriness glinting in his eyes.
“May I ask you a question, Ms. Knight?” Lucas says quickly to detract from his slip of the tongue.
“You can call me Alaine, and you may,” she mutters, still ruffled by his words.
“I’m curious, have you never had an alcoholic drink?”
She shakes her head, taking another nibble from her appetizer. “This is really tasty.”
“I’m a man of taste,” he tells her, his eyes lingering over her face. Momentarily, he gets lost in her eyes – the way they fill with pleasure over something as simple as scallops. What would happen if he ran his lips along her jaw and down her neck? What would they look like with her poised above him? He would love to find out.
“Does your aversion to alcohol have anything to do with your old injury?” he asks after inhaling deeply to clear his mind.
She stops to watch him, suddenly tense, not appreciating the very personal inquiry. They are practically strangers. Why would he suppose it is okay to ask her that? Most likely because he is a man and no matter how intriguing Lucas Bright is he is no different from any other – imperious and entitled, the lot of them.
“It’s not an aversion, it’s a general rule,” she replies tersely. “And no, it doesn’t. Not technically.”
Aware that he’s touched a nerve, Lucas decides not to press. “I don’t mean to pry,” he offers apologetically.
Her expression tells him, so don’t, but she answers anyway. “I like to have my faculties functioning at full capacity at all times, Mr. Bright,” she explains, her tone clipped and features guarded.
Lucas decides it’s a topic for another day. It already seems like a small miracle that she is sitting with him after all these years. Considering the circumstances and her skittishness with it, he doesn’t want to push his luck.
“Is it my turn to ask a question?”
She pulls him out of his pensiveness, and he gestures for her to proceed. “Why me? You must know a lot of beautiful and willing women,” Alaine suggests. “Like your assistant. Why not take her to your sweetheart dinner?”
“What? Why would you say that?” Lucas asks feeling his hackles rise.
“She’s pretty and seems to favour you, I think,” she explains, innocently while absently, rubbing her elbow where the woman grabbed her earlier.
His eyebrows quirk upwards with his ire at her inappropriate line of questioning. “Do go on, Ms. Knight,” Lucas encourages. “Don’t stop there. I am entirely riveted by this development.”
To prove it, he leans into the table, his grey eyes concentrating intently on her face. Unnerved, Alaine drops her eyes.
“That’s the vibe I got from her,” she explains, her tone hushed bearing a lot less confidence than when she first chose to tread this line of conversation. “Like I was encroaching on her territory or something. Which I am not, obviously,” she offers firmly for reassurance.
Something in Lucas softens as he notices the way she touches her elbow where his assistant assaulted her. “Did she hurt you?” he asks, his tone gentler than a minute ago.
Alaine shakes her head in response, daring to look up at him again. The anger she’d read in his stare only a moment ago is gone, replaced by a distant gaze that she wishes she could fathom. “Are you okay?” she asks.
The inquiry, made with such tender concern propels Lucas back into the present. “Natasha is my employee only,” Lucas explains, deciding to skip to the end of this discussion swiftly and ignore the way her question makes him long for a greater show of affection from her. The sentiment irks him. “I am a lot of things, Ms. Knight, but I do have principles.”
“I wasn’t suggesting you didn’t,” Alaine says honestly, recoiling at the returning hostility. “She just seems to like you in that way.”
“I do not consort with the women who work for me,” Lucas explains curtly. “What did she say to you?”
“Nothing, I could be wrong,” Alaine amends quickly. “My observation could be completely baseless and I have no experience to go on—”
“It is pointless to keep it a secret,” Lucas interjects. “I can simply review the video and she will be terminated.”
“Don’t do that,” Alaine pleads softly. “I was just curious. I don’t like confrontations so if I do this I need to know that I am not going to be accosted by a girlfriend or love interest.”
“As I have already explained,” Lucas calmly, now that he feels he’s finally on level ground again. “I don’t have a girlfriend. I never have and I don’t want one.”
“Girlfriend, lover, consort. They’re all the same, if you think about it,” Alaine offers casually.
Lucas is at a genuine loss when it comes to her. She looks shy, her soft voice enchanting, but there is more to her. He can just tell. “Okay, Ms. Knight,” he says. “Full disclosure. I have never had a girlfriend. In case you are wondering how that is possible, the answer is simple. I don’t want one. I don’t want a relationship. They’re messy and require too much effort. I prefer all my attention on my business. That is part of the reason for my success. No, I am not celibate. I enjoy the company of women, frequently, but that’s all it is. Currently, I am consorting with no one, though I cannot promise you it will remain that way. However, I can tell you that until Saturday evening I am yours and yours only.”
Alaine scoffs lightly at the plateful he’s bestowed on her. When finally able to formulate a response she says, “I’m not consorting with you.”
He laughs. “Duly noted. Our relationship will be completely platonic, Ms. Knight. As I said, I don’t consort with the people who work for me.”
She swallows at his response, a feel of what she can only describe as disappointment burning her insides. “But why do you need a face?” Alaine continues, still determined to ignore her foolishness.
He scowls, wishing she would accept or decline, preferably the former. “For one reason or another my face is always in the paper or a magazine or in some tabloid. People are starting to get curious about me and my bachelorhood. They’re starting to speculate and that is dangerous. If they don’t get answers they are going to begin looking and I don’t want anyone looking into my life. My history is cause for great intrigue. So you are a buffer, Ms. Knight.”
Alaine worries her bottom lip. She’s never been in any kind of relationship. What kind of fake girlfriend will she be? The question of whether or not she should divulge that bit of information nags at her but she doesn’t voice it. It can’t be that hard to be a buffer.
She nods her understanding, wholly engrossed by their discussion. “So do I have to sign something?”
“If you wish, I can have something prepared. Though I would prefer not to leave a paper trail. I will pay you if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m an honest man. I try to be, anyway.”
Strangely, she takes him at his word and agrees with a simple, “Okay.”
“Have I sufficiently addressed your concerns?”
“And have you made a decision?”
“I have. I will be your companion.” With her new familial obligations, what other choice is there?
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