Speeches and Declarations
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Almost immediately after dinner ends, the guests begin filing out of the dining area. They have only twenty minutes until the actual ceremony begins but Lucas’s worry of getting separated from Alaine in the shuffling assemblage has him waiting until the crowd thins.
He places a hand on her arm when she begins to push her chair away from the table and the barely perceptible shake of his head settles her back down in her seat.
It doesn’t take long for the low hum of voices from the moving throng to dwindle. Only then does Lucas stand and offer his arm to help her out of her chair.
Rather than paying attention to him while they move across to the auditorium, her eyes wander over every square inch around them, including the thin carpet muffling the sound of their footsteps.
He can’t say that he’s surprised by how awed she is but it is pleasing that she is so impressed with the finer things being a part of his life can offer.
While she ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ over every minute detail in the infrastructure’s magnificent design, he looks around searching out Seth. The rest of the men he hired will remain out of sight but his personal bodyguard; he wants him somewhere within view at all times.
Seth tips his head in acknowledgment and to relay that everything is quiet when Lucas finds him standing afar off in a dark corner. Lucas can’t say that it does much to take the edge away but it’s something knowing that backup is close.
Getting through dinner without letting his anxieties show had been a tiring balancing act. The mask had threatened to slip countless times. He’d even snarled at the man sitting across from them at the table for the way he spent the evening admiring Alaine’s cleavage.
An usher standing at one of the many entrances to the auditorium receives them with a huge smile and an exuberant greeting that pulls the first genuine smile from Lucas for the night so far.
“Mr. Bright. Ms. Knight,” the usher says. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to your seats.”
What’s more surprising to Alaine than the usher knowing her name is that looking around her, she can’t help but notice that not everyone has their own personal usher assigned to them.
Many of the guests, in fact, are left on their own to navigate the wide hall and endless rows of seats while their guide walking ahead of them bounds down the aisle with her short ponytail bobbing behind her like she’s on some important mission.
“We’re so close to the front,” Alaine notes after the usher stops at the end of the third row from the stage.
“The seats were assigned, Alaine,” Lucas informs her. “I had nor do I have any control over that.”
He clasps her hand in his to lead her across the row of cushioned chairs. The troop already occupying most of the space stands when they see Lucas and Alaine approaching.
She peeks around Lucas and gasps before letting a smile take over her face.
“Lucas didn’t tell me you all were coming,” Alaine says.
He doesn’t miss the slight tone of reprimand in her statement. At the moment, he is unable to give her a response as he tries to figure out what his sister is up to now.
“What are you doing, Shernie?” he scolds.
Still trying to squeeze herself around him between the small space separating their row of seats from the one in front, she replies, “I want to sit next to Alaine.”
“Settle down,” Lucas huffs in annoyance. “Just hold on.”
He has to angle himself so that Alaine can shift past him. Once she does so successfully, his sister grabs her in a hug.
“I didn’t see you all at dinner,” Alaine says.
“I told them it would be a dull affair, yet here they are,” Lucas states with a shake of his head.
In a voice rich with fatherly pride, Arlington responds, “are you kidding me? I wouldn’t miss this for anything. I’ve never missed one and just because you’re grown doesn’t mean I’m going to start.”
Alaine’s attention shift between father and son focusing particularly on the disapproval and warning in Lucas’ expression. Her eyes stop and remain on his face for a few seconds then narrow with understanding.
“Are you receiving an award?” she asks. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” he answers with his gaze once again fixed on his father. “Someone just ruined it.”
“It’s not ruined,” Alaine declares.
Abandoning her phobia of public displays of affection that she developed since finding out that Angus has had her under surveillance, she places a spontaneous kiss on Lucas’ lips.
“I need to surprise you more often,” he mumbles for her alone to hear then leans down to steal another. “I see Judah Gaines’ son is here,” he says as they sit down. “I could have a talk with him about that job his father promised you.”
“Don’t you dare,” Alaine scolds. “Paving my own way, remember? Don’t worry, I won’t freeload off you for much longer. Delah and I will be looking into a place once we get back.”
Seeing as this is the first time he’s hearing those words and at a moment when he can’t argue too, all Lucas manages as a response is, “oh.”
Had she mentioned her intention to move out before now, he’d have opened a discussion about it. Considering their setting, his family’s obviously interested stares and the guests filling in the empty chairs around them, he files it away under the things they need to talk about.
He leans against the backrest of the folding chair and goes quiet thinking about it.
For the life of her, Alaine cannot fathom the reason for the sudden shift in his mood. All she can guess is that whatever is eating at Lucas has to do with Angus. She’d gone off script when she kissed him. That could be the problem. He could be afraid of the repercussions. Her brows furrow in confusion because he hadn’t seemed put out at all when she’d done it.
Unable to bear his heavy spirit anymore, she leans close to his ear to whisper, “what’s wrong?” but the lights dim before he has the chance to answer.
Music swells from the speakers and the program begins with an enthralling Las Vegas show featuring singing and dancing women in skimpy, glittery showgirl costumes wearing impossibly tall heels.
Alaine joins the rest of the audience in a standing ovation at the end of the production only because it seems to be what’s expected. Her attention is still split between the stage and Lucas scowling down at the floor from his seat beside her.
When she sinks down into her chair again, she reaches for his hand and gives his fingers a little squeeze.
Lucas glances at her and takes a deep breath. So far the evening is just not what he anticipated. First of all, he’s had this sense of impending doom mushrooming inside him since last night. Mostly, he’s been able to keep his anxieties to himself but the added disappointment of Alaine wanting to move out after spending so much time with him at his apartment makes the night gloomier.
He can read the concern in her pretty eyes so gives her a smile that he knows is lackluster at best.
Really and truly, he shouldn’t be so upset about her announcement. She never promised to make their living arrangements permanent. It’s just that after a week with her, of them sleeping on their sides of the bed in what he considers to be their bedroom, of sharing so many private moments together, he knows that he wants her to stay. He just expected that she would want to.
The worry on her face has him wishing he could improve his mood. He wishes he could give her the type of enjoyable evening that he wanted to. This spirit of doom and gloom have him wrapped up so tightly, it leaves no room for flexibility.
When finally the MC announces his award over the speakers, Alaine turns to him, a medley of emotions showing in her smiling eyes and an excited grin plastered on her face.
Lucas can’t help but smile himself. This is what he wants -- to make her happy. He wants it all with her -- a home and a life and it matters not how long it takes to build.
If it’s time that she needs, he won’t rush her as long as they work on building that life together.
The intensive beam of an overhead spotlight pivots to find their row and hones in on his small group. Staring deeply into her eyes, Lucas palms Alaine’s cheeks and runs his mouth over hers in a gentle caress. At the same time that his breath brushes over her lips he whispers, “I love you.”
Those three words that rolled so easily off his heart and tongue, meld into the uproarious applause and is drowned out by the background music and crescendo of the announcer over the speaker as she ends his citation.
Lucas is already up and out of his seat. He couldn’t bear the wait for her response. Not with the way his heart is beating a tattoo against his ribs.
Later, he promises himself as he moves into the aisle and towards the stage. Later, he will tell her again and maybe she will want to stay. Maybe she’ll finally give him those words back.
Alaine’s eyes follow his hasty footsteps to the podium to witness one of the rare eclipse-like moments when Lucas Bright is without his usual confidence.
He accepts the heavy award from a dark-haired, porcelain-skinned vision of a woman. She smiles, with a palm on his upper arm, to kiss his cheek.
Lucas steps to the microphone with his heart still pounding erratically in his ears and has to pull his mind away from his distraction.
He’d just done that.
Those words he hasn’t spoken to anyone else, he’d just said them to Alaine.
Clearing his throat discreetly, he looks down at the award in his hand.
“Thank you,” he says with his eyes glossing over the audience. “Of all the awards I’ve received, this one means the most to me for a few reasons,” he continues. “I was surprised to have been nominated for it all and even more surprised to have won. But tonight is not just about the award. It’s about what it represents -- a chance at hope and security. A chance for a better life and a brighter future for those who are the most vulnerable around us -- the children.”
“What I’ve done is small,” he adds. “What I’ve given is not nearly enough to eradicate the growing epidemic of child abuse that threatens the fabric of our nation nor is it sufficient to fix the damage that has already been done. But without our help, many of these children will not reach their full potential. As we have seen, many of them won’t even survive it. I wish I could save all of them and I will work damn hard to rescue every single one that I can. That’s what this award represents. It is a reminder of why I started The Break the Silence Foundation. We’ve already expanded our borders beyond Nevada and will continue to spread to wider America and the world as we become a voice for those too afraid to speak for themselves.”
Ready to end his speech, his focus shifts to the row where his family -- Alaine -- is sitting.
“My final statement is to my family,” he states. “They are a supportive bunch as you can probably see. Especially my father. He is and always has been my biggest and loudest supporter. I’m twenty-six years old and he’s still here cheering me on. He couldn’t always be there when I was growing up, but when he was, he made the time worthwhile. His physical presence, his presence in my heart made a world of difference and is what encouraged me to tackle this problem in our society and the rest of the world.”
Then his eyes settle on her.
“I’m not sure if you guys noticed,” he says in a teasing tone. “But I walked in here tonight with the most stunning woman in the world on my arm. A woman who has changed my life completely. Alaine Knight, I am indebted to you in more ways than one. Your selflessness, your kind, and indomitable spirit have saved me in its own way. You are the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. You are everything I could ever hope for and having you in my life adds more meaning to this award and all that I have accomplished. Thank you, for sharing tonight with me.”
“Did you hear that?” Shernie squeals beside Alaine. “My brother is in love with you,” she declares.
While Lucas winds down his speech, Alaine feels the effect of a thousand pairs of eyes on her, like she would an unsolicited touch. It is not a sensation she appreciates. She wants to melt into the floor or demand that everyone stop their staring. Better yet, she wants to obey her desire to flee.
Why would Lucas choose to make a spectacle of her, of them, of their relationship? Especially considering they’re trying to hide from a monster.
Maybe that’s the reason he did it. To get back at Angus for the trouble in the hotel.
A ripple of fear runs through her and blends into her ire.
All the research and documentaries on stalkers she’d immersed herself in this past week come haunting. This public display will cost them.
If his words are genuine, he should have said them to her in private; not here in front of an entire audience and on live tv. She really feels like running.
Yet, despite her discomfort from all the attention, something keeps her glued to her seat. Something keeps her eyes fixed to the stage and causes her heart to swell. It must also be that same something building a damn of water in her eyes full to overflowing.
“OMG,” Shernie sighs. “That was so romantic. Relationship goals,” she trills.
As Lucas ends his speech with, “thank you, baby,” Shernie squeals ever louder. Then she is off her seat, cheering, whooping and applauding, along with everyone else.
Alaine’s eyes sweep the room from one end to the other.
What are you doing? her mind chastises. A moment like this is one to enjoy.
Everyone, except her who those words were spoken to, seems to be doing exactly that. Instead, her restless, anxious spirit has decided to pick apart Lucas’ intentions.
But she won’t allow it. She will not allow Angus to take this from her, or Lucas.
Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath to try to release the ball of tension in her gut.
She opens herself so his declarations can infuse her heart and from the inside out, blanket her in the warmth and security she’s only ever had with Lucas.
They might not have been an I love you, Alaine, but they seem the very equivalent.
She would be a fool to fault him for something this sweet.
As Lucas leaves the stage with his eyes locked on her, that boulder settled in the pit of her stomach fragments. She can feel the intensity in his stare from where she is. Standing slowly, she follows his trek back up the aisle with her eyes while her heart beats a heavy, staccato rhythm.
A little smile breaks on her lips when he nears their row and remains there until he comes to stand in front of her. The look he wears is still fiery but there is also a measure of uncertainty behind it.
Wanting to erase his doubts, Alaine takes a small step to remove the inch of space between them.
Their surroundings grow mysteriously quiet. Whether their spectators are waiting soundlessly with bated breath or the two of them have disappeared into their own quiet piece of heaven, neither can tell. Neither one of them really care.
Although he just made this public proclamation, like their first night together, Lucas feels like a novice and his eyes request permission and confirmation from her.
Her widening smile is all the answer he needs. The clouds of doubt around him evapourates. Confidently, he hauls her against him with an arm around her waist.
“Only you, Alaine,” he whispers.
She expects that when their mouths meet it will be in a scorching kiss. However, the touch of his lips is gentle. A soft, masterful stroke that transmits these tiny electrical tingles throughout her body.
For a brief while, it feels like her feet leave the floor until he steps back and returns to standing to his full height. Suddenly, Alaine finds herself hurled back to earth standing in a room filled with people.
A sheepish blush tinges her cheeks making Lucas chuckle.
“We should seat,” he reminds her.
Order returns slowly to the world around them. Now there is only a low rumble of voices. A content Alaine sits with her arm looped through Lucas’, her fingers threaded in his and he slouches in his seat to accommodate her head on his shoulder.
She refuses to let anything rain on tonight’s parade; not herself and not Angus. From here on in, they will have many more of these perfect moments. She’ll take all that she can if another encounter with Angus has to cut it short.
That last thought brings a chill over her skin and a sinking feeling settles in the pit of her stomach. Summoning the mastery she’d gained over her emotions in her youth, she pushes the feelings aside to focus on the very best thing life ever gifted her.
The remainder of the ceremony disappears in a blur.
“You know it’s over, right?” Lucas whispers in Alaine’s ear.
“Is it?” she asks, then lifts her head to see that the room has already begun to empty as files of its occupants make for the exit.
She rests her chin on to his shoulder and looks at him.
“Tonight has been so perfect,” she says in a soft voice. “I don’t want it to end.”
In no hurry to move just yet either, Lucas answers, “it doesn’t have to. And even when it does, we’ll have tomorrow and every day after that. I think we can wait until this chaos settles a bit before we move.”
“I agree,” she replies and returns her cheek to his shoulder.
There, she basks in his unuttered promise of forever.
Lucas smiles at the dreaminess in her voice.
“You okay down there?” he asks and tucks his chin in to sneak a peek at her face.
“I told you, perfect,” she reminds him. “But I do need to use a bathroom.”
“Really, Alaine?” he huffs in protest. “Can’t you hold it?”
“It’s over an hour to the hotel,” she reminds him. “I absolutely cannot hold it. I’ll be quick.”
“Fine,” he grumbles. “But I’m coming with you.”
Straightening her spine so that she can look at him, she says, “no you’re not. You’re not following me to the bathroom.”
“Someone is going with you,” Lucas argues. “It’s either me or Seth. Take your pick.”
“I can go with you,” a small voice to their right suggests and brings an end to their squabble.
Lucas peeks at his sister beyond Alaine with skepticism written on his face. Then he looks back at Alaine to read the defiance in hers.
“Okay,” he agrees. “But you do not leave her side,” he warns Shernie. “If anything happens...” he starts to say but thinks better of it. “When you’re done, you meet me right back here,” he warns instead. “I’ll be here,” he repeats to Alaine.