Please, Let Me...
“Tell me how in the hell you are having dinner with Lucas Bright!”
The shrill voice following Alaine into the bathroom belongs to the one and only Bethany Sawyer.
Caught completely off guard by her friend’s stealthiness and hysterics, Alaine shrieks. She nearly has a coronary when the stall door she is trying to close in the bathroom is forcibly opened.
“Lucas freakin’ Bright!”
Alaine gapes at Bethany, who looks very close to popping with excitement. She folds her arms and huffs. Not only is the doorway being blocked, but her reprieve from the aforementioned man’s startling eyes, innocent compliments and her own unwanted blushing is also being interrupted.
“It’s a business dinner, Bethany,” she explains, hoping to deflate her friend’s exuberance while trying to usher her out of the stall.
“Seriously, how are you this lucky?” Bethany continues, so Alaine suspects her words have either gone unheard or were deliberately ignored.
“Can I use the bathroom? Please?” she requests, aiming for indifference while fighting the grin that wants to tighten her cheeks.
She refuses to admit how pretty damn lucky she feels, indeed, and hopes Bethany doesn’t become wise to her struggle. “Go do your work, before you get fired,” Alaine admonishes while brushing Bethany with her hip to encourage her out of the little space. The movement turns out to be a colossal mistake, and she gasps at the sudden sharp slice of pain radiating up her right leg.
Missing the grimace on Alaine’s face and ignoring the sage advice, Bethany squeaks again, “Lucas Bright! And the way he can’t take his eyes off you...”
This time Alaine has no desire to smile. The only thing she can concentrate on is her intense agony and focusing on breathing through it. With Bethany here, any bigger show and there will likely be an incident, like Lucas being pulled from their table to check on her in the ladies’ room of all places.
“It’s the same as…how many years ago?” Bethany keeps on, oblivious to Alaine’s discomfort as she makes herself more comfortable in the confined space by leaning against the wall. “You know what? It doesn’t even matter,” she chirps on. “I want details. Seriously, Ali, it’s been too long. We obviously need to catch up. And next time, drink the wine.”
After that, she breezes out of the stall. Between her acute pain and Bethany’s high-pitched rambling, Alaine is overwhelmed by dizziness. She lingers in the bathroom stall, sitting on the closed toilet seat to stretch her leg out before her. All she wants to do is remove the murderous heels and lie down. Maybe cry too. The prospect of crying in the company of Lucas Bright fills her with the same dread as the idea of him coming to her rescue in the bathroom. What sort of explanation would she give him? Removing her shoes at this sort of establishment doesn’t seem viable either. With a deep, encouraging breath, She rises from her seat, using the tiled walls for support.
Before reentering the dining area, she observes Lucas sitting there alone, fiddling with his hands. From this distance, he doesn’t look as put together as he seems. He looks…lonely. That thought spurs Alaine on, despite the throbbing in her leg.
“Hey,” she greets, feeling a sudden resurgence in her nervousness.
He looks up at her and smiles. Dear God. No one should be allowed to look like this. No man should have that effect on her either.
“I was beginning to think you got lost. I was ordering a search party,” he jokes.
Alaine chuckles, easing herself cautiously into her seat while trying to hide her agony. “I met Bethany in the bathroom,” she explains.
“The strange waitress,” Lucas comments, remembering her introduction.
Why should it bother Alaine that he does? She refuses to guess, but isn’t surprised that he would immediately associate the name with their bombshell waitress – taller than Alaine by at least three inches, with a pleasant disposition, conversational, and gorgeous face and body. Alaine gives him a little smile to cover what she refuses to accept is jealousy.
“We’re friends,” she explains. “Or were. We used to be closer,” she continues. “After I quit we kind of lost touch.”
”Why did you quit?” Lucas asks, finally receiving the explanation he’s been searching for as to why he was never able to find her here.
“I had two other jobs, plus college,” she shrugs. “I was tired.”
“Didn’t you have a scholarship?” he continues to probe.
“I did,” she responds. “But this is New York and I hated the idea of campus living. It seemed so public. My scholarship didn’t cover housing off-campus. So I had to work.”
The chiming in his pocket interrupts his response. Lucas manages to hide his sigh at the screen and regrets the disruption into their easy conversation. “Do you mind if I excuse myself briefly?” he asks. “I must take this.”
“I don’t,” she replies, because there is no reason she should be so disappointed about losing his company.
While she awaits his return, her pain intensifies to excruciating. Though Alaine tries to breathe her way through it, tears spring to her eyes. The throbbing in her leg runs from ankle to hip, each stab of pain resonating from the three points of previous fractures. And her back, she is afraid, might not support her when she stands again.
From a discreet corner, during a conversation with the ever melodramatic Claudia Ferreira— his mother— Lucas observes Alaine and loses concentration. Even with the distance between them, he can tell something is not right with her. The ‘old injury’ comment returns to mind and he remembers her limp.
“I have to go, Claudia,” he says without much regret and doesn’t wait to hear the protest he knows is coming. Lucas stuffs the phone back in his pocket while long strides guide him back to his….not date…Alaine.
“Are you alright Ms. Knight?” Lucas asks, suddenly appearing over her.
She presses her lips together tightly but nods her response.
“That’s not the truth, is it?” he asks with concern, then signals Bethany for the check.
“Are you alright, Ali?” Bethany asks when she pulls up beside Lucas, who has forgone reclaiming his seat.
The concern in the question surprises Lucas. He tamps down on the immense gratitude swelling in his chest over someone displaying empathy for this little sprite.
“I’d like to take her home,” Lucas explains. “If you could make this quick?” he suggests.
Completely misreading Lucas’ words, Bethany fits Alaine with a look.
“My home,” Alaine specifies, her teeth clenched against her pain.“He’s giving me a ride to my apartment. Nothing…”
“Just hurry,” Lucas interjects, commanding Bethany into action.
“Right,” she responds, disappearing quickly and returning in record time.
“Do you need a hand?” Lucas asks Alaine.
Biting back a whimper, she nods, the action quick and spasmodic. Unsure of how much effort should be exerted into helping her up, Lucas leans down to fit his hands under her arms.
“Old injury?” he questions, lifting her gently to her feet.
When she speaks again, her voice hitches from the intensity of her pain as she tucks her hand in the crook of his arm. "Yeah," she says.
“Hold on to me” he whispers close to her ear.
Despite her pain, Alaine can’t help but breathe him in. She nods again in reply, still biting her bottom lip as if afraid opening her mouth might lead to a scream. Their crawl toward the exit is interrupted by Lucas.
“Maybe you should take off those shoes?” he suggests.
She chortles despite herself and he too can’t help but laugh. The sound, soft and deep, warms her. “Are you sure. Is that okay here?” she asks.
“I don’t see why not,” Lucas answers, throwing his eyes around the dining crowd.
“Then I think that’s a grand idea,” Alaine replies, tugging her hand out of his elbow to remove the instruments of torture.
“Please, let me.”
That’s all he says. As unseemly as it is, Lucas Bright, multibillionaire, takes a knee in the middle of the Michelin stars restaurant. A quick, embarrassed glance around the room reveals the astonishment on many faces. Not even the ‘oh so professional’ Maitre d’ is able to school his features fast enough. Alaine looks down at Lucas’s head of thick locks, just as dark as hers, bowed before her. It is a fascinating sight. Hesitant fingers sink into the silken softness to support herself. He lifts gray eyes to her and smiles. That little side smirk. They take on a different light, going darker. Heart failure. She may experience heart failure.
Lucas continues looking at her. He wants her. There is no other way to define it. In a different setting, if they were alone and not strangers and if there wasn’t this tangled web of feelings for him to decipher, he would kiss his way up her legs. Kiss? Yes, maybe that. She looks like the kind who deserves kisses.
Unable to help himself, Lucas runs his fingers over her soft skin, down her trim calf. All the while, he ensnares her gaze and revels in the reaction she surrenders. A soft gasp, her full bottom lip disappearing in her mouth, and the marvel in her eyes are the biggest turn on he’s ever experienced– all from a little touch. There is so much more he wants to make her feel.
Very briefly, Alaine forgets her pain. His touch is like a fiery balm. How has he made a slow seduction of something like removing her shoes, and in public? She should protest. She intended too, but the words got stuck somewhere between her flailing heartbeat and her sharp intake of breath. It is only when he stands, his body unimaginably close, that Alaine remembers where they are.
“Shall we try this again?” Lucas asks.
“Yes,” she responds breathily, though she has no idea which part she wants him to be referring to.
They make it to the door and four steps in the direction of the elevator before Alaine’s right leg gives up completely. She gasps loudly, both in surprise and pain. Lucas barely manages to catch her in time.
“Don’t worry, Ms. Knight,” he grunts from the sudden exertion. “I’ve got you.”
She hisses when he lifts her. Immediately, he is sorry, and whispers soothingly against her hair, “You’re okay. I’m going to take you home.”
They wait for the elevator to travel its sixty floors with Alaine holding herself stiffly against his body.
“Relax little fairy,” Lucas encourages softly.
Her eyes shoot to his and he can guess why. Little fairy? Where had that come from? Surprise and embarrassment colour his eyes a brighter shade of gray. “I’m afraid I am at an impasse,” he adds hurriedly. Hopefully, to take away from his slip of the tongue.
Sensing his unease, Alaine tries to obey the gentle command. She drops her eyes to give him the privacy to recover and leans into the firm muscles cradling her.
“Impasse?” she questions, finally garnering the courage to look up at him again.
“Yes. I need to call Seth, but my phone is in my pocket,” Lucas explains. “I am afraid if I set you down you might fall again.” His beautiful features turn down in a frown. “Why are you in so much pain?” he asks softly.
Held captive by his inquiring, sympathetic stare, Alaine replies in a tone as gentle as his. “Which pocket?”
Lucas forgets to breathe when she reaches inside his jacket, with fingers that graze his side. He chastises his body’s reaction to her faint touch into submission.
With no other choice, he gives her the four-digit password to unlock the screen and she has to reach up to hold it to his ear where he issues instructions to his driver.
The elevator’s doors finally open. They take the descent in silence, with her warm breath tickling his neck, his chin, and side of his face.
Lucas doesn’t want to analyse her breathiness as more than an effect of her pain. If he does, he will do something uncharacteristic, something foolish. However his heart is thumping and there is nothing he can do about that. She likely hears it, feels it too, from where her head is nestled against his chest.
“Your heart is racing,” she says, confirming his suspicions.
“You’re very heavy,” Lucas lies, fighting a stupid smile that wants to tug at his lips. “For such a small thing.” It’s a weak attempt to play off what he’s feeling. But what else could he say? That she is making him nervous and insecure? Should he simply list all the things that he wishes to have with her after one meal? Never.
Lucas crosses the lobby in gentle strides, ignoring the glances of the few people milling about. This will hit the airwaves tonight. It’s unavoidable. He’s just not sure how little miss guarded in his arms is going to feel it.
“I’m very sorry about this,” she offers as they reach the door to exit the restaurant.
“What for, Ms. Knight?” Lucas assures her. “No man could be sorry to have such a beautiful woman in his arms.”
His words render her speechless. She looks up at him but he doesn’t look down at her. Obviously complimenting women is not uncommon for him. The thought makes her sad.
Seth is already pulled up out front and exits the car in haste to hold the passenger door open. “Mr. Bright, what happened?” he questions.
“She’s fine. Old injury,” he offers, maneuvering her gently into the seat.“Turn around to face me,” he orders softly. She does as commanded without argument and he lifts her legs unto his solid, lowered thighs. A soft whimper escapes her. “Do you need a doctor?” Lucas asks, genuinely concerned.
A single tear escapes from her closed eyelids. “I just need to lie down.”
Firm fingers take hers in a gentle squeeze. “Maybe some painkillers too?”
Leaning back against the door, Alaine mentally chastises herself for the waterworks. It’s the memories. It’s his display of tenderness. Kindness from strangers. That’s what she’s known most of her life. She sighs, swallowing down a different kind of hurt. The kind that comes from a family who doesn’t love her.
At that point, Lucas reaches over her ensuring the door acting as a support is secure. Stunned by his sudden nearness, Alaine snaps her eyes open and inhales deeply, breathing him in.
“This could be dangerous,” he explains. “Are you comfortable?”
“The door is unyielding, but I’ll live," she replies in a whisper. Thank you."
Lucas clears his throat, seats back, removes his jacket and sighs heavily while trying to understand his compulsion to ensure that she is okay. Clumsily he folds it and leans over her again. “This might help,” he offers. “Lift?”
She obeys, the action bringing her small face only a few millimeters from his. Her breath tickles his chin and lips, drawing his attention down to her face while he slips the jacket behind her.
“Is that any better?” Lucas asks.
She has no explanation as to why he is doing this, but Alaine finds she doesn’t want to disappoint him. If she had to be honest, his efforts only made bad matters worse. Her neck would be stiff, too, after the forty minute ride. Yet she nods, discomposed by his nearness and warmth engulfing her.
Long after she eases back on to the soft jacket, he remains suspended there as if held by an invisible force. Until she clears her throat softly.
Lucas moves away, studying her small feet and toes. “What exactly is paining you?” he asks, tempted to take her little extremities in his hand and rub the soreness out of them. It’s not something he’s ever done or felt a compulsion to do.
“No one thing really,” she responds softly. “I’ll be fine.”
“I can take her inside,” Seth offers when he pulls up next to Alaine’s Queens apartment.
Lucas peers into the darkness at the sketchy neighbourhood. “I think it’s best you stay with the car,” he says, noting the few characters hanging along the block. That tall man leaning against the lamp post looks very familiar. Lucas’ brows knit together in concentration. He’s certain he recognizes him but dismisses the wayward thought to give Alaine his attention.
He wants to talk to her about her living situation but she is exhausted. It’s on her face and in the rigid set of her body.
“I’m going to come around to carry you out,” he tells her before gently lifting her legs off his thighs. Her deep intake of breath causes him to frown. The idea that she is in so much pain makes a part inside him hurt. What’s more, he wishes there was something he could do to take it away.
Seth exits the car to open the door for him. He returns to stand on the sidewalk, his legs apart, playing the role of bodyguard. With Alaine secure against his body, Lucas strides easily up the small walkway to the three-story brownstone.
“No more heels, Ms. Knight,” he cautions before she sticks her hand in her bosom and pulls out a key to unlock the gated front door. His eyebrow quirks up at her, both amused and stunned by her action.
“I’m on the second floor. I can walk, there’s no need to...”
“Hush,” he scolds quietly, looking down at her as he steps under the light the entryway. His breath catches in his throat. “I don’t want you falling down the stairs.”
Though neither knows why, they continue up the stairs with hushed conversation. It makes the climb, with Lucas' unhurried steps, more intimate. Alaine can feel his muscles bunch and work as he carries her so effortlessly. The last time she’d been carried was approximately eight years ago, after her ghastly fall.
He stops at her door and she looks up at him, just as he looks down at her. Their moment shared in the backseat seems to have continued with them to her landing. Alaine has never had the desire, or urge, to know what another person’s lips feel like, but she does now. As if her body knows it, her heart lurches and her breathing accelerates. He looks down at her like he wants to kiss her too. But there is a mixture of apprehension and bewilderment in his eyes which draw his eyebrows together. His eyes dart over her face like she is some foreign object he has to examine. Finally, they fall to her slightly parted mouth. His furrow increases, though he brings his head down, angling her just so. Is he really going to kiss her?”
Lucas’s brain is screaming bad idea. Red flags raise and sirens blare but he can’t seem to stop himself. He’s never kissed a woman. He’s done many unholy things with them but has never had the inclination to share the intimacy of a kiss. He doesn’t need kisses. Maybe his induction into carnal pleasures came too early in life. He’d learned prematurely that his body could function just fine without affectionate displays such as kisses and foreplay. It is a good way to remain detached, he imagines. But now. Now he looks down at the enchanting dark haired fey in his arms and is bedeviled by eyes that leap like fire and lips that seem as soft as rose petals.
He wants nothing more than to know what those lips feel and taste like. She looks like she wants him to do it. He can read it in her eyes, in her accelerated breathing, in the long intake of breath that pushes her breast into his chest.
Her mouth has been a torment since he first saw her. Only... in the beginning, he’d wanted her south of his waist but now the deepest longing assails him. He wants to be kissed by her. As if he is unable to resist, he drops his head while gazing into her eyes, seeking permission. She nods with a mixture of uncertainty and longing carved into her features. Pushing all thoughts aside he hovers a mere millimeter from her, with warm breath caressing his lips. Is he really going to do this? Yes, he is. He would know what she tastes like.
The door opens unexpectedly. “I thought that might be you.”
Delah stands there in all her glorious blue-eyed blondeness, wearing a sheer white t-shirt, no bra to cover her small breasts and very short pajama bottoms. Her face is the picture of surprise while Alaine’s reddens with guilty embarrassment. Alaine sags against Lucas as embarrassment and guilt give way to relief and then disappointment. Maybe now that he’s seen her beautiful sister...
“Old injury,” Lucas explains after clearing his throat. The words distract Alaine but she is happy that her thoughts remain incomplete.
Delah moves aside to allow Lucas entry into the small apartment. “Where do I set you down, Ms. Knight?”
“The sofa,” she whispers.
The tenderness in his features transforms into an expression that says pointedly, that is not a sofa. Alaine shrugs, embarrassed, and drops her eyes to his chest.
So far she’s encountered him three times, in large open environments. Here, in her very little apartment, fit for someone her size, she notices how much space he consumes. His frame is lean and graceful. Now she knows how muscled and well built he is and all six foot something of him seems to suck all the air out of the living room. Caught in her contemplation of his physique as he sets her down, Alaine blushes and turns her gaze away from him.
“Wouldn’t you prefer if I put you to bed?”
The question though most likely spoken innocently, elicits evocative images that are both new and delicious to Alaine. It creates a strong urge to rub her thighs together.
He squats before her, so she has no time to recover from her explicit imagination. Her cheeks colour bright red. His eyebrows quirk up in response. Maybe he knows what she is thinking. That possibility deepens her flush.
“These are my very temporary sleeping quarters,” Alaine replies to distract them both. She especially needs it since he maintains only a small distance between them. “I was hoping to rectify the situation by getting a job with your company,” she concludes.
Needing a reprieve from his piercing and consuming gray eyes, she ducks her head.
Immediately, he takes her chin between his thumb and index finger, bringing her back to eye level with him. There was a tenderness they shared in the hall. It had been brief but for some unfathomable reason, he wants to get it back. “Is this the reason your old injuries are acting up? Where is your bedroom?” he asks both questions in quick succession.
“My sister is sleeping in it.”
Lucas turns his attention to the lithe blonde, standing awkwardly near the entrance of a small hallway he assumes leads to the bedroom and bathroom.
“This is my sister, Delah. She and her daughter are spending some time with me and hopefully soon we’ll be able to find a bigger apartment,” Alaine explains.
As if on cue, Isabella shuffles into the hallway in full body pajamas, a teddy bear clutched tightly against her chest, rubbing her eyes sleepily. Alaine’s heart turns over in her chest. If her niece isn’t the cutest thing in the world... “Hey sleepy head,” Alaine croons. The child walks over and climbs into her lap. Alaine winces but doesn’t complain.
Understanding dawns on Lucas. She gave up her bed to her sister and her daughter despite her injuries. He continues to watch her interaction with the little girl, his heart thudding loudly in his chest.
“I should go. Let you rest,” Lucas says, standing fluidly. “I will contact you soon,” he promises.
“Oh my God,” Delah mouths after she closes the door behind Lucas. He spent a few awkward moments standing tall and imposing in her tiny apartment before he opted to make an exit. “Who was that?” she questions. “He smells expensive.”
“My soon to be employer,” Alaine tells her, leaving out the details of her prospective employment. An escort for six months. That’s all he wants.
“He is gorgeous,” Delah breathes and flops herself down onto the hard sofa beside Alaine. “But why were you about to make out with your soon to be employer?” she inquires, a suggestive tone her voice.
“I was not!” Alaine flushes again, embarrassed by the memory that she was in fact about to make out with a man who is essentially a stranger. This was the first time she ever wanted to be kissed. And she must be really ambitious to skip over all the regular joes and blue-collar men in New York City and jump all the way to Lucas Bright.
“I saw you Alaine,” Delah tells her with an amused chuckle. “And it’s okay. This is a normal human feeling,” she explains. “He is a sexy man and you are an equally sexy woman. And might I add, he also wanted to ravish you.”
Alaine groans loudly. The sound stirs her niece from her slumber. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” she confesses openly. “I only just met him and he evokes these feelings in me that I don’t know what to do with.”
“Just be careful,” her sister points out. “He looks very worldly and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for someone of your status.”
Delah gathers a dozing Isabella in her arms and stands to head for the bedroom. “I know that the chair is causing you a lot of discomfort," she says, feeling guilt.
“It’s fine, I’ll be fine,” Alaine says, lying on her back and slowly stretching out her leg. This is a small price to pay for having her sister and her niece back in her life.
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