Half-baked and Hair-brained Ideas.
WARNING: THIS IS NOT MY BEST WORK!
I've been struggling to write this chapter but it is long overdue. Because of that, I am posting it as it is. I've got a few faithful readers who have been posting gentle reminders that they have been waiting and I am truly grateful to you guys for that. Either way, I hope you enjoy. I don't have the time to do a dedication now but I will post it later tonight, hopefully.
Happy reading guys! Don't forget to comment or vote or support in whatever way you can.
Because of the creak in the wooden staircase, Lucas walks downstairs gingerly on the balls of his feet so as not to announce his presence. Though his effort succeeds in eliminating most of the noise, each soft groan beneath his soles makes him cringe and slow his pace even further. If someone were to ask him why he doesn't just bound down the steps in his own home as he usually would rather than skulking about like a thief, he'd be ashamed to give an honest reply. Thank goodness no one is around to witness it.
He makes it to the living area without alerting anyone of his approach and slinks his way towards the kitchen where Alaine is entertained by his grandmother. From a distance, it's hard to make out what tales his Nonna is spinning but the thought of the two of them getting along makes him smile.
He means to give them some time to...to what? Bond? As it seems much too early to hope for all that, his goals are far less ambitious. Asking Alaine to seek out his grandparents was simply an idea which was supposed to encourage the three to at least strike up a productive conversation for today. From then on, hopefully, they could develop some sort of camaraderie over the next two weeks. From his view across the room, it seems to be working.
After Alaine left him upstairs, he'd sat in his office for all of two minutes before prematurely ending the call with Seth. He'd already been agitated with himself for this half-baked idea of Alaine facing his grandparents -- virtual strangers -- on her own. Learning that, somehow, Angus had managed to give Las Vegas police officers the slip was enough to make him see red. Not only that. The information also served to escalate his discomfiture and anchor this compulsion to be near her.
He'd hurried from the room and hustled across the landing in his haste to get to her and play the role of buffer. Nessa Ferreira -- his grandmother -- especially is not well–known for her discretion nor subtly. She can be as blunt as he is —if not more— when the matter calls for it. Those who know her well often comment that the trait has to be hereditary. Although he can't imagine what reason she would find to castigate Alaine, the worry that she would do just that had propelled him forward. Until that first dastardly creak sounded on the very first stair forcing him to slow his advance, that is.
His late arrival only allows him to catch the tail end of the conversation but what he hears is sufficient enough that Lucas gets the bitter gist of it. The accusation his grandmother levels against Alaine stirs a rebellion inside him and makes his gut curl with displeasure and regret. It's not something that he can abide. That anyone would charge Alaine with being a gold-digger would be laughable so long as that individual is not among those who should be rejoicing that he's found someone who's lit up his life.
In the little time he's been here, he's already expressed to both his grandparents exactly how much she means to him so he cannot fathom what would possess his grandmother to interfere in such an antagonistic manner.
Alaine - a gold-digger?
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The fear that this tete-a tete between the two women will create a set back in what little progress he's already achieved with Alaine drives Lucas forward. He plans to put an end to his grandmother's crusade to sniff out her intentions. However, before he can cross the threshold into the kitchen, three little words barrel into him with the force of a freight train.
"I love him," Alaine says.
Although these are the words he's been thirsting to hear her speak, that response takes Lucas completely by surprise and stalls the breath in his lungs. He's not sure what line of defense he expected Alaine to argue but he definitely had not anticipated that. If his grandmother's words had hurt even him, he thought they would have demolished her. Instead, she stands there resolutely declaring her love for him.
The first thought in his mind is to charge into the kitchen and get her to confess those words to him. For some inexplicable reason, his legs refuse to work.
Still unseen by the two women, he rests his back against the corner wall and opens himself to a torrent of emotions. The most potent of all is fear and for a moment Lucas attempts to make sense of this prevailing reaction. Why should he be afraid of Alaine loving him?
Because she will come to the realization that her affection is wasted on you.
That insidious enlightenment comes in the voice of his stepfather causing a shudder to run through him. It's as if he could feel Kurt's sinister presence and hear the poisonous words like they were breathed right beside his ear. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, Lucas clenches his jaws and tries to beat back this implanted ideology that no one could ever truly love him.
In the time that he's known her, this woman who's so openly professing her love for him has made it plain in actions, greater than words, that she already does. Maybe Claudia couldn't love him and Kurt hates him but that has little to do with him and more to do with their own inadequacies. Or so Alaine has tried to convince him.
That fleeting notion, that he is deserving, he tries to latch on to and force it to germinate. The conflicting emotions bring him this close to tears so he shakes his head at himself in disbelief. Blinking rapidly to keep them at bay, Lucas curses the loss of his manhood. It's ridiculous really. Since meeting Alaine, he needs both hands to count the number of times he's been reduced to this... A mewling quim. Tears! He never cries. Not since he was a teen. Brutality had taught him how not to.
Who would have thought that those three little words could start an internal war and inflict so much damage? Who knew at the same time that they could mean so much? No one other than his grandparents had told him every day in his early childhood that they loved him and not even their affirmation had been able to survive Kurt's tyranny.
Before Alaine and before this moment, he was never able to understand the hype behind love and relationships. But now, he gets it. He loves Alaine more than anything and knowing that she reciprocates fills him with consummate gratification as well as a kaleidoscope of new, very pleasant sentiments. It makes him want to move out of hiding.
Again the hint of regret that she won't say those words to him surges to the fore. She's expressed her worries about the balance of their relationship and her inability to ‘get him anything’. All of that would be put to rest if she would only understand. He already has everything he needs. The one thing he wants that he can’t buy is I love you, Lucas, from her.
Something urges him to move forward -- to confront her and get her to say it. Another something cautions, patience. Give her time. She’ll get there.
Debating between the two options, Lucas hangs where he is in indecision.
The next thing his grandmother mentions is the love bite he’d left on Alaine’s neck. While imagining the horror on her face and what shade of red her skin must now be, he presses his lips together to hold off a chuckle gurgling in his throat. Sometimes he tries to remember to avoid making them so visible but that's easier said than done when he is raptured by this earthly version of heaven.
Chancing a glance beyond his hiding place into the kitchen, Lucas' lips twitch again. The sight of Alaine elbow deep in a wad of dough under the tutelage of his grandmother is cute. It’s a vision that warms him down to his bare toes. The uncomfortable situation between them seems to be smoothing itself out. The little fairy doesn't seem to need rescuing after all. In fact, a smile lights up her face while being dictated to about the correct way to knead pastry dough.
“I hope I can make him happy,” he hears Alaine say and he wants to step out of the shadows now to assure her, she already has.
Reaching out, his grandmother pats her hand over Alaine’s and responds with words that make him glad.
“I know he is,” she says. “This is why I want to know you feel the same with him. When he was last here, he was sad. It break my heart. Now, mio nipote -- my grandson feels...differente.”
Alaine blushes to her roots because of that comment then returns her attention to the chunk of gooey dough in front of her.
Shamefully, Lucas continues to eavesdrop to learn more of Alaine's secrets. He never pegged his grandmother as a meddler. That could be because he’s never invited his private life here. Apparently the opportunity for her to play matchmaker just never presented itself and thank god for that.
Despite the annoyance her little stunt provoked, he feels a measure of gratitude. If it weren’t for her interference, he would still be left to wonder about Alaine's feelings. Nevermind that he senses what's in her heart. It just feels infinitely better to know for sure.
Deep in thought in his hiding spot, he misses the shift of the conversation from love bites to marriage. As soon as he catches on, Lucas ponders his grandmother’s wisdom on the topic and misses Alaine’s response. What he does take stock of is that she is kneading with less enthusiasm and the smile she wore a little while ago is gone.
He too is flabbergasted. Marriage is not something he ever contemplated. Until this second, it was never on his radar. What’s the point? From a very young age, that’s been his take on this particular subject.
Is it something that should already have been considered with their relationship? If it is, he hasn’t. What does it mean that he hasn’t?
Lucas scowls at the questions in his mind. Being with Alaine is a daily enjoyment. In his opinion, they don’t need anything more than that. But his grandmother’s glistening simple wedding rings sitting on the counter beside them catches his eye.
Today he asked Alaine to be his girlfriend without giving consideration to the future. What if that alone isn't enough for her? It never occurred to him that one day she will probably want a ring. His name.
That’s one of the things being in a relationship has taught him. They're metamorphic. They evolve and so do the people in them.
A quick reflection over his person discloses his own transformation since meeting Alaine. It also reveals what he truly wants.
A full life with her.
The thought sends his heart galloping.
Deciding against intruding, as silently as he came in, Lucas sneaks away from the homey picture his girlfriend, covered in flour, makes in his kitchen.
To a degree, Alaine is still scared of Lucas' grandmother and her candour. Notwithstanding that their little discussion ended far better than it began, Nessa Ferreira is a force to be reckoned with and definitely not someone she wants to cross. Honestly, she is happy that Lucas has someone so fierce in his corner. It must be nice having people or at least one steadfast person to intercede on his behalf.
In the little time that they've known each other, that's what he's been for her -- that one steadfast person. Except for today, apparently.
It seems like whenever they visit with his family, Lucas disappears on her. Since sending her downstairs into the lion's den, he's yet to resurface from his phone call and she started to worry around dinner time when he did not make an appearance.
Still feeling out of place in her environment, she limits her search for him to the bedroom that they share and peering out the window at the grounds hoping to get a glimpse of him.
She rests there for a while, sitting on the bed and watching to door hoping that he will come in. That talk with his grandmother put a lot of things in perspective and she can no longer keep her feelings hidden from him.
Despite her belief that he hasn't deserted her, the wait and her mounting nervousness become too much. Plus, it's rather strange. When they're together at it apartment, they're almost always together. If they are not intimately entwined, they’re in his media room with popcorn and a movie, or reading that scandalous book or just lying idly in companionable silence. Whatever it is, they usually do it together.
A knock on the door makes Alaine's heart leap in her throat. Knowing that there is no going back from what she is about to do, she rises from the bed slowly and takes measured steps to open the door. While it seems strange for Lucas to knock on his own bedroom door, she hopes that it's him.
"I could not leave you without saying sorry," Nessa Ferreira tells her when the door opens. "I was not trying to insult you. I just..."
"I understand," Alaine assures her.
The lady nods her head and gives her a very brief smile.
"Well buona notte," she says.
For the second time today, Alaine finds her face taken in Lucas' grandmother's palms with two kisses planted on each cheek.
"I am happy for Lucas," she tells Alaine. "He is outside on the terrace now," she informs her.
Happy for the information, Alaine smiles and slips past her host to return downstairs. As she steps outside, she shivers with the first cold breeze that hits her but continues with light footsteps around the wrap-around deck. She finds Lucas swaying gently in a hammock beneath a ridiculously large quilt. The fact that he had not sought her out in the past few hours has her wondering if he prefers to be alone. Dismissing the niggling sense that her company might be an imposition on what to be a quiet, contemplative moment, she continues in his direction.
Because his head is tipped back to look up a the sky blanketed by twinkling starlight, he doesn't notice her approaching him until she says, "hey."
The genuine smile that pulls Lucas' lips further dispels the lingering doubt.
“I was wondering when you would come find me," he says. "Come here.”
With one arm around her waist, he lifts her easily into the hammock and tucks the blanket around her.
“I was helping to clean up and prepare stuff for the bed and breakfast in the morning," Alaine informs him. "I'm not sure how much you pay your workers but, I've clocked in about three hours."
Lucas chuckles at that. "Duly noted," he states. “I’ve told her a million times to hire help,” he huffs. “She’s stubborn. All the important women in my life seem to be.”
Counting herself one of those, Alaine smiles at the comment.
“She feels capable,” she tells him while curling into his side to rest her head on his shoulder. “I’ve never seen so many stars," she says. "It’s beautiful. This place is truly amazing Lucas. Thank you for taking me with you.”
Absently, Lucas places a soft kiss against her hair while wondering whether he should bring up what he overheard in the kitchen with his grandmother.
Deciding to give her a chance to tell him first he says, “I told you. And what are you thanking me for?" he questions. "My reasons are purely selfish and carnal.”
Alaine chuckles and leans up to him to accept the sweep of his lips over hers.
“I’ve missed your lips,” she confesses huskily.
“Is that all you missed?” Lucas jokes.
Thankful that this hammock is much sturdier than the one in his father's yard in New Jersey, he angles his body so she fits into him, her every curve molding to accommodate his contours and takes advantage of this new position.
Her fingers graze the exposed flesh just above his waistband summoning a fine layer of goosebumps on his skin.
Slowly their kiss ends with Lucas staring deeply into her eyes. What Alaine sees there makes her heart turn over in her chest.
“You amaze me,” he says honestly and she laughs at him.
Feeling no hurt or embarrassment with her glee, he joins the laughter and tickles her as a form of reprimand.
“That was a compliment,” Lucas scolds in jest.
Their laughter quiets into a peaceful silence. Alaine presses a soft kiss into his chest and runs idle fingers up and down his torso. This is exactly what she was thinking earlier. How perfect even in the silence between them is.
“Listen, Ali,” he says cutting into her thoughts. “Tomorrow I have to get back to being the CEO of my company seriously. I've slacked off the last few weeks but I need to be at the helm. I actually have a conference call at four in the morning.”
“Of course,” she answers looking up at him. “I’ve had you shirking your responsibility.”
Scowling down at her, Lucas replies, "you haven't. I've told you, everything I'm doing is because I want. In leu of that, tomorrow I’ve arranged with a family friend to take you on a tour of the grounds and maybe the nearest city. There’s a lot of history here. You can maybe see some sites?" he suggests. "Shop a little if you want? You have the credit card and twenty-five thousand dollars at your disposal.
At the signs of her protest, he impedes her ability to speak by placing a finger over her lush lips.
"Uh uh,” he says. “With my new status as 'boyfriend', it’s my job to take care of you -- my girlfriend. Buy something tomorrow. Something for you and something for me.”
Alaine scrunches up her face at him but doesn’t argue. Seemingly appeased by her silence, Lucas continues, “I have a few conference calls, some business others not.”
When he pauses, Alaine looks up at him and asks softly, “Angus?”
“That too," Lucas responds as he begins to stroke his fingers along her arm. "But I don’t want you to worry. okay? I will do everything I can to keep you safe from him. Ali," he assures her again. "I promise. So do you think tomorrow is something you want to do?”
Although she'd rather spend the time with him, Alane understands the pressure that he must be under so nods her head to agree.
“I wish you wouldn’t keep me in the dark about what is going on with that whole stalker situation," she comments.
“I know” he agrees. “But Seth has to colour outside the lines a little and I prefer you have plausible deniability.”
“What?” Alaine shrieks.
With worry in her eyes, she leans up to look at Lucas.
“What does that mean?" she questions. "You’re not breaking the law, Lucas," she commands. "Whatever you and Seth are up to if it gets you in trouble, you need to quit it, now,” she demands with her features set so sternly Lucas, has to chuckle.
“If it keeps you safe I have no problem with it, babe,” he counters with a careless shrug.
“Then you’re harebrained," Alaine huffs.
“Harebrained?” Lucas laughs. “The things you say to me."
Still chuckling he says, "I’m trying to keep you, safe woman. We’re not doing anything to spend an eternity in jail, Ali. But some of our methods are unconventional. A slap on the wrist at most.”
“Don’t kill anyone,” she warns. “Let the police do their jobs.”
“They let him get away,” Lucas spits bitterly. And he nearly adds, twice. “It’s been almost two weeks and they have nothing. I’m not taking chances with you.”
He doesn’t say it, but if it comes to that -- if he gets the chance -- he will kill Angus Maloney. That shrine the man had of Alaine still haunts him, her screams over the phone still torment him and the thought of losing her is too much to bear.
An actual shudder runs through him as again, his mind plays images of what he’d encountered on his return from Italy. The cut in her lip and at her neck, the bruise on her cheek, the way she shook and cried in his arms. It’s all terrifying.
“Are you okay?” Alaine asks.
“I’m chilled,” Lucas replies, not wanting to burden her with his fears. “Will you not reconsider moving in with me?” he asks again.
“Lucas, I can’t,” she replies, regretting how the atmosphere suddenly shifts from tranquil to tense.
“Why not?” he asks exasperated. “It would be so much easier, Ali.”
“Because,” she responds and takes a pause to gather her thoughts. “We are still so young in this relationship, baby,” she says hoping the term will appease him. “We’re still learning each other. I love being with you. I love falling asleep with your arms around me but I don’t want to ruin it by jumping into this. We should be taking our time and...
“None of that matters,” Lucas interrupts stiffly. “You matter to me. "Your life is in danger, Ali," he reminds her. "My primary concern is protecting you,” he stresses. “Not whether or not every day is going to be smooth sailing.”
“Can I think about it?” Alaine asks to end the impending argument. He doesn’t answer but she feels his nod against her hair.
The peacefulness in the air that had been suppressed only a second ago returns giving Alaine time to ponder what she promised herself she would do tonight.
Tension coils in her gut and her hands squeeze Lucas' side in an effort to loosen it. He feels the kick and acceleration of her breathing beside her and wonders if it is their disagreement or the memory of Angus or both that are troubling her.
Needing to set her at ease, Lucas tightens the arm holding her and lifts her face to the gentle touch of his lips on hers.
"I'll take care of you, baby," he promises before resettling in the hammock and casting them off to a gentle sway.
“Lucas?” she calls in a soft voice.
“Hmmm?” he responds, his mind distant.
When she doesn't reply, Lucas glances down at her again.
"What is it, baby?” he asks.
“I love you.”