Some time not too long ago, yoga had been Alaine’s go to for just about everything. Whenever school had become too stressful or her worry over anything had turned too great, she had turned to her yoga mat. It had done wonders to alleviate her sudden flare ups of pain. She’d even depended on meditating to deal with the intense loneliness that had plagued her on occasion. And yet, almost eight solid weeks have passed since she last depended on yoga for anything.
The last two weeks have been excruciating -- mentally, physically and emotionally. She’s suffered through some agonizing migraines. There’s always this fear attached to her mind that her hallucinations and nightmares of Angus will suddenly materialize at any given moment. Not to mention her immense worry that the longer that they are together the nearer Lucas edges towards the line of fire on her behalf. And yet, she’s never once felt a pressing need to practice any of the exercises she’d learned in those classes Mona had paid for.
This morning, the day after their declarations of love, Alaine finds herself rolling out her mat onto the floor beneath the window seat. The first fingers of dawn are just beginning to roll back the darkness cloaking the sky and landscape. Low beams of light trickle over the shadowy mountains but isn’t bright enough at the moment to filter through the bedroom window.
It’s early and still dark but Lucas has a full day planned for her. If she is going to survive it without his company; without him there to use as her prop for support; then she needs this form of relaxation.
More and more, she’s coming to realize that her whole world revolves around this one man. Not that she’s complaining. Lucas is everything. In a short span of time, he’s become her axis. In all her years shrouded by this uncertainty of where she belongs, she’s never experienced such a potent and odd mix of happiness and trepidation. She feels right when by his side. And yet... she worries.
Of course, she’s happy with him. What woman wouldn’t be? Who doesn’t want a man who is sweet and caring, who puts her first, who would risk everything -- even his own life -- for her. Who loves her so thoroughly. Plus, how easy is he on the eyes?
It’s her own happiness that awakens her deepest anxieties and sends pain ricocheting through organs in her body that, less than two months ago, had only been associated with functioning to keep her alive. Her heart now beats for Lucas. Every breath she breathes is for Lucas. He is at the center of her almost every thought so it makes her wonder...
What if that axis were to shift? Or simply change his mind?
Her entire life will be thrown completely out of orbit. That’s what would happen. Already feeling the crushing sense of defeat like those things have been set in motion by things beyond her control -- that she loses him to another woman or that Angus takes him away from her, Alaine pulls in a deep breath before contorting her figure into her first yoga position in almost eight weeks.
She’d woken up feeling a bit unbalanced this morning. When she’d opened her eyes, they had immediately sought for him beside her. He’d been there sleeping peacefully as he mostly does nowadays. Alaine’s first thought had been to reach for him. If there is one guaranteed way of centering her emotions and eradicating the woefulness that sometimes takes command of her spirit, it’s by having his hands on her body. It’s by meeting his soft demand to look at him while he makes her come apart at the seams. Then when she’s lying in his arms, she would give in to the way his soft touches and words of endearment worked to piece her shattered soul back together. She absolutely loves that part -- basking in the afterglow of his loving.
Her intention had been to kiss him awake like he often does with her. A couple of things had stayed her advance. For one, he has to be tired. Last night, he’d spent quite a bit of time ‘up’ and between her legs. So much so in fact, the two of them together had barely pooled a measly three hours of sleep before he’d had to rise from bed to make preparations for a conference call at 4 a.m. Added to that had been her own concern that maybe -- just maybe -- she might be placing a little too much on his already heavily laden shoulders.
She’d heard when he’d shifted off the bed and had automatically rolled over to seek his warmth.
“Sleep,” he’d commanded softly as she’d opened her eyes to look at him. Like his words held some secret sway over her mind and bodily functions, her eyelids had obeyed and drifted shut.
Guilt that she could have continued to sleep while he -- though clearly needing it more than she does -- had to rise well before morning broke was also part of the reason she’d stowed the hunger he’d awoken in her even as it demanded satisfaction. Rather than following the urge riding her to simply have her way with him, she’d looked down at his resting features with sympathy. After placing a feathery soft kiss on the tip of his nose, she’d eased soundlessly from beneath the covers to head to the bathroom. A hot shower later, she fished out the yoga mat.
Usually, she would rely on some very soft ambient sounds or meditative music for relaxation purposes but in the event that even that might wake the very light sleeper stretched out on the bed, she refrains.
Every now and again during her mild workout, Alaine’s attention automatically shifts to him and each time it does, she can’t help but smile.
Last night, Lucas had said ‘I love you’ again as he rocked gently inside her. The passion in the soft declaration had led her to believe that he’d been waiting for this chance to declare his true feelings while they were making love. His forehead had been resting on hers. His arms had held on to her with an unbreakable grip and his eyes, they’d captivated her with gentleness that showed the depth of his emotions while, at the same time, boring a path all the way to her soul with an intense heat.
He’d repeated those words again -- ‘I love you’ -- as his every muscle, even his voice, -- taut and strained-- had given in to his release as great, uncontrollable shudders had overtaken his body.
Alaine had recognized the passion in the soft cry. Maybe she’d always known that that was what Lucas had been saying all along. Since the night of her attack, every time they’d been together like this, he had professed his love for her in foreign languages. For some reason, that realization made her cry.
Literally, no one but him has said those words to her. So she’d held on to him tighter and kissed him with all the love she feels. Then when it was over, she’d held him with his head resting above her slowing heart beat and whispered, “I love you too, baby.”
His smile in the aftermath had tickled her skin.
By her fifth position, Alaine already feels better. Whether it’s the stretching or her reminiscence about last night improving her mood, she can’t say. Whichever it is, she keeps going and her mind opens to allow the remembrance of how she’s spent the last week under Lucas’ guard.
Her thoughts of the night before -- of them making love as a real couple -- creates a burning puddle in her loins and reawakens her desire to find some fulfilment in Lucas before she has to leave.
Soon, although she does not know exactly what time, she has to embark on that tour he’d organized. They’ll likely spend most of the day apart. There’s no doubt in her mind that Lucas won’t hold it against her should she change her mind about going but he’d already made the effort. Things are already in motion and there must only be a couple of hours at most before her guide is supposed to fetch her anyway.
Saddened by the idea of being away from him for an entire day, her lips pull into a little pout. They’ve sent the last nine days joint at the hip so she’s come to rely on his presence. The separation is going to sting. She just knows it. The itinerary she’d created for this trip was only supposed to include Lucas and her. Not some person that she doesn’t know. No one can blame her for the lack of enthusiasm she feels about today. Even if she’s in a country with so much history and beauty and magic in its atmosphere like Italy.
Dutifully, despite the doleful outlook she has of the day, she’d risen from bed early. Her little bag with supplies is already packed while Lucas remains sprawled like a starfish on the bed with his messy sleep hair and light snores.
She chuckles softly.
Even billionaires snore. It’s a funny thought. Being with Lucas has changed a world view. There are a great many things which set the wealthy apart from the poor. There are a few things, however, that even the richest and most famous have in common with the most destitute of them all. Snoring can be added to the list.
Now crouched on her knees with her ass perched in the air and her spine dipped to create the extended puppy pose, Alaine’s glance flits over to bed again when Lucas’ body now tangled in the sheets shifts ever so slightly. Satisfied that his movement wasn’t a sign of him coming awake, she rests her forehead down on the mat only to be disturbed by the delicious sound of his sleep roughened voice. An army of goosebumps march over her flesh and tingles zing along her spine.
“I hope I wake up to this every morning,” he drawls.
With a smile, Alaine lifts her head to see him sitting up and peering down at her. To give him a show, she exaggerates the curvature of her spine, enticing him with a view of her ass posted like a flag in the air.
He treats her to a lascivious groan of approval that rumbles low in his throat while imagining what he could do to her in that position.
The ridiculousness of their play makes her giggle but she begins crawling her way off the mat and onto the bed. Staying on her hands and knees, she immediately plants her lips on his to claim the languid early morning kiss that she’d denied herself earlier.
Lucas’ hand travels down her curved back and he walks his fingers over her backside before planting his palm firmly on her round cheek and giving it a hard squeeze.
“Good morning to you too,” he mumbles against her mouth. Then he says, “next time you do this, wake me up. I quite enjoy the view.”
Alaine laughs but separates her lips from his to ask, “what time is my tour guide coming?”
“I told her nine,” Lucas responds. “What time is it?”
“Her?” she questions. “Who is ...her? It’s quarter after seven.”
“Mhmm,” Lucas replies nuzzling her neck. “She’s a family friend,” he says lazily. “I figured you’d prefer a woman in the close confines of the car. I know I certainly do. You already showered,” he complains in the same breath after inhaling her skin.
“I didn’t want to wake you nor do I want to be late,” she sighs. “I wish you could come with me. I wish I was doing this with you,” she admits with a frown.
“I will, babe,” Lucas responds and regrettably moves away to create some much needed space between their bodies. “Just not today,” he adds with a heaving sigh. “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you think of the places that you’d like to visit the most or what you would most like to do. No matter what, I will take you before this trip is over.”
Nodding thoughtfully and feeling a little bit better, she answers, “I have to visit Rome and ride a Gondola in Venice.”
“Done,” he answers without hesitation. “And your next early morning shower is with me,” Lucas declares.
He takes her hand in his to curl her fingers over his hard length and says, “I’m in a perpetual state of arousal because of you, Ali. Come take care of me, baby.”
“There’s not enough time,” she replies. “I’d have to shower again.”
“I’ve already told you, there’s always time for that,” Lucas announces as he lifts her astride him.
Although he’s still tired, Lucas feels invigorated -- like he can conquer the world. There’s a pep in his step which he can only credit to one person. She’d denied him access to her body despite the use of his most successful methods of persuasion. Not even that can kill the buoyancy in his spirit. As a matter of fact, her refusal invigorates him. It makes him want to dive head first into everything he has to accomplish today so that he can be done before her return. Because once she sets her feet back inside this house later -- whatever the time -- all bets are off. If they have the house to themselves, he may take her right where she stands.
He looks down at the dark crown of Alaine’s hair as they walk hand in hand down the stairs with the same stupid grin he’s been wearing since last night pasted on his face.
Alaine is a mystery to him but he has no desire to solve the puzzle.
Wearing her platform boots, she doesn’t come up to his shoulders and when her feet are bare, she strains to make it past his elbows but her impact on him and his life is like that of person who should take up much more physical space. That’s the mystery and it he likes it that way.
It’s kind of like that ridiculous Alpha/Omega novel they’d read on the flight here. The lovemaking scenes had been hot -- so hot they’d had to stop reading. But he will borrow the explanation for this phenomena from the text. Alaine has imprinted on him. He cannot fathom another reason for the power of the bond they share nor the hold she has on his heart. Little as she is, Alaine Knight is woven into who he is. Somewhere in the ether before the very foundations of the earth had been set, it was so ordained. This little pepper by his side had been gifted to him and him to her. Where once the thought of her falling for him -- loving him -- had been terrifying. Where once the very idea of feeling anything for her hadn’t been something he’d relished, he can now think of no better way to live; with her by his side.
He uses his hold on her hand to tug her closer then drapes that same arm over her shoulder to keep her there.
“So do you have a mind of where you would like to visit first this morning?” he asks.
He feels her answering shrug.
“It doesn’t really matter,” she answers.
The despondency in her tone makes Lucas stop walking. He turns to her and lifts her face to read the sadness in her features.
“What’s going on, Alaine?” he questions. “I’m pretty certain that you were very happy a few moments ago.”
Not wanting to come off as a whiney, ungrateful, clingy, bratty girlfriend, she keeps herself from declaring that she doesn’t want to go anywhere without him. That he’d promised her the stars and romance and time spent together. Not this. Not an entire day apart and thrusting her like an wanted burden onto a stranger. She wants to cry and express her fear that maybe Angus is here, irrational though it may be. That she only feels safe when he is with her.
“Nothing is wrong,” she answers instead. “I think I’m just going to allow my tour guide to guide me. I’ll follow wherever she leads.”
Regarding her with a pensive scowl marring the spot between his eyebrows and doubt in his eyes, he says, “okay.” Then he guides her into the kitchen.
“I’d prefer to know exactly...” Lucas starts to say but thinks better of it. “As long you keep your phone on you,” he says instead.
“Cross my heart,” Alaine tells him and plops down onto one of the stools around the island. She makes a little show of tracing an X over her left chest and Lucas narrows his eyes at her.
“Mhmm,” he responds, the little hum is his throat straining with his doubt.
From the other side of the counter, he points an accusing finger in her direction and says, “I know how you are with those things. I’m serious, Alaine,” he warns.
Ready to deliver her reply, Alaine opens her mouth to assure him that she will be responsible but the back door to the kitchen swings open. Since there was no knock to warn of the individual’s entry, she fully expects to encounter one or both of Lucas’ grandparents.
From what she’s experienced with the two of them, his grandfather, Giancarlo appears to be mild-mannered. Meek even. Alaine expects that there would be many awkward silences between the two of them. That is something that she is prepared to handle.
Silently, she prays that it will be Lucas’ grandfather who walks through the door but in case it’s his grandmother, she braces for impact.
“Lucas,” a rich, sultry voice, thick with a sexy Italian accent sings making Alaine do a double take.
That voice could belong to no other person tha the type woman who walks through the door. Sexy doesn’t even begin to describe her from her glowing olive toned skin to the way her clothes contours to each defined curve of her body.
Alaine’s sharply defined eyebrows curve down into a frown.
It’s clear the woman had dressed to impressed. Her eyes, the colour of the Mediterranean, catch Alaine’s for a split second. The smile on her face falters only slightly with non-recognition before she brightens up to give her attention once more to Lucas.
Before she fits herself into his body, she throws a longer more curious glance Alaine’s way then dismisses her altogether.
Her delicate arms curve over the back of his neck as she hoists herself up on the tips of the toes to ensure that despite the dichotomy of their anatomy, hers are perfectly aligned and fitted to his.
What grates on Alaine’s nerves more than the inadequacy that piques almost shaming her in the presence of this woman, is that Lucas doesn’t even try to extricate himself for her overly personal grip. They embrace goes on for what feels like forever. Her irritation increases a notch at the way they rattle on in words that she cannot understand and even more with the way the woman sways to cause friction between their bodies.
It’s all Alaine can do to sit there and not clear her throat or say something to remind them that she is there or to bitterly remind Lucas that there is a perfectly sturdy bed upstairs that the two of them can use if they need it.
What’s worse is when the woman kisses him so close to his lips. Hackles rising doesn’t begin to describe the way Alaine feels.
It’s an Italian tradition, she tries to convince herself. That’s how his grandmother had greeted after all.
But then it hits her.
She knows that fragrance. On the ride from the airport, she’d spent hours breathing it into her lungs. She’d chastised herself for distrusting Lucas when she’d learned that the car they’d ridden in belongs to his mother. But now she’s not so sure she should have dismissed her suspicions so quickly.
Had he spent the two weeks here in Italy with this woman?
Still clinging to Lucas’ neck, the beautiful stranger leans back, her straight mane of heavy brown hair dangling down her back with not a strand out of place in this chilly morning weather, with her fixed on his.
All the anger drains out of Alaine as she watches slim, manicured fingers run down the length of his arms to join their hands together.
Their interaction is too familiar and entirely improper and even with her watching, Lucas doesn’t seem to care.
The Italian beauty laughs at something he says.
As if just remembering that she is there sitting at the island, Lucas says, “in Engish Rory. We have a guest.”
Alaine’s eyes twitch with the effort it takes not to narrow them at him.
“I’d like you to meet someone,” he continues. “This is my girlfriend, Alaine.”
Half surprised that he’d even remembered to give her the title, Alaine forces the muscles in her face up in a tight smile.
Oblivious to anger roiling just beneath the surface, Lucas continues, “Ali, this is Aurora. She’s an old friend.”
At first, when he’d introduced Alaine as his girlfriend, Aurora’s smile had only slipped. She’d regained it easily because her hand was still in Lucas’. When he refers to her as an old friend however, it disappears completely.
It’s clear, blatantly so, that whatever she feels is beyond friendship. Alaine wants to walk up to Lucas and smack him upside his head.
Instead she says in a voice that comes out too meek for her own liking, “it’s nice to meet you.”
Barely sparing Alaine a glance to at least try to appear hospitable, Aurora’s attention returns swiftly to Lucas after a quick and insincere, “Likewise,” thrown Alaine’s way.
“Lucas,” she says. “I am surprised. The last time we were together you did not mention a girlfriend.”
Alaine feels her chest burn at the woman’s words.
While they were together? She doesn’t understand what that means.
Are her suspicions about Lucas correct? Had he...cheated?
It’s an inaccurate term since, back then, they weren’t in a relationship that society would recognize as normal. Still, the idea that he’d been with another woman hurts something fierce. She feels it all the way in her gut. The pain is so pressing, she has to fight the urge to gag.
Though she tries to appear unaffected, the richness of the inviting, lilting accent and the sense of betrayal rile a storm of emotions inside Alaine. Even more so that Lucas hasn’t really looked at her since his guest arrived.
She’s taller than Alaine, by maybe two inches and curvier in all the places that matters to man like Lucas. It’s too easy to picture him with someone like that and hard now to guess why he’d chosen her to stand by his side rather than this stunning woman.
A huge part of Alaine’s heart and mind warns her that she is making a mistake. That Lucas loves her. She even chides herself for the jealous thoughts enraging her. There’s a small piece of her though, that little part of her that remembers the rejection from her own parents, that part that is well acquainted with being overlooked that issues a warning like a knife twisting in her belly.
Amidst her tumultuous thoughts and feelings, she hears Lucas say, “we’d only just started dating. We only recently made it official but...”
He gives her a little sheepish shrug and presents Alaine with a look that shines with devotion. He gives her a wink and despite her irritation, Alaine feels her cheeks heat.
Cursing herself inwardly over the fact that she doesn’t have that under control as yet, Alaine fights to keep her warring emotions from showing on her face.
“So are you ready, baby?” Lucas asks.
He finally frees his hand form Aurora’s and moves to stand behind Alaine’s back. He kneads his warm fingers that had just been caressing another woman’s hand into her shoulders.
Alaine wants to remain impervious to his touch but she melts a little. Deciding to stake her claim and make it clear to this woman who clearly has difficulties respecting boundaries that Lucas is hers, she leans into his sturdy chest behind her.
Alaine cranes her neck upward to look at him. A pleased tingle runs through her as he presses a kiss to her forehead. Smiling at his display of affection, she answers, “sure. I’ll get my things.”
Not wanting to leave Lucas alone for too long with this Aurora person, she hurries quickly back up the stairs and to the bedroom. When she gets inside, Alaine stops and stairs at the bed. She really should have given him what he’d wanted earlier this morning.
Even Aurora’s name is more enticing than hers, she thinks with a frown. Plus there is more of her. More height, more breasts, more hips. More beauty in general. Added to the fact that she also comes from money, like Lucas, it’s hard for Alaine to understand why he’d picked her.
A quick peek at herself in the mirror has Alaine frowning and self-conscious over the Plane Jane staring back at her. She has no make-up, no glamour. Absolutely no glitz.
Because the stylist back in Vegas had said that pulling her hair up accentuates her sexy eyes, she makes the effort to brush the tresses that she’d left loose to combat the mild cold up into a quick and messy bun.
Noticing no difference whatsoever in her appearance, Alaine sighs and shrugs in resignation. What will she do if Lucas does have something more with this girl?
Not wanting to think about, she turns away from the wounded woman in the mirror to head back downstairs.
When she re-enters the kitchen, she stalls at the entryway.
Lucas is occupying the stool she just vacated at the island but beside him, Aurora leans against the counter, her breast a mere millimeter from grazing his arm. Their heads a bowed in an intimate conversation that she can guess is in their native tongue so neither one of them takes note of her arrival.
Alaine rolls her eyes at the picture they make. Today promises to be awkward at the very least. The worst part is that, as much as she wants to back out, she doesn’t know how to do so without feeling terrible about it. Citing PMS or even jet lag pops into her mind. They’d both be a lie but she seriously contemplates using the flimsy excuses while shuffling with all her misery on showcase back into the kitchen.
She would much rather sit here all day with nothing to do. She’d prefer another stern conversation with Lucas’ grandmother than to deal with another of his insane admirers. At least with Darcy Peters and Natasha Ingram, their encounters were mere run-ins and Lucas had been close by during both. This time she has to spend an entire day with Aurora. She’s not looking forward to it at all.
Like he could feel the weight of her thoughts, Lucas turns around and gets up from the stool. He walks away from his old friend to meet Alaine and places both hands on her hips with a proprietary hold.
“Pretty,” he says about the new hair-do. Then he takes a deep breath and steps closer.
Knowing her hang-ups about displaying too much affection when in the company of others, he asks, “a kiss?”
Alaine feels like doing a victory dance in spite of the melancholy imbued in her spirit. She doesn’t wait for Lucas to come down to meet her. She gives him her answer by going up on the tips of her toes to remove the space between them. As he drops his head the rest of the way, she presses her lips onto his and sighs.
She likes this type of kiss. The sweet kind. It’s not sensual or sexual. It’s not demanding or even passionate. His lips are gentle yet compelling. They send a different kind of awareness through Alaine as his arms wrap around her body to draw her closer.
Before long, however, the meaning of the kiss changes. One of Lucas’ hands abandons it’s post around her waist to glide up her back and dishevel the disobedient strands of hair at the back of her head.
Alaine is tempted to get lost in it to remind him of why they are good together. Instead, she reins in the desire to brand Lucas as hers in front of this woman.
Pulling back, she remind him, “we have company.”
“I don’t understand this,” Lucas leans his forehead on hers to say.
He keeps her there on the tips of her toes and closes his eyes to breathe in her subtle scent.
“Twenty-six years I’ve been without you,” he whispers. “And now after a few days of us living together, the idea of spending the day apart, I feel like I can’t breathe,” he admits.
Alaine fights her smile of victory to tell him, “I know exactly what you mean. I’ll miss you too.”
“Stay in touch, Ali,” Lucas cautions. “Promise me that you will.”
“I promise,” she assures him.
“And have fun, I guess,” Lucas says as he finds it difficult to let her go. “And don’t forget. Buy something; for me and for you,” he adds to keep stalling. “Just imagine that I’m saying all the right things a boyfriend is supposed to say in this situation. I’m still figuring out how all this is supposed to work.”
Alaine laughs at him.
“This hardly qualifies as ‘a situation’ but okay,” she agrees. “And you’ve been doing a commendable job.”
How Lucas convinces himself to let her go, he doesn’t know but he steps back from Alaine and guides her to Aurora.
“Take care of my girl, Rory,” he requests in all seriousness. “I’ll miss you, babe,” he says to Alaine.