I hadn’t expected this chapter would be this long but I just said what the heck. If I try to cut it, the tone and shape of the content will change. So here are all 5,300 words. And again, it’s rough because I’m not sure if it’s my internet connection or Inkitt but the cursor keeps freezing and it makes typing really slow.
I hope you enjoy this chapter. Leave comment below.
Alaine studies the picture splashed over the home page beneath another headline of yet another online news site: Lucas Bright Locks Lips with Longtime Lover! this one reads.
The image is a blown up version of what she’d seen that night -- Lucas and Aurora captured in the afore mentioned lip lock. Though the frame is grossly pixelated and shadowy, anyone can recognize him as the man in it and that the woman whose lips is on his isn’t her.
Alaine isn’t sure whether it’s her eyes playing tricks or just her hopes or the fact that Lucas has denied the allegations so vehemently, but she is certain that in the shot, his stance has all the give of a plywood plank. She examines the photo more closely and concludes that it’s not just her imagination. She believes him when he says that he hadn’t encouraged Aurora’s advances. Besides, that kiss is nothing like those Lucas shares with her. There’s no passion in it.
And yet, she snarls at the image.
Everything about the article is terrible -- the lies. The speculation. But the worst part about all of it has to be the tiny still of her placed strategically as a footnote down in the bottom corner of the page. A sign that she has been or will soon be forgotten. In it, her face is all mottled with runny make-up from the tears streaming down her cheeks. Right next to that is a separate image of Lucas where he looks absolutely perfect and between the two of them lies a huge crack. A herald of the break up that the public anticipates.
Son of the soil returns home! Another headline reads. The original text is written in Italian but once Alaine copies the words and pastes them into a search engine, that’s what she gets as a rough translation.
It’s all rubbish, of course. Nothing could be farther from the truth and she would like for everyone waiting for the drama to unfold to hold their breath. She’d like to thumb her nose at each and everyone of them. More specifically, she’d like to rub it in Aurora’s face by giving her a blow by blow account of how Lucas had spent the afternoon and part of the evening making it up to her first on the desk in his office, then outside in a secluded hideaway while they were touring the property around his house. If she was that type of person who thrived off drama, she would let Aurora know that she’d gone to bed an exhausted but very satisfied woman. Since she isn’t, Alaine settles for an internal celebration of moral victory while reveling in the knowledge that Lucas loves her.
Even so, with the recollection of the events in question still fresh in her mind and people using it as fodder, it makes her want to vomit.
It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it when WE get back. Lucas and I are still together, she forwards to Delah and Bethany and Mona in response to their frantic texts to set them at ease.
In spite of how the last 48 hours have unfolded, she can’t help but appreciate her friends and their varied reactions to the breaking scandal.
Delah is promising retribution and murder and urging her towards reprisal. Mona was encouraging her to knee Lucas in the balls and keep her chin up. Even Seth had sent her a message to ask her if she was alright -- if he needed to get involved and devoting himself to quitting the job. But she would leave Lucas to deal with that one.
Only Bethany, expert on relationships that she is not, but ever the hopeless romantic, had pegged the photograph for what it really was.
He doesn’t look interested to me, a part of her text had said. And that had made Alaine smile.
Because she doesn’t have the time to spare to engage in the back and forth right now, Alaine hits the shutdown button on her phone and tosses it onto the bed.
“I’ll issue a statement,” Lucas tells her from the doorway where, for the last few seconds, he he’s been studying her and all the shifting emotions on her face.
Alaine yelps her surprise then swivels around in the direction of his voice. She’d been so taken up with her thoughts, she hadn’t heard the bedroom door open.
When she sees him leaning against the door jamb, her heart slams against her ribs with such force, the sudden muscle spasm cuts her breath.
The forlornness that Lucas has been wearing since the first wave of photos started appearing in the media lifts. He gives her that knowing side smirk. Because Alaine no longer needs to hide the way he affects her, she completes a full appraisal of him where he stands three-quarter way dressed in his suit.
His shoes look like they’ve never been worn before. There’s no surprise there if they haven’t. The pants are perfectly tailored and that’s not surprising either. His white shirt, only half way buttoned up, feeds her to a view of skin that she knows is warm and smooth and stretched over sculpted muscles. The fabric is crisp and bright and tucked in to precision with a belt that looks equally unused holding it in place. A tie remains undone around his collar spilling down over his shoulders while his hair is already immaculately coifed. The only thing missing to complete his regal look is the navy jacket to match his trousers.
Lucas is simply gorgeous -- his looks unrivaled by any man she’s ever set eyes on. And he is hers.
Alaine cocks her head to the side and bites back her smile. Doing her best to force her reaction to seeing him looking ever so handsome under submission, she narrows her eyes in warning and says, “get out.”
Lucas chuckles but disobeys by stepping fully into the room before shutting the door behind him.
“Whether I see you now or later changes nothing,” he assures Alaine. “I think you’ll look beautiful no matter what you wear.”
The blush extends from Alaine’s toes and rises quickly to her scalp. She tries to suppress her grin but her efforts are wasted since her cheeks begin to hurt.
“I don’t want you to see me as yet, Lucas,” she complains. “It’s supposed to be a surprise.”
He looks at her dressed only in her underwear and raises an eyebrow.
“The only thing that could top what you’re wearing now, is you completely naked,” he assures her while crossing the floor.
He comes to a stop in front of her and places his palms over the lace covering her hips. With his fingers securely fastened there, he pulls her closer to slant his lips over hers.
Since the start of what they’ve termed the Aurora Fiasco, there is always a tinge desperation to Lucas’ kisses like he wants to send her message with more than just words.
By the time he pulls back, his erection is obscene, both their eyes are clouded with desire and Alaine’s lips are swollen. The smell of her arousal in the air makes him ache and plot to put off their plans for the evening.
Dropping his forehead to hers, Lucas asks, “you know it’s all rubbish, right, Alaine?”
“I do,” she confirms.
“There’s been no secret relationship between Aurora and me. Ever,” he keeps on explaining as if he hadn’t heard her response.
“Forget it, Lucas,” Alaine sincerely urges him.
“How can I?” he growls and pulls back to look down at her. “They’re writing this garbage like it’s the truth and I see what it’s doing to you.”
Alaine tries to exorcise his worry by raising her hand to smooth the lines in his forehead.
“I will set the record straight,” he says with determination in his voice.
“You will do no such thing,” she tells him. ”We know the truth and that’s all that matters. Plus,” she adds even if her voice is less confident now. “This could work to our advantage with our situation back in New York.”
Lucas steps back like she’d hit him.
“You want to pretend that we’ve broken up,” he states.
“No,” he interjects while shaking his head. “We are not playing this man’s game.”
“It’s a game he’s winning,” Alaine reminds him. “Everyday that he’s out there to torment me -- us -- he’s winning. If we do this then...”
“Then what?” Lucas cuts her off again in a voice that speaks his strong opposition against the idea. “Then I sneak around to see you? Or maybe I could hire a girlfriend to throw him off completely? Better yet, I could use Aurora. How about that? Give these people more bullshit to spew.”
Sensing his rising frustration, Alaine steps up to him and takes his face in her hands. She would love for him to see the logic in the plan -- not including the stand in. That is something she will never agree to. But she takes one look at the despair in Lucas’ eyes and knows to, if not concede the point to him, at least table the discussion to a time when he is in a more receptive mood.
“Let’s just forget about this for tonight,” she suggests. “You promised me a date and we need to finish getting ready.”
He gives her a smile then, even it’s small and disappears just as quickly as it came. With is face serious once more, Lucas asks, “are you sure the rumors don’t bother you?”
“No, they do,” Alaine answers making Lucas sigh. “But,” she adds quickly. “There is nothing that we can do about it, baby. It’s out there and putting out a statement will only encourage the frenzy. You do not pander to the press. You never have. I see no reason why you should start now. Soon another scandal will come along and they’ll forget about us.”
“You’re probably right,” he agrees. “But...”
“No buts,” Alaine interjects in a firm tone. “This isn’t going to scare me off, Lucas; if that’s what you’re worried about.”
At that, his lips quirk up to the slightest degree.
“That’s good to know,” he replies.
“Now get out,” she orders.
Though, he laughs, Lucas agrees with, “yes ma’am.”
Before he leaves, he takes her hand in his and places a kiss on her knuckles. “I’m a lucky man,” he says.
The very next day after Alaine had agreed to accompany him to Italy, Lucas had began putting these plans into motion. With the help of Darcy Peters, his company’s recently hired events planner, he’d been able to finalize everything to his exact specifications and down to the finest detail. That’s as perfect as things got since nothing else has gone according to plan.
As a precursor, on the night of the award ceremony while they were in Las Vegas, he was to have expressed his true feelings for Alaine. That had been blown out of the water. He’d also intended to introduce the idea of the two of them restructuring the parameters of their relationship. Those objectives had been obliterated by the woman herself. Still, he’d refused to give up hope or cancel or postpone. He’d just had to deviate a little from the set course and somehow, they’d found themselves exactly where he’d been hoping they would be -- in an actual relationship.
Had it not been for Aurora’s interference, everything he’d organized for tonight would have gone off without a hitch.
The planning hadn’t been difficult to accomplish. Nothing usually is with the kind of money that he flashes. The expense it had cost to secure the venue for the night; and on such short notice, for just he and Alaine had been pocket change. So was the price to import the service of the world renowned Japanese chef to cater to her every whim for a few hours and the vocalist/instrumentalist he’d hired for entertainment. It was to have been a spectacular evening. An intimate affair for just the two of them. On the heels of this scandal, he’d had to alter his plans again. A private dinner will do nothing to alay the backlash of what Aurora has done nor pacify Alaine’s critics.
How else is he supposed to convince anyone -- even Alaine -- that he’s exactly where he wants to be unless he does it in view of the public.
The no refund clause that the property’s owner had suddenly introduced when he had to cancel hadn’t troubled him one bit. The money he’d spent to compensate the chef and entertainment artist for their troubles hadn’t bothered him either. What truly irks Lucas is the fact that Alaine still doesn’t know the lengths that he’d gone through to make their first date as a real couple special and she never will. All the media attention had seen to that but he hadn’t been prepared to put off their arrangement for tonight altogether
Rather than the private dinner they were supposed to have, Lucas pulls the white Luxury vehicle onto the street of his restaurant where he’d made last minute reservations. He decelerates to a slow crawl while approaching the building and turns his attention to Alaine.
“Are you going to do as I asked?” he questions.
“This is completely unnecessary,” she responds. “You’re going to make a spectacle of us both.”
Although he’s counting on it, Lucas doesn’t say that.
“I should have done this the day I asked you,” he says instead.
“Done what?” Alaine questions. “You should have opened a door for me?” she continues to joke and chuckles at his narrow-eyed glare.
“You’re being deliberately obtuse,” Lucas responds making her laugh harder. “You know what I mean.”
“Look,” Alaine says while she points to the entrance of the building as it comes into view. “You don’t need to do this. They even have valet service.”
“I know they do,” he answers. “I own the place. But stay. Please?” he requests.
She relents with a nod just as he pulls to a stop in front of the short gate leading to the walkway.
Lucas hurries out of the car to wave off the man in the maroon waistcoat already stepping onto the sidewalk to open the passenger side door. He tosses the valet his key and rounds the front of the car to do the honors.
It had taken some doing, some convincing, some pleading on his part but Alaine finally allows him this. Silly as it may seem to her or maybe it might be to the whole world, but performing these little acts truly cements the idea that they are now a bonafide couple. He’s seen it done all the time. At one point, he would scoff at the poor fools he would see bending over backwards to make this sort of impression.
However, now Lucas knows...boyfriends open doors for their girlfriends and do other silly love struck things, like make elaborate dinner reservations, give foot massages while reading cheesy novels or watching equally cheesy movies. They give kisses on the forehead and breathe in the perfume lacing their partner’s skin to hold a part of them inside. Especially twenty-six year old novice boyfriends experiencing love for the very first time. These ones, their girls can probably get them to do anything
They spoon when in bed, and hold hands and make pointless winks just to see their girl blush. They do these things because as silly as they may seem, she likes it and ensuring her needs are met, in even unfathomable ways, is paramount.
He’ll do it because he lives to put that happy smile on Alaine’s face and the twinkle in her gold and green eyes. He’ll do these little things because she deserves it and he wants to get it right.
Furthermore, he’ll do anything for her because he is truly in love with her.
When he pulls the door open, Alaine places her delicate fingers in Lucas’ offered hand and sets her high-heeled feet on the wet asphalt.
“Of all the nights for rain,” she mutters.
When Lucas brings the back of her hand to his lips, her cheeks heat and she smiles.
“You’re silly,” she tells him.
“I’m in love,” he confesses. “I am also okay with you pretending that you don’t love it,” he submits with a widening smile. “Because I know you do.”
In the height of merry playfulness, she swats at his arm. Lucas captures her hand and uses his leverage to pull her into his body.
She looks up into his face and sees it all. Everything he feels laid bare in the gentleness of his expression, in the caress of his eyes as they comb over her features, like he is capturing every detail. It’s even revealed that wisp of a smile still lingering on his lips.
Right there on the sidewalk of a busy Florence street on the doorstep of a restaurant named for his mother, Alaine is drawn in. Powerless to resist, she leans up and Lucas accepts the gesture with a hand pressed to her lower back.
This is as intimate as it gets in public and a message to whoever will receive it.
She is mine. I am hers.
“Now who’s making a spectacle of whom?” Lucas jokes against her lips.
Growing suddenly self-consciousness, Alaine tries steps back to step back to disentangle herself from him. Her effort to get away is easily thwarted as Lucas keeps her fastened to him with a whispered, “come here baby,” to guide her into another blissful kiss.
Seeming in no hurry to leave the sidewalk nor the light drizzle, he traces a finger along Alaine’s jawline.
“You know,” he begins in that sweet gentle tone. “I used to think having a photographic memory was a curse. Now I know it’s not. I will never lose these moments. I get to keep you forever, in here,” he says tapping one finger to his temple. “And in here.” There he takes one of her hands to hold over his heart.
Having no mastery over the language of love, Alaine stands there befuddled but delighted. In her mind she tries to smith together something poetic to rival his own words or at the very least, match them.
“That was so sweet, Lucas,” is all she can manage. “I don’t know how you think of these beautiful words with such spontaneity, but I want this with you more than I’ve ever wanted anything.”
“That’s good enough for me, Ali,” he replies. “Shall we? I don’t want you sick. And I am eager to regale you on our first date.”
“This isn’t our first date,” Alaine counters while they move slowly towards the front door. “We’ve been out together numerous times. I’m even losing count.”
“Thirteen,” Lucas supplies. “And yes, we have,” he agrees. “But, things are drastically changed between us now. This is our first date as us and it is what I should have done when I asked you to be my girlfriend. We should have gone out to celebrate.”
“They should count,” Alaine argues. “If they don’t then that discredits our first kiss and everything that came in between.”
Lucas considers her argument with a nod. “Fine,” he says. “So it’s not our first date but it is our first as a couple.”
As they step up to the front entrance, Alaine’s eyes land on the sign where his mother’s initials are embossed in gold calligraphy. It’s a true mystery to her why Lucas would want to commemorate a woman who has given him so little in return. If it were at all possible, she would probably wipe her own mother or rather both her parents from memory.
However, Lucas is Lucas, she’s coming to learn. His big heart has proven itself generous and thoughtful despite his unforgiving ideas about himself.
Who is the one undeserving of whom then? she wonders. God knows she is not as liberal with her forgiveness as he is. Seth and her mother knows it well too.
“Is something the matter, Alaine?” Lucas asks as she pauses to gaze at the sign.
Because she doesn’t want to put a damper on the evening with her melancholic brooding, she doesn’t give those thoughts away. No, she bottles them up and allows Lucas to guide her through the opened door.
The doorman helps her out of the coat she’d worn to keep her outfit hidden. As he reveals figure hugging two piece dress, Lucas’ eyes take her in like man starved. Even if not too long ago he’d seen her in nothing but her under garments, she looks good enough to eat. Maybe if he had kept up with their original plan, he would have laid her out like a spread on their table.
The door man clears his throat to get Lucas’ attention. Then he has to do it again since the first hadn’t been able to penetrate the images in Lucas’ mind.
He gestures for them to enter the dining area where the maître d’ awaits with a glowing smile directed at the two of them.
“You look absolutely stunning,” Lucas says to censor the real words that he would use to describe what he really feels about her attire.
They follow the Maitre d’ through the crowd of diners to a more secluded section of the restaurant with Lucas trailing behind. His eyes soak up the scintilla of warm flesh peeking out at the base of Alaine’s spine and then how the flowy material of the skirt drapes over her curvy behind. Clothing has never looked so good and everything about the outfit literally begs him to reach out and touch. So he does.
“Leave us,” he instructs the maître d’ as soon as he leads them to their personal booth. Forgetting the plan for them to dine in view of the public, he says, “wait, if there are any more reservations for this area, cancel them,” while his eyes remain on Alaine so she has a clear idea of what may happen back here.
If the man is shocked or put out by the command, he doesn’t say it nor show it. He simply bows to show his acknowledgement before scurrying out of the room.
Once they are alone again, Lucas prowls to stand behind Alaine removing every millimeter of space between them.
“I think you did that on purpose, little fairy,” he says against the curve of her neck. “You think I have that much self-control? I wonder it is what you were hoping to accomplish. Tell me.”
She smiles when his lips graze kisses along her skin and he sways a little so she can feel the effect she has on him.
“I’m just here to have dinner,” she whispers.
Reaching around her, Lucas finds both of the long slits running up the length of the front of the skirt and traces his fingers over her bare legs.
“You are aware that there will be consequences for this,” he lets her know.
“Consequences like what?” Alaine enquires on a shaky breath.
“I think you know,” Lucas answers but in case she has any doubt, he brings his fingers higher until they skim the edges of her underwear.
Although she gasps, Alaine swats his hands away.
“At least let’s eat first,” she scolds.
Lucas chuckles but moves to pull out her chair before taking his own seat. Then his eyes move around the room to take in the last minute preparations he’d demanded of his staff to make the evening as perfect as it can be.
Since Alaine worked in a flower shop, he assumed that she must have an appreciation for them so there are a surplus of roses decorating the room. It’s lit up with enough flowery scented candles to create a fire hazard as well. In spite of the obvious effort which had been made, Lucas feels a tinge of regret.
“Do you like it?” he asks.
Judging from the timorous manner the question is asked, Alaine can tell he is nervous and uncertain. As far as she is concerned, they could be having hot dog from her roadside cart and it would still be perfect. Not to say that this, his love and this grand romantic gesture hasn’t completely floored her.”
Reaching across the table to take his hand, she replies, “I love it. It’s perfect. I guess you are the romantic hero after all.”
“I know a lot of the things I said in the beginning about relationships and girlfriends can give you pause but I am trying, Ali,” Lucas assures her. “For you. For us.”
Touched by his words, Alaine leans across the table to kiss him.
For the first part of the night, dinner progresses smoothly. There’s no more talk about scandals or his mother or even Angus. They both make an attempt to keep their conversation light or centered on the two of them. The delight shining in Alaine’s eyes, her frequent smiles and just her general relaxed posture is enough to set Lucas at ease and remove his earlier discontent over having to shuffle their plans for the evening.
“I have no idea when you had time to plan all this,” Alaine tells him when the waiter comes to collect their dinner plates. “It’s perfect,” she gushes. “You’re perfect.”
“I’m far from it,” Lucas replies.
He sets his opened hand on the table in invitation so she places her fingers in his. “But I want to make you happy.”
“You do,” Alaine begins to say, however, her words are interrupted by the man who steps into the room.
The maître d’ rushes in on his heels, sincerest apologies extended to Lucas and Alaine.
“I told him that this is a private affair sir,” he explains to Lucas. “He wouldn’t listen.”
“Well isn’t this lovely,” the man greets in a British accent.
Lucas’ posture goes rigid. Displeasure darkens his features but instead of rushing his stepfather like he wants to for daring to come near Alaine, he grits his teeth to help hold his composure.”
“I didn’t know you had it in you, Lucas,” Kurt continues to mock. “All this,” he adds while gesturing to the room.
Not giving anyone else a chance to speak he continues, “my stepson comes to Italy and I only find out when he stirs up trouble for me. What’s worse, he brings this stunning woman with him,” he notes as his eyes sweep suggestively over Alaine. “And he keeps her all to himself. I’m offended, honestly. I thought I had done a better job of teaching you the importance of sharing.”
“Sir, I must insist that you leave,” the maître d’ interrupts.
“My wife’s name is on the front,” Kurt snarls in response. “This is my stepson, after all. Tell him son,” he says to Lucas.
“You aren’t welcome here,” Lucas manages to grit through his teeth as his grip on the fake sense of calm he displays becomes less and less sure.
“No need for the hostility, son,” Kurt answers. “I am just making acquaintances. Kurt Armantrading,” he says while stretching his hand to Alaine.
She’s been sitting there quietly observing the scene unfold with her heart beating loudly in her chest. There’s this urge rising inside her to step in between Lucas and his stepfather but she remains her seat to keep from creating another scandal for him in the news. She turns to Lucas to let him know that she will follow his cue but his eyes are glued to the table.
Disinclined to accept Kurt’s show of civility but with no help from Lucas, Alaine regretfully places her hand in Kurt’s. She keeps the hand shake light on purpose to convey exactly how she feels about him. Her greeting as she gives him her name is tight at best but it still feels like a betrayal to the man she loves.
She retrieves her fingers quickly and wipes her hands in her skirt like she can erase the touch by doing so.
“Bright Knight,” the man muses. “Well now that I’ve seen for myself, I will take my leave. Lucas, I will see you tomorrow at the hospital and you young lady, I do hope our paths cross again,” he says and makes a move as if to reach out and touch her cheek. “The face of an angel,” he muses with a smirk that speaks of sinister things. “Yet, a body made for sin.”
Before Alaine can rear back to avoid the contact, Lucas suddenly reanimates. His chair slides back with a noisy scrape as he stands to grasp his stepfather’s wrist in a painful grip.
Shock registers in Kurt’s eyes but he hides it quickly.
“You’ll stay away from her,” Lucas says and though the order is barely above a whisper there’s no mistaking the threat in his words. “You won’t come near her again,” he adds.
To drive the point home, he tightens his hold and twists Kurt’s wrist at an awkward angle. Seeing that he hasn’t gotten the reaction that he wants which is his stepfather begging for mercy, he contorts the joints a little more until Kurt and the maitre d’ still observing the spectacle both let out a gasp.
“There you go,” Lucas tells him. “You go near her, Kurt and I will kill you.”
When the maître d’ makes a move to scramble away, Lucas calls, “you stay,” to him without taking his eyes off his stepfather.
“I will ruin you for this,” Kurt expels with a gasp when Lucas bends his bones a little more. “You don’t know...” he starts to seethe but again his breath cuts off as Lucas’ assault persists.
“You were never a smart man,” Lucas says in a voice so measured no one can tell the storm is raging within him. “I’m the one going to ruin you. Now leave while all you have is a dislocated wrist,” he says.
Kurt regards him with confusion right before Lucas yanks the bone out of place with a low pop.
Kurt wails. Alaine gasps. The maitre’ d’ pales. Lucas watches it all with satisfaction.
Oh yes, he is going to ruin Kurt. The cogs are already turning. First, he’ll make him bleed financially. When he is down to his last dollar and he’s lost all his contacts and all he can afford is a two-bit lawyer who works out of the back of some run down building crawling with rodents, only then will he get the relevant authorities involved.
Kurt is at the top of a house of cards he’d built through dirty dealings and crime and he will demolish it one card at a time just because he can.
“I trust you know how to be discreet,” he says to the maitre d’.