The festive season seriously messed with my twelvetide updates but I am determined to make of them before Christmas day. So here's the first
Long minutes pass with Lucas staring up at the ceiling in his bedroom. Lying next to him, Alaine is already fast asleep with her head resting on his chest, an arm draped across his abdomen and one of her legs thrown over his thigh in her usual pattern. It hadn’t taken long, once they’d showered and her head hit the pillows, for her to snuggle up against his side and close her eyes. And, as usual, he likes her there. He’d thought that returning to New York would have kick started her aversion to sleep anew but is happy to be proven wrong about that. For him, on the other hand, it’s difficult to think beyond that envelope now lying on the desk in his office, making it impossible for his mind to rest.
He’d decided against opening it while Alaine is here in the apartment and not wanting to raise her suspicions, he’d carried it into his office and left it there. For all he knows, that envelope could have come courtesy of their stalker. It could have been laced with some nefarious material that is meant to cause grievous harm to both of them. If that is the case, they’d both handled it with their bare hands. It’s been sitting in the apartment for hours now probably filling their lungs with some kind of poison with every breath they take. While Lucas hopes that that isn’t the case, whatever damage the sender had been hoping to inflict could already be taking effect.
He’d had an internal debate about sharing this gut feeling -- that Angus had sent it -- with Alaine. The only reason he hadn’t raised an alarm had been the fear of exciting her anxieties again and refueling her nightmares for no good reason. Maybe he’s wrong about it. He certainly hopes that he is.
Under normal circumstances, receiving mail here would be strange not worrying. Unless it’s something that he’s ordered for himself, his mailing address is listed as his office since he spends more time there than at home. This sort of mix-up rarely occurs but it’s happened a time or two in the three years since he’d taken up residence here. At those times, there had been nothing going on in his life to raise alarm bells to DEFCON 1.
Now, that envelope sets off all kinds of sirens inside of Lucas’ head. On the outside, it looks official -- like it had genuinely come from an overseas charity organization that his company plans on partnering with in the very near future. Even so, there’s no reason for them to contact him here at home. They’d have more luck getting a response from his office, as he’d already instructed the partners. Why would they send any correspondence to him here?
The bigger and more daunting question is how could Angus have come by that information. If it turns out that he is right and the man had delivered the envelope, how could he have learned about this new alliance between him and an organization based halfway across the globe that hasn't even been officially formed as yet?
Lucas hates to think about the implications but it could very well be that someone in his employ is working with the man who likely wants to kill him. That is the most worrying thing of all.
The sense of betrayal and foreboding twists like a knife in his stomach. He tucks his chin in to look down at Alaine and places a soft kiss on her forehead in the hopes to curb the dread building inside him. He hasn’t shared the suspicion that someone is plotting with his enemy against him with her either and most likely, he won’t. What good would come from doing so?
The one thing he is sure of right now is that, whoever had received that envelope at the front desk is getting fired in the morning. He has no idea who that person is or why they'd done it but they’d deliberately ignored his instructions and those are non-negotiable. No one should accept mail delivered to him here. Those are his rules and it certainly shouldn’t have made it all the way up to the penthouse for Alaine to handle. Whoever had made that potentially dangerous blunder cannot pray to find any favour with him. There can be no room for such errors and accordingly, Lucas won’t consider any form of leniency. Not when Alaine’s life is at stake.
Looking at her resting features, he feels that familiar warmth and tightening building behind his sternum.
God, but he loves her.
He loves her to the point where he can no longer imagine life without her in it and the thought of her hurt or losing her is too agonizing to measure.
Softly, Lucas caresses her cheek -- the same side of her face that, not too long ago, had born the mark of the man who’d attacked her. He can still picture the bruise as if it's still there and the mental image guts him again the way it always does.
Never again, Ali, he promises silently.
That’s the responsibility he’s charged himself with. It’s what he’s sworn to her. It’s what he hopes. And yet, that envelope represents the uncertainty of whether or not he will be able to uphold his vow to keep her safe. As much as he wills it not to happen, Angus could strike again and if he is right about that envelope then he might be much closer to doing so.
Save for the unrest in Lucas’ heart and mind, the night is still and quiet -- and mocking. If he is right, then this is the second time his security has been bested by an unrelenting psychopath. It’s a testament to Lucas of his own ignorance in such matters. Yes, he’s intelligent enough to have stunned the world at a young age. He’s intelligent enough to compete with longstanding, global tech giants and to have built one himself, from the ground up, before he’d even been twenty. But he has no understanding of how an unhinged mind operates and that’s what Angus is. He is stark-raving mad and has had years to master the methods of a prolific stalker.
What good is his intelligence if it serves no purpose in keeping the girl he loves safe?
Not too long ago, he’d never had any urgent need to be so stringent with security. He’d also never needed to harass and threaten his employees into following those set of rules. Before all of this, he’d been a free spirit who’d came and went as he pleased. All he’d ever needed was his driver to get him from Point A to point B and back. Now, he owns a gun for god’s sake. He’d never imagined that Seth would actually have to end up filling his capacity as bodyguard and Lucas isn’t sure about how he feels about some being a human shield for him.
He takes a deep breath and tries to shift his focus. He tries to fill his mind with the feel and sound of Alaine’s soft, rhythmic breathing and takes it as a sign that her slumber is peaceful. He can almost use the fact that she hasn’t stirred or cried out in sleep to justify having to sneak out at one in the morning. There’s something contemptible about the idea of slinking out of his own apartment like he’s about to participate in some sort of illicit rendezvous. However, his mind is already set.
So far, since that first day in Italy, Alaine’s sleep has been uninterrupted by nightmares and he wants it to stay that way. So even if he is right about the envelope, he won’t take the chance of her finding out about it just to disrupt the progress that she's made. He would rather not see fear clouding her lovely eyes again, nor the pallidness that replaces the natural glow of her skin when she's frightened, or those nightmare induced cold sweats that robs it of it’s warmth. He won’t be responsible for that.
This is the role now -- one he has accepted willingly and with all his heart -- to be whatever she needs. Right now she needs a protector and someone to bear her burdens. Who better to be that than the man who loves her with all that he has?
Earlier today, his boundless devotion to Alaine had demanded that he come clean. That he share the suspicion with her that Angus is already aware that they are back. That he may have this building under surveillance or that he’s working with one of his employees. There is no other plausible explanation of how he would know their movements.
Additionally, if the experts at the police station are right, Angus is furious that Lucas had taken her away or hidden her from him. According to the detective, Angus’s brain has already convinced him that Lucas is to blame for Alaine’s rejection. He will seek retribution and more than likely, their lives are now in mortal peril.
He doesn't want to leave her in bed alone at one in the morning, but Lucas ignores the insurrection his love-struck heart wages against his logical thinking brain. He disentangles her limbs from his and pads to his closet in the dark to pull on a fresh set of clothes. After getting dressed, he sneaks across to the bedroom door and doesn't turn back to look at her once he reaches it.
The temptation to return to bed, take her in his arms and hide her away from every threat is overwhelming. Looking back will see him doing exactly that. Lucas hangs there for a few seconds with his back toward the bed, still debating and mulling over everything.
His lie of omission turns each of his footsteps toward his office to lead as he tries desperately to rationalize not sharing what he suspects with her.
Is it a lie if she never knows, he questions himself. The answer lurks inside the sinking, sickening feeling hollowing out his gut.
Lucas gathers the envelope from his desk along with his cellphone and calls Alaine's new bodyguard. He moves to the living area to await arrival. True to her word, it takes her just about two minutes to join him in the apartment looking all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as if she'd been anticipating his call at this unholy hour. Despite being upset with her over today's blunder of delivering the envelope in his hand to Alaine, he is pleased with her promptness and with how prepared she looks. He'd planned on confronting her about it immediately but other than needing her to watch over Alaine while he's gone, years of experience have taught him patience and to be measured and deliberate with his actions.
“Sir,” she addresses Lucas and remains at the door enduring his inspection.
Lucas performs a mental comparison between her and his own driver. Seth had sounded far more put off by the late night call than Tawny had so he hopes that he is waiting in the garage as he'd instructed. Though impressed by the new comer's record and her apparent disciplined nature, there is a loyalty to Seth that Lucas had recognized from the onset and maybe that's why he'd never followed up on any of his threats to fire him in the past.
“Don’t wake her,” Lucas instructs.
Belatedly, he tries to construct a plausible lie that Tawny can tell Alaine to explain his absence should she wake up before he returns. If he does spin that tale, this will be the third one he's told her in an equal number of days. It's not something he wants to turn into a pattern.
Still he says, "I'm meeting Seth in the garage. If Alaine does wake up, tell her I was called into the office . There's a problem with one of the prototypes for the expo next week. I'll be back soon and if she's worried, have her call me."
He hates that the words rolls so easily off his tongue but can't take them back. If Tawny had noticed his initial struggle to come up with it, she gives no indication.
She replies with a short, "yes sir," and her eyes bear no hesitation, nor curiosity or judgement concerning his late night escape from his apartment.
The elevator's doors close behind Lucas after he steps into the dim light in the underground garage. He finds Seth rubbing sleep out of his eyes while leaning against one of the cars parked there.
“What’s up, boss?” he greets.
Lucas shakes his head. The differences between his new employee and Seth couldn't be any more glaring. Where Tawny is dressed to fit her job description, Seth is in shorts and a T-shirt and looks as if he'd just rolled out of bed. More amused than concerned about Seth's mussed up hair and stifled yawn, Lucas decides to keep the criticisms about the disparity between the town circling around in his head to himself and get straight to the matter at hand.
“This came to the apartment today,” he says. Handing the envelope over, he adds, "do you care to explain how and why?"
Seth scrutinizes it and notes, "you think it came from Angus?"
"Does it matter who it came from?" Lucas snaps. "I think the point is that it got through on your watch. I'd like to know if tonight is the night that I fire you."
Like he's always done, Seth ignores the threat.
"You shouldn't have handled it," he scolds Lucas.
"Alaine handled it first," Lucas replies.
That announcement gets Seth full attention. His eyes snap to Lucas' face.
"Tawny carried it up to the apartment," Lucas continues to explain. "So, before I fire the woman whom you just hired, I want to hear it from you. Did you inform her that this isn't supposed to happen at all? Does any of the staff here at the apartment know?"
"They know," Seth confirms.
He sighs with a scowl rippling his forehead.
"In her defense," he says. "It bears my stamp of approval from the front desk but I did not approve it. I wasn't aware of this until now."
"So that means your security is flawed," Lucas states.
"No, it means that one or more of your employees aren't trustworthy," Seth corrects.
Then he becomes pensive. "If Angus really has someone on the inside here or at your office, you might want to consider moving out and scaling back on your hours."
"That asshole doesn't get to disrupt my life any more than he already has," Lucas seethes. "Whoever is responsible for this is fired along with anyone else who knows about it," he orders. "I don't care for what reason they did it. I don't care if they needed the money to save a life. This cannot happen again."
Seth nods his agreement. With his attention, once again, focused on the envelope in his hand, he says, “it’s not incendiary, that’s certain. It's too light. But, if it did come from our guy, that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous,” he adds. “We should still take every precaution before opening it.”
Lucas agrees with silence and waits while Seth performs a few checks until he is satisfied enough to break seal.
Seth pulls out a sheet of paper with a photograph stapled to the corner. His eyes skim quickly over the hastily scrawled words. When he looks at his boss again, it's with a new sense of appreciation. He's more than just grateful that Lucas had come along when he had. He's even more thankful that he's stuck by Alaine's side throughout all of this.
Maybe somebody else would have skipped out at the first sign of trouble. But, here is -- The Lucas Bright in the flesh -- standing in his garage in the middle of the night to ensure his cousin’s well-being. If he ever had any doubt about the man's intentions for Alaine, tonight would dispel them. He's certain that Lucas genuinely loves her.
When Robert had called Seth about this job -- babysitting some rich, former frat boy -- he'd had had a whole different scenario in mind. Convinced that he knew Lucas’ kind to well-- a young, rich, party hopping, drunken, pill popping fraternity fool who would most likely find himself in all kinds of trouble -- he'd flat out refused.
Seth had had a clear vision of himself having to dump a body somewhere along the Hudson at an hour not unlike this one. When he'd heard the pay and the benefits that the job came with, however, it had been too enticing to pass up.
To accuse Lucas Bright of being any of those things he'd initially thought of him would be folly. The man is a strange one to be sure and a moody bastard when he wants to be. However, if tonight and every other night for the past few weeks are any indication, he is a good man. He's good for Alaine and who would have thought, with the rocky way their relationship had started, that he and a billionaire would be like this now -- almost friends.
“I’m guessing you did not share your suspicions with, Alaine,” Seth posits. “That’s why we’re meeting in the garage of all places at this ungodly hour.”
“Pulled you from your beauty rest, did I?” Lucas jokes.
The two of share a rare comrade's chuckle. Lucas grows serious again.
"I don't want Alaine to know about this," he says.
“Believe me, I get that you are afraid for her,” Seth counters and hands Lucas the note. “But keeping her in the dark might be counterproductive. One, she will be pissed at you. Secondly, she needs to know how much danger she is in.”
Lucas reads the note in his hand and feels his heart squeeze with dread.
Alaine, I am very sorry for what happened in your apartment but you left me no other choice. It was the only way to get your full attention. It was never my intention to hurt you but I need you to understand that we belong together. Lucas Bright is not the one for you. I AM! and once he is out of the picture I know that you will be to see that.
I don’t have the money that he has but I deserve a fair chance to be with you, Alaine. I know you that you know that I’ve loved you since the first day I saw you three years ago. I also know that you love me too. If you haven't realized that as yet, then you will very soon. Money isn’t everything, Alaine. Being with him only makes you a gold-digging slut. But I am giving you a chance to make things right. If you want him to live, you will end it. He doesn’t care for you the way I do anyway. Look what I am willing to do for you.
Take a look at the photograph. This is what we could be. This is what will have. I will have you.
When Lucas finally makes it back to his bedroom, he draws his t-shirt over his bed and tosses his pants aside as well. Reading that note has left him cold on the inside. To counter that, he strips himself almost bare in order to feel more of Alaine's warmth.
As he settles in beside her, he pulls her into his arms and presses a kiss to her forehead. She accepts his embrace willingly and raises heavy eyelids to look at him.
“Are you okay?” Alaine whispers in the dark.
Lucas doesn’t answer. He cannot speak beyond the expanding fear tightening his throat. Rolling her on to her back, he settles himself over her and between her legs. Without hesitation, she spreads her thighs for him. Then he kisses her with all the passion, angst and fear he feels