This chapter is kind of rushed because I'm trying to get to the end of book two by tomorrow. Only two more chapters to go, so fingers crossed.
Alaine had always expected that her first job interview would be intimidating. She'd anticipated the nervous butterflies tying her stomach in knots. However, unsteady nerves had never been something that she couldn't get a handle on. All she's ever really needed to rally her resolve in any dire situation is one vehement internal pep talk. That would be enough to equip her with the gumption she needs to see whatever she had to do to frution. Under normal circumstances, she would be psyched about the potential of today.
These aren’t normal circumstances.
She'd once thought that, in her lifetime, her uncle was the worst evil she would have had to endure. He is a distant horror. Thousands of miles stand between them so, he no longer poses a threat and only very rarely manifests himself in her dreams. There is no need to encounter him again if she doesn’t want to.
She doesn’t want to.
Angus on the other hand is a very present bane to her continued existence. He is an evil that lurks not just within the parameters of her mind but he has transformed the streets, the alleyways, the city she’s come to love into hostile enemy territory. That thought is what currently overwhelms her, weakens her knees and threatens to turn her will into powder to be blown away with the slightest breeze -- all at once.
Forefront in her mind is the note Lucas shared. Now, she understands his reluctance to be generous with the information he learns about Angus and his movements. She sincerely wishes that he'd kept that damnable letter and especially the edited picture of Angus doing to her exactly what he'd tried to do to her when he'd attacked her in her apartment to himself.
It would be so much easier to get through the day by imagining that Angus had forgotten all about them. Taking that vacation with Lucas must have really fooled her into believing that they were in the clear. She'd been willing to allow herself to believe that her stalker was on the run to a far away land where he could do no harm to her; to Lucas. The Firsthand knowledge that he is still out there waiting and watching is like an arrow shot in her side. The fright is near crippling.
Though Tawny Rivers joins her in the elevator to descend to the garage, Alaine wishes for Lucas. His presence is the only one that steadies her. She relies on him to soothe the tremor in her limbs and ease the shakiness in her breathing. He’s not here, so they persist, despite her body guard’s attempts to offer reassurances.
Once she leaves the cocooned safety of Lucas's apartment, her unvanquished foe will appear at every turn and in every face she encounters. That is the extent of her trepidation. His eyes, his voice and the fear he’s wrought will shadow her steps and suffocate the woman who she knows that she can be. He will ruin her interview because, even now, she can’t concentrate enough to prepare or talk herself off the ledge.
No matter her valiant efforts, she fails to convince herself that all that ails her is an acute case of nerves and not the intense feeling that she’s already been defeated by an infallible opponent.
Alaine tries to smile, an insincere one that falters hopelessly, after Tawny tells her again that she will be just fine so long as she does exactly as she's been instructed. She gulps in a hefty amount of air when the car opens in the garage. She steps out cautiously behind her driver with her heels clicking loudly against the concrete floor in the cavernous space.
Unable to help herself, Alaine looks around as if she expects Angus to jump out from behind a pillar or something of the sort. The sight of Lucas' SUV idling in it's regular spot makes her breathe with relief.
That relief quickly turns to worry because he shouldn't be here.
Why is he? Had something happened?
Seth steps out first but Lucas doesn't wait for him to get the door. He opens it himself and hops outside as soon as he sees her. His strides eat up the space between them much quicker than she can hobble over to him in the restrictive navy pencil skirt and heels.
"What are you doing here," Alaine questions.
Yet, she melts into his embrace when his arms close around her and he pulls her to his chest. "You're supposed to be meeting with your lawyer to discuss Delah's case," she reminds him.
Trying to exude the kind of calm that he doesn't feel, Lucas tries to joke. "Just ensuring that you're not late."
His effort doesn't go unrewarded as she chortles a soft feminine sound that makes him smile.
“I’m not,” she responds. “As you can plainly see. And you could have called.”
“So it’s just me then that you enjoy keeping waiting?” he questions.
“Isn’t it worth it though?” Alaine breathes against his neck.
Neither one of them seems to mind the length of the hug. Lucas uses the time to reflect on the truth of her words.
“Nothing has ever been more worthwhile, baby,” he says.
Stepping back to separate their bodies, he keeps both hands wrapped around her arms while examining her face with his own features creased in deep concern.
“I know I should be at that meeting, Ali,” he begins to explain. “But I honestly couldn’t...I felt I should be with you and I’m glad I am. You’re shaking,” he notes.
“I’m going to an interview,” she says flippantly in an attempt to ease his worry. “Of course, I’m shaking. I’m riddled with nerves.”
He continues to eye her with skepticism and wants to call her out on the lie. The fear in her eyes is now so commonplace, he recognizes it easily but decides to let her have this one if it makes her feel better.
“And you’re not joining me during my interview,” she adds feigning courage. “I don’t need your influence, nor do I need you there to hold my hand."
Lucas laughs genuinely. A little spark of life ignited in her eyes. He hasn't seen that kind of fight in her in a little while and it makes him feel good to see it.
“I won’t try to influence anything. And I'm well aware that you are capable of doing this on your own,” he says.
Forgetting that she'd been wishing that he had been there only moments ago, Alaine tugs her hand out of his when he tries to lead her to his SUV.
"Then why are you here?" she demands.
Lucas turns back to her with those little lines making ripples in his forehead.
"I'm coming with you," he states.
“No, you're not," she replies with defiance set to match his matter-of-fact tone.
“I just want to be there, Ali,” he says. “I can reschedule..
she iterates. “You need to be at a meeting with your lawyer. My sister...”
“He has the subpoena,” Lucas interjects with a firmness in his voice that makes her mouth snap shut. “He doesn’t need me there. I can contribute nothing to the discussion on family court nor Idaho laws. But I need to be here.”
In that instant, she reads the entreaty for her understanding in his eyes and almost softens. But, this is one of the other thing that she is afraid of -- the loss of her independence. Angus can’t steal this from her too. Nor Lucas’ either. She won't allow it. Instead of softening, Alaine clenches her jaws, narrows her eyes and straightens her shoulders.
“You’re not coming with me to a job interview, Bright,” she says.
Challenging him to oppose her, she folds her arms but gasps in surprise when Lucas grabs her by her upper arm and more or less hauls her to the SUV. Too stunned by his rough handling, she treatment, to think coherently, she sputters but doesn't fight him. He yanks the door open and without second thought or concern for the wrath he might incur, he lifts her and drops her onto the backseat.
"You..." she starts to seethe but he engages the child safety lock and shuts the door before she can get another word out.
Lucas huffs a deep breath. He finds Seth watching him from his position at the opened driver's side door with his eyes bugging out of his head.
"Your cousin is an infuriating and confounding woman at times," he says.
"This is between you two," Seth replies.
“I need a second to talk to her,” Lucas tells him.
“This is becoming a habit,” Seth mutters and rolls his eyes before sliding out from behind the wheel.
Lucas walks around to the other side and joins Alaine in the back seat.
"You'd better have a damn good reason for manhandling me," she growls at him. "And embarrassing me in front of everyone."
"I'm sorry," he tells her immediately but offers nothing else and offers her a moment to calm down.
They sit in tense silence for so long, Alaine huffs and with it and as he anticipated, she loses some of her steam.
“What is going on, Lucas?” she demands. "Why are you doing this?
“Because I am scared Alaine,” he admits with such ardor, it knocks all the wind out of her sails. “I’m terrified for you and more so than you are for yourself it would seem. I just want to be there. That can’t be too much to ask.”
His careless words reignites her anger.
"I am terrified, Lucas," she shouts. "I am scared out of my mind. You know better than anyone what he did to me," she continues. As she says that, she lifts her chin exposing the faint line at the crease of her neck left by the blade of Angus' knife.
Automatically, Lucas reaches out to strokes his thumb over the fading scar before Alaine brushes his hand away in irritation. The pain and sudden welling of tears in his eyes becomes too much for her so she looks away.
“How can you say that to me?” she asks in a whisper.
Too upset to care about the distress marring his features, she continues, “what am I supposed to do, hmm? Hide in your apartment? Flee the state? What? What do you want me to do?”
Without a word, Lucas hugs her again, even if he doesn't know why exactly he does it. Maybe to tell her he's sorry for being rough with her. Or just because he needs it. But her breath shudders in her chest as she works to fight back her tears.
"I'm sorry, baby," he repeats. "I just don't want you hurt. This guy scares me like no one else has. He scares me because he's outwitted me and he is ahead of me and I don't know what to do. How can I keep you safe when I don't know what to do?" he asks but the question more to voice the thoughts in his head than to get an answer.
"I've never felt so helpless," he confesses while looking at her.
Alaine has no choice but to surrender her anger. She's well aware that if they continue on this path of fear that Angus has set before them, their lives will be ruled by him and it's no way to live. She's been down this road already. She's been scared to sleep, afraid of being home on her own, afraid to venture beyond her front door. At one point in her life, she'd been afraid of everyone and everything. And then she'd met Lucas. It feels very much like he's breathed the breath of life into her. That's not something that she's willing to relinquish so easily.
So she accepts his apology but says firmly, "I don't want anything to happen to you either but that doesn't mean that I'm going to follow you to your office and trail your every step. I promise to stick with my bodyguard. I promise to call you as soon as we get there and I will call you when I'm done if you need that assurance too. I will go straight to the apartment and call you again if that will make you feel better."
"God, I hate this," Lucas sighs. Yet, he agrees, "fine. But you stick to your word, Alaine," he warns. "This guys seems to escalate with every change in your life and we've just returned from a week long vacation. You've moved out of your apartment. Don't take any chances."
Alaine considers all of the dramatic changes to her life and how quickly they'd came about -- she now sleeps in a penthouse with a billionaire. Her steps are dogged by the media. She has a functioning relationship with her sister and cousin, who, not more than two months ago, she hadn't spoken to in years. She has a stalker and a freaking body guard.
Worried by her silence, Lucas asks, "what is it?"
“Nothing,” she tells him.
Alaine’s words resonate in his mind, but Lucas can’t pretend like everything is normal for the two of them. He can’t go about his day like both their lives weren’t very recently threatened. So despite her warnings, he'd cleared his calendar for the morning, just in the event that something untowards happens and she needs him.
Waiting by himself in his office had proven to be unhelpful and he'd been too wound up to concentrate on working. There aren't many memories of Alaine in his office that he could distract himself with either. He'd ended up calling Seth of all people.
Lucas watches the doors to his office as they glide open without a sound. His driver strides in and asks, "what's up?"
A few weeks ago, that comment and Seth's general ill-discipline would have grated on Lucas' nerves. With his life seemingly at the mercy of someone else, it all seems so trivial.
"Take a seat, if you will," he offers. He on the other hand chooses to continue pacing the length of the tall glass windows that make up the walls of the office.
Seth regards him but says nothing.
Lucas has no idea how long a job interview is supposed to last since he's never had to conduct one himself, but it feels as if he's been waiting forever. It's been more than a half hour since Alaine had called to inform him that she'd arrived at the reception area of AeroTech. He feels like calling her back to check in with her even if he may end up on the receiving end of another serious tongue lashing.
“I don’t get women,” he says suddenly.
Seth's attention jerks away ffom Newton's Cradle on the desk in front of him to look at his boss.
“No kidding,” he replies.
“No, I get women,” Lucas amends. “I don’t get your cousin.”
Seth begins to laugh. “Is The great Lucas Bright asking my advice on women?”
Lucas huffs in exasperation. “I’m asking for advice on Alaine," he corrects. "How many women do yo you know who would turn down the offer to be pampered for the rest of their lives? She doesn’t need to work."
"I hope you've never spoken those words anywhere but inside your head," Seth warns.
Lucas bites the inside of his cheek. He hadn't said it in as many words but had certainly alluded to it and not even then had ended well.
"There’s a mad man on the loose, hunting her and she’s interviewing for what? Seven thousand dollars a month? It’s ridiculous," he continues.
Seth laughs again at the comical incredulity on Lucas’ face.
“Shut up,” Lucas grumbles.
“Seven thousand dollars is a pretty good start up salary for a twenty-one-year-old,” Seth informs him.
Lucas continues to brood. Seven thousand dollars would be acceptable and satisfactory to a twenty-one-year-old whose boyfriend isn't a billionaire. He's more than willing to hand over one of his accounts to Alaine if she wants and with no obligations whatsoever. She'd be set for life. Somehow, he knows that he should keep that thought to himself as well.
“Look,” Seth continues. “If you know how she grew up then you will understand that she needs her independence. It’s what's made her. She’s used to being on her own. She’s always had to look out for number one and her sharing her life with you is still something mystical. If you are serious about her, and I believe you are, then you need to give her this. Patience, my man.”
Lucas sighs his frustration. He loves her and she loves him. It should be that simple.
“If you want my opinion, I think you're right," Seth tells him. "Tag-teaming Tawny and I is the best idea for keeping both of you safe. We would work better putting on a unified front. Bringing in two new people at this critical time...I'm honestly iffy about it. The two of you sticking together with Tawny and me would make it easier to keep an eye on both of you."
"Would you be willing to say that to Alaine?" Lucas questions.
Seth shrugs. "It's easy enough. Whether she'll listen is something else entirely."
Lucas puffs out a breath and sinks into his chair behind his desk.
"Next time you need relationship advice,” Seth says reaching for the cradle to examine it more closely. “Call Dr. Phil. You can afford it.”
Lucas chuckles despite himself. “I’ll fire you one day,” he promises Seth who joins the light-hearted camaraderie.
“But not today,” he responds.
“You know,” Lucas says trying to distract himself. “You two bear an uncanny resemblance,” he notes. "You and Alaine."
“We’re two brother’s kids,” Seth replies with another shrug.
They continue to wait until Lucas’ impatience gets the better of him. “Get the car,” he tells Seth. “Call Tawny to find out what’s going on.”
Seth nods and exits the office immediately. Lucas follows, after gathering his jacket and phone. He doesn’t want to disturb Alaine or throw her off if she is currently sitting in an interview room so he will rely on a secondhand report from Tawny to learn of her status.
He rides the elevator to the lobby and waits inside until the black SUV pulls up out front. Seth still has the cell phone attached to his ear when Lucas hops inside, but the look he gives is enough to set Lucas’ heart pounding and send a series of chills down his spine.
Something happened. He just knows it.
“What?” Lucas demands. “What is it?”
“They’re on the way down in the stairwell,” Seth says and Lucas’ eyebrows crease. “Someone called in a bomb threat and a device went off in the building. There are no casualties it would seem, but it's sparked madness and mayhem.”
Seth barely completes his explanation. Lucas commands his phone to call Alaine with the screen already pasted to his ear.
"Babe, talk to me," he orders as soon as her breathless voice, whimpering his name filters through the speaker. "Where are you?"
Lucas can hear her clicking heels on the steel stairs and wants to demand that she use commonsense and rid herself of them lest she breaks her neck.
“We’re on the thirtieth floor, now” she says breathlessly. “I think he’s here. I haven’t seen him but I feel it, Lucas,” she cries.
“I’m coming to you, baby,” he says to offer a sense of solace for the fear coming at him in waves through her voice. “Stick with Tawny, okay?” Lucas requests desperately. “I promise, I’m on my way. Stay on the line until I get to you.”
“Where are you, Lucas?” she pleads softly. “I’m so scared.”
“Put Tawny on the phone,” he commands urgently. “And take off your shoes.”
Tawny’s voice on the other end comes in with calm confidence that releases just a little of Lucas’ tightly wound up tension.
“When you get outside, head left up the street, we’re less than five minutes out,” he speaks rapidly. “If we’re not there yet, just wait at the end of the block. Please stay with her,” he petitions before requesting that she return the phone to Alaine.
“Just follow Tawny, baby,” Lucas says again.
The sound of his heart drumming loudly in his ear almost drowns out the sound of the soft, "okay," she responds with.
“Stick with her," Lucas reminds her again. "I'm coming."