I did it! I’m halfway through The Book of Luke! Admittedly, I hit this milestone some time back at the beginning of December, but it was a crazy month and I didn’t really have the time to sit down and do much of anything, never mind a recap post. So here we go, picking up from the last milestone of 30%
As a note: Cramming 20,000 words into a recap post is NOT easy. :3
Luke takes Aiden by surprise:
Music filled her ears. It was dark–heavy and haunting in D minor, though Luke was hardly educated enough in arts to pinpoint a key. Aiden sat at the bench, upright, but not alert. There was a candelabra on the pianoforte that lit the midtones of his face and as his fingers danced effortlessly across the keys, with every stroke, a new memory washed over his features.
She saw the pain of loss, the remorse of regret, and something she couldn’t quite pinpoint. He seemed to be searching. His eyes bore down on the parchment before him, as if he didn’t quite believe his own elegant script, like the notes before him held a secret that he couldn’t yet unlock.
The piece soared in an overwhelming crescendo and the intensity and passion which he displayed in his hands left Luke shaking. She closed her eyes, holding her breath, waiting for the song’s climax, praying for the musical release to take her into oblivion.
But it never came.
In the midst of the ascent, Aiden stopped and without warning, stood, knocking the bench to the ground and in one vicious sweep, scattered all of his music across the marble floor.
Luke’s eyes snapped open, and it was then that he noticed her. She watched his expression through the falling papers, her gaze locked to his, and neither of them saying a word.
He was frightened. No, not frightened. She doubted he could ever feel such an emotion, but there was a distinct look on his face that told her he had not expected an audience. It didn’t last long; his pupils returned to their normal size, and his lips moved down to their frown as the parchment settled onto the floor.
“You play beautifully,” she whispered.
They, um. Bond?
“You’d never be able to learn,” he said, moving to stand behind her. Without much thought, he leaned over, stretching his arms over her shoulders, and placing his large, weathered hands over her own petite ones, “Your hands are too small.”
Luke stiffened, unsure of how to react to his closeness, and not quite knowing what to make of it. She licked her lips when he laced his fingers in hers and began to play a soft tune.
“You need a good reach,” he explained, nudging her fingers along when they couldn’t keep up.
“Oh, I see,” she agreed, though she was hardly paying attention to what he had to say.
He found his rhythm in the song instantly, even with her short fingers hindering his normal speed and finesse, and when he relaxed, falling into the music, his chest came to rest on her back and her breath hitched. She could feel his heartbeat. It wasn’t manic and unsteady like hers, but calm and regular, as if this were an every day occurrence.
“I know this song,” she said quietly, “I’ve heard it played before.”
Aiden smiled over her head. “I should hope so,” he said, “it is the anthem of our Kingdom.”
Aiden divulges some of his past:
Her question surprised him, even if her apprehension did not. “My speech finally corrected itself when I was fourteen,” he told her. At her horrified look, he let out a short sigh. He didn’t want her pity.
“My father was killed when I was nine,” he said. He had meant to calm her with that statement, to allude to the fact that he had been freed, but she wasn’t satisfied. He knew why. She was perceptive. He had many marks on his back that were much fresher, but there were some things that he was not ready to share.
“Believe me, Miss Avery,” he started, pushing off the sideboard and pulling her off the bench, forcing her to stand, “learning to shoot has saved my life on countless occasions.”
“Did you shoot your father?”
With one hand on the small of her back, he nudged her forward. He had no more use for this room.
“No, I poisoned him.”
And then regrets it.
Emotion welled up inside of him and he sank to the floor, overcome by it. There wasn’t a day that passed that he didn’t think of his sister, but it had been years since he had let those thoughts actually seep into his conscious.
Pulling his knees up to his chest, his fist closed around the miniature and he swore aloud, cursing Luke Avery to her grave.
When he looked up, he was seven years old. He was walking down a hall at a slow pace, a stinging sensation on his back preventing him from thinking of much else. He entered a music room; it was his favourite.
And there she was.
She looked like their mother, from the few glimpses he had caught of the older woman, but with a kinder face, the sort a mother ought to have. She was seated at the harp, plucking out a hypnotizing melody, her chestnut curls bouncing the early afternoon’s rays off of them. Her husband sat beside her, strong, noble, and entirely besotted with her.
Aiden closed the door and the music stopped. She looked to him and smiled. She was always smiling for him.
Aiden begins to doubt the purpose of his mission:
“There’s something that’s been bothering me, Fly,” he said, leaning forward with his elbows on the table.
Wentworth nodded through a bite of potatoes for him to go on.
“I have reason to believe Xander is bluffing.”
Slightly stunned, Wentworth lowered his utensil. ”You believe that he has… lied to us?”
Aiden didn’t appreciate the slightly appalled tone that he was given. “He’s getting on in his years. He doesn’t have the mind he once did.”
“He’s not so old,” said Wentworth. “Younger than me, in any case.”
“By half a decade,” Aiden said dismissively, “but what reason would he have to collect collateral? Have we ever wrong him? Has he ever doubted us before?”
Wentworth cracked a smile. “The girl is important to him. He knows of your homicidal tendencies and is simply taking the utmost care to ensure she arrives unharmed.”
“But I have nothing missing,” he growled, “haven’t you noticed? Nothing in our lives has changed since we received these orders.”
Normally at times like this, Wentworth would lift his hand and give his mouth a few thoughtful taps with his index finger, digesting what Aiden had said, and come up with a logical answer. This time, however, he stiffened and stared, rigid.
“I know exactly what he has taken from me,” he told Aiden darkly, “do not act like this is a game.”
“But it is a game, Fly. And you are playing your part so well.”
They’re growing fond of each other, though neither of them will admit it:
“Have you at least got stockings on your feet?”
“Yes,” she replied, “woolen ones.”
Aiden narrowed his eyes at her smart tone. She certainly was a sight, but he thought perhaps she was accustomed to the cold. If the gown she had first been subject to was any indication of her wardrobe, the chances of her having warm clothing was very slim. She must have survived the winters on willpower alone.
Without much thought, he unclasped his domino and wrapped it around her shoulders, but when it touched the ground, he shook his head and pulled it back. Concentrating, he undid the buttons of his topcoat and shrugged it off, depositing that into her instead.
Luke’s eyes widened and, too surprised to do much else, she slid her arms into the sleeves of the jacket, still warm from his body. Crouching down, Aiden straightened it, and did up the clasps, eyes furrowed, and shivering. He had left himself in his waistcoat and linen shirt. His domino was draped over his forearm and while it would return to his shoulders, Luke knew that it would not compare to the warmth that was the heavy thickness of this coat.
“Mr. Finnegan, I am able to walk back into the house without this. You don’t have to…”
We learn that Francesca is actually sort of mean.
Luke thought on this for a moment. Undoing the buttons, she prepared to remove the coat from her body. The fire was blazing in her fireplace and she could feel her cheeks growing warm from the heat.
“Do you know what he likes best?” she wondered aloud, head bowed as she fiddled with the fastenings. “His favourite colour, maybe?” When she looked up with a grin, she met Francesca’s disapproving stare.
“Do not get involved with him,” she said lowly, unable to hide her resentment, “he is not the right sort of man for you.”
There was an expression engraved in Francesca’s face that Luke knew well. It had been the foundation of many-a-brawl in her father’s tavern, and it had been cast upon her just as often when wives came to drink with their husbands. It was ugly and mean; the worst sort of face a woman could put on.
Fletcher puts her back in her place:
“She is nothing more than a stupid peasant girl,” she replied, “I didn’t realize she had noticed.”
“She has noticed,” Fletcher alerted her calmly, “and frankly I find myself disappointed. Our mission here is clear, Francesca. I didn’t think Xander would have sent someone so inexperienced to attend to the lady.”
At this, Francesca’s eyes flashed, “I’d advise you not to refer to me as inexperienced, Fletcher.”
With his ever even, and truth be told, slightly frightening stare, he spoke calmly and with a cool air of authority. “I’ll advise you not to refer to me in such a casual manner, or I might have your tongue cut out.”
“You wouldn’t,” she challenged, “you couldn’t. Xander hired us all.”
The grin that he donned then was akin to Aiden’s: sharp, menacing, and freakishly feline. “I do not work for Xander, Francesca. I am at the command of Aiden Finnegan alone.”
She wasn’t convinced. “You’re nothing more than a valet, old man. And I am a ladies maid. Our status is equal.”
“Our status is not equal,” he replied plainly, “I am the valet to a duke. You attend his charge.”
“Ex-duke,” she corrected, crossing her arms.
Fletcher lifted his chin and smiled again, “and his prisoner.”
To that she had nothing to say, so he tilted his chin down to her in farewell and swept from the room.
Christmas Eve happens:
“You will take cocoa in your chambers,” he replied taking her hand and helping her up. She followed him for a few steps before he stopped, instructing a servant to have the drink sent up to her room. When he looked back to her, her attention was not on him, but the large bundle of mistletoe above his head.
She didn’t look eager, and he was thankful for that. In fact, she looked at the decoration only with a mild curiosity, as if she wasn’t entirely sure how it had gotten there. Aiden knew that she was well aware of it; he had seen her dashing across thresholds to as not to be ensnared by its traditional symbolism.
“I really don’t think you deserve a kiss,” she told him, glancing up at the mistletoe again.
“And I don’t want one,” he replied, “at least not from–”
Her hand on the side of his face halted his words, and when she rose up on her toes, and brushed her lips against his cheek in a whisper of affection, he went rigid.
“But seeing as it is Christmas,” she continued softly, lowering herself back to her flat height, “even you should be shown a bit of kindness.”
Christmas morning brings back bad memories for Aiden:
“I have no doubt that you have assisted Miss Avery in her purchase,” Aiden said coldly, slipping the new leather over his fingers and marveling at the perfect fit.
“I have,” Fletcher admitted, unable to lie to his master.
“Might I ask why? You know very well why I had not had a new pair made myself.”
Fletcher stepped forward, his hawk-like eyes baring into the icy steel of the young man before him. “Because you needed to let go,” he replied, “and because I believe Miss Avery might finish what your sister and his lordship started.”
Aiden’s mouth set itself in a thin line. His feelings about Gabrielle and Micah were personal, private, and very dear to his heart. To suggest that Luke was anything like them was insulting.
“I can not be healed Fletcher,” he bit off, “and even if I could, Micah and my sister hardly cared enough to complete their task. They left me alone.”
The old man took a breath, “Master, it was not their intention to do so, you know that.”
“They abandoned me!” Aiden hissed, pulling on his cloak. He was becoming irrational.
“They died, Aiden!” Fletcher snapped, losing his temper, and only just holding back from giving the man the slap he deserved.
“Micah died,” Aiden said flatly, “Gabrielle sought out death.”
“She was heartbroken.”
“She was weak,” the fallen duke said through grit teeth, his hands in fists at the memory, “and she left me alone.”
Our trio falls under attack :O
Wentworth burst into the room then and he breathed a sigh when he saw the dead man and Francesca standing over him unharmed.
“I sent Miss Avery down the servant stairs and into the courtyard,” she said, returning the letter opener to the desk. “I thought it to be the best course of action.”
The blonde nodded, “Naturally. These men aren’t experts. Mr. Finnegan is finishing up outside. I’ll have him fetch her.”
As she watched him pull the dead man from the room so she could begin cleaning, Francesca couldn’t help but smile. Even amidst chaos and death, those in the employ of Xander kept their calm and treated the occurrence as nothing more than a small wrinkle in their plans.
“A job well done, Francesca!” he called to her as he heaved away the thief’s body, “we are lucky to have you!”
Wentworth was always particularly nonchalant about these happenings.
Our hero and heroine share their first kiss:
He knew that expression. He had used it as a child, when he looked to Gabrielle or her husband. That light look of adoration. Proud to be complimented by him, excited to have his attention. Perfectly and utterly loyal.
He couldn’t help himself.
Dropping the hair soap, he leaned forward and touched his lips to hers. He hadn’t meant to, and until it actually happened, he couldn’t believe it himself. But it did happen. He was kissing her.
Aiden wasn’t entirely sure how she first responded, so lost was he in the moment, but soon, her arm came up to touch his cheek and the other, his hair.
It wasn’t long after that he climbed into the tub, breeches and all.
“Mr. Finnegan!” she cried, startled, but he silenced her with another crushing kiss.
“Aiden,” he growled against her mouth, “Aiden.”
With her back against one wall of the basin, he held her face in his hands and devoured her. Frantically, her hands pulled at his hair and his shirt, now wet and useless. She’d never experienced such a thing in her life and quite frankly, had no idea what to do with herself.
“Aiden,” she whispered between kisses. It was the first time she’d ever uttered his christian name and as she had done so oh-so obediently, he couldn’t help but smile against her lips. His ego was pleased.
Wentworth is less than pleased about it:
“Be quiet, man!” Aiden barked, pounding his fist against the wall. Then calming, he took a breath. “I don’t know what overcame me, but I assure you it won’t happen again.”
“Won’t it?” asked Wentworth, setting down his teacup, “Aiden, might I ask you a most inappropriate question?”
Seething, Aiden looked to him darkly. “Nothing has ever stopped you before.”
“When was the last time you were with a woman? It wasn’t back at Glendale’s was it?”
“Of course not!” Aiden bit off, very much irritated with the inappropriateness of the question indeed. Then he crossed his arms again and leaned up against the doorframe, but thought better of it and shifted anxiously in his place.
“I don’t know, “ he said bitterly, “I can’t remember.”
There was no hint of mockery in Wentworth’s voice when he spoke. “I find that hard to imagine. You can’t remember the last time you’ve been satisfied? It must have been a while. More than a week?”
“A month, maybe,” Aiden replied. When he thought about it, he shuddered, “I’ve gone a month without the affections of a female.” He lit up a cigarette. “That’s horrifying.”
Wentworth smiled. “Then perhaps that is what you need. Put you lips between the legs of a woman, and keep them off of Miss Avery.”
But that hardly stops Aiden from taking what he wants:
“I know exactly what sort of man you are!” she cried, wrenching herself free of him.
He was much faster than she, and, lit by the flames of an altercation, his eyes, those dangerous, devilish eyes of his, shone brightly in the dimness of the setting sun. He was in front of her now, and with one hand on her neck, he shoved her against the wall.
“What sort of man am I?” he asked darkly, spreading her skinny legs and using his hips to pin her into place against the wall. If he backed up, she would fall, and she would be hurt, but right now, she was exactly where he wanted her.
As her back collided with the wooden panels that made up the wall, Luke grit her teeth, but when Aiden moved between her legs, and nothing but the cotton of her bloomers and the deerskin of his breeches stood between her maidenhood and his arousal, she let out an involuntary whine with a sensual tone.
His mouth found her neck, and as he leaned over to suckle her pulse, she cried aloud. “Mr. Finnegan!”
“Aiden,” he hummed against her skin, “my name is Aiden, you stupid cow.”
And Luke gives in with only half-reservation:
Still, she moaned into him, showing that she was a liar, and he was right. She had never, in nineteen years of life, felt as alive as she did now, with him controlling her every move, and forcing her to accept his advances.
“What’s the matter?” he muttered, smiling when she wedged her feet between their bodies, prying them apart, “the miners’ sons don’t know how to rough you up?”
Aiden stepped away from her, teasing her with his distance, and she slid off the desk and onto the floor. She had had enough for one day.
“I never had any interest in the sons of miners,” she said, taking a deep breath and heading towards the door. He didn’t follow. He was letting her walk out on him because he knew if he allowed her this small freedom, she would come back to him. Women were remarkably easy to manipulate.
He picked up his coat from the floor and pulled it back onto his body. “No, I imagine the target at which you aim has much deeper pockets.”
“It’s not that,” she admitted, indulging in a self-satisfying smile before throwing him the most sultry gaze she could muster.
“My target will shoot back.”
Fletcher reminds his master how perceptive he is:
Fletcher removed the silver case from Aiden’s pocket and went to work refilling it. “Sleep isn’t what you desire, sir,” he said without looking at him, concentrating on aligning the cigarettes perfectly in their bed of silver.
Too exhausted to argue with the old man, Aiden sighed, flicking some ash off into the tray. “What is it that I desire, Fletcher?”
Fletcher handed the case back to the tall man sprawled out on the leather chair and regarded him with a reprimanding stare. “Something you refuse to admit that you want.”
“Oh fuck off!” Aiden snapped, standing and crossing the room. He was through here.
But the old manservant remained calm. “I know you better than you know yourself and you know it’s true. The longer you hold on to an imaginary hatred, the more difficult your life will become.”
“My life would be a great deal more difficult if I took the bitch as a lover, believe me.”
Fletcher’s brows rose. “Is that what you want?”
“It’s what you seem to assume I want,” Aiden replied, his lip curled in the sarcastic petulance he still hadn’t lost.
“And would it be truly Earth shattering if you did?”
Aiden eventually gives in (a little):
“I want something that wasn’t meant for me,” he admitted, running his hand over the silken comforter.
Annoyed with his cryptic speech and unusually vague attitude, Luke spun in her seat and went back to penning her letter. “You can stay in here if you want,” she offered, “and we can talk when I’m done.”
He took up her invitation and hoisted himself up onto the bed, slightly disappointed when she didn’t turn around to reprimand him or shout indecencies at his suggestive behavior. She was scribbling away, jotting down anecdotes that would never be sent, and humming a cute tune to herself.
She wasn’t dressed for bed; it was just past noon after all, but he thought she ought to be. He was prepared to sleep until spring, perhaps even summer, and in his fatigue, couldn’t see how anyone else was fit to move on with their day.
With his head propped up by his open palm, Aiden watched her for several minutes, and when he could feel the return of Fletcher’s eyes on him from the open door, he gave in.
“I want you,” he whispered.
Luke didn’t hear him, and he was glad. Confessing such a horrendous thing was both liberating and crushing. He had always chosen his women according to how well they would perform for him, how attractive they were, and their willingness to play his way. He had never singled out a woman based on a personal want.
Wentworth had asked him if she would be trouble, and he had dismissed her with ease. As it turned out, Luke Avery was not so dismissible and if he wasn’t careful, she would cause quite a bit of trouble. Trouble was something he never welcomed.
But Fletcher had been right. Letting go of himself and accepting what he knew to be true had been freeing. Through living a life of lies and deception, having one thing that he was able to hold truth in, even for this short period of time, made him feel a little less alone.
I’m super stoked about hitting this point because now things are going to start rolling down a slipper slope at an incredible speed. Lots of action, betrayals, gunfights, fistfights, throes of passion, and Wentworth drinking his never emptying cup of tea and making inappropriate jokes at Aiden.
Thanks for sticking around, everyone! I appreciate all the support! ❤
Book of Luke completion progress: 51%
The Noble Project completion progress: 12%