Whee! This morning I reached my estimated 30% mark! This is very exciting because reaching any checkpoint is a whole lot of fun. As I did with the 15%, I’m going to post a recap from 15%-30% and we’ll see what’s been happening that we may not have touched upon here.
Luke discovers that Aiden is in the good graces of very few people:
“They like Mr. Simon don’t they?” she asked cheekily. While the girls had clearly expressed their sensual opinions on Aiden, it was clear that Wentworth was the crowd favourite. Luke understood that easily.
The bartender scratched his balding head. “Simon, yeah. They get themselves dressed up all pretty when he comes to town.”
“I’ll bet,” Luke murmured, “and I’m sure they’re all dying for Mr. Finnegan to get his hands on them.” She paused to let out a humorless snort, “I’m sure he’s something to swoon over.”
When the man before her failed to see the sardonic laughter in her tone, she let the smile fade from her face. The bartender’s features darkened and his breathing quickened. Luke had gotten too comfortable.
“That man,” he said lowly, his fingertips shaking as he reached for the large mug the brunette had rejected, “Finnegan.”
A freezing sensation shot through her bones at that moment as she watched his eyes burn with a silent fury.
“I hate that man,” he said, his nose wrinkling up in disgust at the mere thought of him, “fucking son of Satan himself.”
They were the strongest words against a man that Luke had ever heard spoken. With her father considered a disgrace to their community, and her mother not in a socially acceptable state of mind, she had heard it all.
Though the man looked as if he might either spit fire or hurl his ale across the room, he didn’t. Instead, he took a long swig.
“I had a daughter once,” he said quietly, “wife too.”
Luke licked her lips and scooted forward on the stool. ‘Had’ and ‘once’ were generally terms used by folks who no longer possessed such assets.
“Were they taken by the Infection?”
His strong hand came over hers then and she jumped. He squeezed her hard, but he was trembling. “They were taken by him,” he hissed, “hired me, he did, to do an impossible task. When I failed, he took them.”
Aiden displays some more trigger happiness:
Mr. Espott chose not to respond to this, finally turning his attention to Luke.
Who is this?” he asked, tucking the scissors underneath his right arm while he grabbed her chin with his bony left hand, “your daughter?”
“No, of course not. You aren’t so old.” He moved down, grabbing the extra fabric at her waist. “Dress is too big,” he murmured. His eyes traveled up to her hair and his already critical face became puzzled. “What happened to your hair?”
Luke lifted her arm and thrust her arm out at Aiden. “He cut it off!”
“Cut it off, you say?” He turned to Aiden, “why on Earth would you do that?”
Aiden waved a dismissive hand, “If you think she’s in an unfortunate state now, you should have seen what she looked like when we found her.”
Mr. Espott straightened, giving the girl another once over, but not revealing his opinion. “So this is how you treat your women then, truly? It is no wonder she left.”
There it was again, the trigger that Aiden needed. But with the shining silver pistol pointed directly at his forehead, the dressmaker didn’t even flinch.
“So it’s true then,” he whispered, “you have changed.”
“You will mind your tongue,” came the low response from the man behind the weapon.
One of the seeds of Aiden’s past is planted:
Something hard and heavy settled in Luke’s stomach then.
“He loved her, didn’t he?”
“Loved her?” he asked, shaking his head, “Yes. And then… she destroyed him.”
There was a silence in the room as Luke took a breath that shuttered through her corset, but didn’t quite reach her lungs. She wanted to ask. She wanted to know why, and how. She wouldn’t get those answers today, because Mr. Espott had already begun to dress her in various fabrics, his quiet, yet quick pace a signal that he was through speaking on the subject.
They arrive at the first safe house:
Aiden parted ways with them once inside, and Wentworth made a point of showing Luke around to all of the main rooms of the house. Drawing rooms, dining rooms, sitting rooms and observatories. There were music rooms and libraries, a kitchen larger than her father’s entire tavern, and even a ballroom, though she had been told that it was never used anymore.
“That’s a shame,” she said, frowning as she made a couple of hops across the floor, “I would love to have a ball.”
“And someday you shall,” Wentworth answered, leading her back into the hallway, “but for now, we have to do our best to keep out of range of those associated with the Infection.”
Luke sighed, scuffing the marble with her feet, “Do you really think they are looking for us?”
Of course not. He didn’t say it, he couldn’t say it. It wasn’t the Infection they need be worried about, it was the king and his men. He had vowed ten years ago that he would find Aiden and bring him to justice. Wentworth knew Cale wasn’t the sort of man to back down. He would hunt as long as Aiden would run.
Luke finally learns a bit about Marietta Grace:
Fletcher rubbed his forehead. “She disappeared. The day of the wedding, just vanished. –Poof,” he made a small exploding gesture with his knobby hands, “her maids, gowns, jewels, even her carriage. All gone. No one saw her leave.”
Luke furrowed her brow. “Why? What did he do?”
“Aiden has never been a good man,” Fletcher replied, “know that. But there was nothing, nothing done to Miss Grace to make her flee. She was his world, the only thing keeping him sane. His only drive in life was making her happy.”
“A-and she just left?”
“He was already at the altar when they found out. He waited for three days, no food, no drink, no sleep. We all tried to get him down, but he refused, claiming that she would show.”
As the memory flooded Fletcher’s mind, he closed his eyes, steadying himself. “He lost all touch with humanity that day. Whatever shred of a man was left in his soul tore itself away and he became this,” he waved his hand around the room, “this monster.”
“Mr. Espott believes in him,” Luke said softly, “do you?”
“I’ve learned to adapt to his elevated fury,” Fletcher admitted, “but I would very much like to see the man who was simply bitter. Do I think I will? No. Not in this lifetime.”
Philip Avery visits his estranged wife:
Inhaling deeply, Philip pressed his palm to his forehead. He shouldn’t be thinking of such terrible things (but how could he not?) when he was here in this house. He was here to tell her. He was here to see her.
He was here to remember.
Her voice broke through his silence then, followed by Tommy’s frantic footsteps and the slamming open of the drawing room doors.
A half frightened, fully forced smile appeared on his face as he turned to her, expecting to see what everyone assumed to be true: a crazed, frizzy haired woman with eyes as wild as the corner preachers and clothes tattered and unkempt. What he did not expect, was the vision of a woman before him.
Isabella Avery, the woman that had once been his best friend, his wife, his savior stood before him in all of the radiance of a new bride. Her hair had been done up in an elaborate coiffure, her gown was not of the finest materials, but what Philip believed to be the most fashionable design. Her eyes shone brightly, a blueish grey, and the way she strode across the room made him to believe that if he had any interest in women, he would want nothing more than this one back in his home.
“Oh Philip!” She cried, taking his hands and squeezing them gently. “It has been far too long!”
Isabella smoothed out her skirts and, taking a calming breath, smiled at his back. “You are welcome to stay here, Philip. If being at home is too difficult.”
“Thank you,” he said, sniffing and dabbing at his eyes, “but I would hate to impose.”
“It’s no imposition,” she argued, “I would be honored to have a great friend such as yourself under my roof.”
He let out a sardonic chuckle. “My apologies, Izzy, but it might be a bit awkward for your lover to visit with you and your husband.”
The light laugh that floated through the room hit him with a pang of nostalgia and when he faced her again, her face was bright with amusement, as if he had told a joke.
“Oh Philip, don’t be ridiculous. Cale is a good husband. I would never dream of taking a lover.”
So they were back to that.
Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to advance in his quest, not with her help, he smiled back at her. “Of course not,” he said quickly, “your husband loves you very much.”
“He does, doesn’t he?” she mused, laughing again.
More than you know, Philip thought, allowing Tommy to lead him out of the room. They would leave now, and he wouldn’t return. He couldn’t play with her, not when their daughter was in danger. Isabella didn’t remember, and as much as it pained him, for her, perhaps it was best that way.
We are given a nugget of information:
“I’m not restless,” said Aiden, pulling off his riding gloves, worn from years of use, “this simply is not productive.”
“It’s hard to imagine you bored here, my friend,” Wentworth chuckled, throwing out his arms, and putting the estate on display “you were born into this! Enjoy it for the sake of nostalgia.”
Aiden’s face turned stony and his hands clenched. “There is nothing nostalgic about it.”
“My apologies,” said Wentworth, holding up his hands, though they both knew there was nothing apologetic about his words. “I was never a duke, so I suppose I wouldn’t know.”
“You’re walking a thin line,” he was warned. At mention of the title he once held, Aiden grew, if possible, even more bitter about their stay in the estate.
But Wentworth merely sighed and smiled, peering into his teacup and then frowning when he realized he had drank it all.
Luke delivers a below the belt punch:
“I can’t marry without love,” she replied softly, to which Aiden began to chuckle bitterly. She immediately shot him a look of disgust as she stood, picking up her sketchbook to leave.
“People don’t marry for love, Miss Avery,” he said coldly, staring up at her. He wouldn’t let her walk out just yet. There was a fire inside him, a growing need to destroy something, and she had so conveniently landed before him.
But then, she said something quite unexpected.
Aiden’s silence was heavy. So heavy in fact that the entire room seemed to be crushing down on the three. Even Wentworth had nothing to say. Luke knew that the words she had spoken were uncalled for. She also knew that she would have to begin defending herself quickly if she wanted to succeed with this man.
Standing before him, she leveled her gaze to his and set her jaw. He wasn’t going to escape anymore. She wouldn’t let him behave like a boorish hermit, treating her like dust hidden beneath his carpets. They stood like that for some time and when Luke finally turned to leave, she left him with just one word.
Aiden lets us know just what type of romance these two will have:
Luke lifted her chin. “I trust no one.”
Lowering himself to her, Aiden reached out and took her face into one of his hands with little regard for her personal comfort.
“You trust everyone,” he breathed, squeezing her jaw before he shoved her away and turned, lighting up a cigarette, “that is the difference between us.”
“I trust you.”
The words came out as a whisper, a small accusation that crept its way underneath Aiden’s coat and up his spine. He’d never heard those words before. As he inhaled, he imaged what sort of expression she was making and wondered why he felt a pang of familiarity each time he looked at her. She hadn’t said anything further, nor was she making an effort to leave.
He stood for some time, contemplating her, while she kept herself against the wall, pondering his reactions to her words. When his cigarette was finished, he let it fall from his lips and onto the tiled floor where he crushed it with his boot. Someone would clean it.
He looked to her, and sure enough, she was just as he had left her.
“You trust me.”
She nodded and he lit another cigarette.
“Then I will be your undoing, Miss Avery.”
Aiden is still trying to know why she looks so familiar:
“Have we met?”
The question caught her off guard and she whipped around, giving him a rather puzzled look. “Excuse me?”
She didn’t seem to mind at all that he was half naked now. Her complexion had returned to normal, her jaw was steeled as it often was when he was speaking to her, and there was no trembling in her fingers.
“Mr. Finnegan, I do believe that I would remember meeting someone like you.”
“Ah, so I am memorable.”
Since when did he partake in banter?
“I’d say so,” she snorted, “no one broods the way you do.”
But as usual, Luke diverts the conversation:
Aiden bit back a curse. He was unused to showing his bare torso. The women he laid with rarely got the pleasure of feeling his flesh as he devoured theirs, and Fletcher never commented on his body when he was bathing. He had nearly forgotten about the marks he had acquired over the years.
Absently, he brought one of his hands up over his shoulder and felt. They were there, raised and silky, as scars often are. There were more than what he could feel, far more than he wanted to admit. Some were thick and jagged, some thin and delicate, crisscrossing over each other in a deranged display of lattice work. There were others, larger imperfections that had once been series of welts, but over the years, had faded into ugly patches of pink.
“How did you get those?” Luke pressed, her voice still low, with a hint of dark wonder.
Aiden drew his hand from his skin and, without much thought, undid the first button of his breeches. He was through with her. Her eyes widened and her breath hitched. She took a single step back, but otherwise made no motion to leave.
“They were a punishment,” he told her, “and that is all you need know.”
There was doubt in her voice that he didn’t like. He undid the second button. She spun around and inhaled sharply.
“We’ve never met,” she confirmed, keeping her head high and her thoughts clear. He was taunting her, mocking her, manipulating her. She heard the third button release and she let out a humorless laugh.
“Really Mr. Finnegan, when was the last time you were in my town?”
As she closed the door behind her, retreating into the safety of her own proper bedchamber, where there were no naked brutes to torment her, Aiden considered her words. She was right. When had been the last time he had been so far North?
Peeling his breeches from his body, he shook his head. The last time he had been up there had been well over a decade ago. He didn’t even remember what he had gone for.
🙂 Lots of fun snippets that are enjoyable now, but a lot of them are actually foreshadowing for more important complications later on. I do hope you are enjoying everything!
Book of Luke completion progress: 30%
The Noble Project completion progress: 7%