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Recap: 50% Progress

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.

Jealousy.

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%

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Recap: 30% Progress

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.”

“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.

“Philip!”

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!”

She’s crazy.

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.

“You did.”

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.

“Almost.”

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.”

“One punishment?”

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%


Recap: 15% progress

I’m a little just past the 15% completion mark inThe Book of Luke, the first book in The Noble Project series. (I know that in my last post, I said I was near 20%, but realistically, I’m closer to 15. Minor details, I know.) I figured that even though we’ve had character inspiration, snippet posts, and even a little bit on publishing, I haven’t encompassed what this is all about. So today I’m going to do a recap of what’s happened in this story from the beginning, to the point I’m at now.

So first, we met Aiden:

The black boots that strode through the halls of the underground city threatened citizens with authority just as much as the man wearing them commanded their submission. Black deerskin breeches and a plain black waistcoat demanded their silence. A double breasted riding coat forced power upon them, and leather gloves, one gripping a horse’s reins, caused women to usher their children inside of their houses. For all the black, however, it was the stark white of a linen undershirt, the crispness of a pristine cravat, and the mirror shine of two silver pistols that kept the people of this city in their places.

Up above, in the world that saw the sun, he had been a feared man, a dangerous man, but the moment he had come down here to serve, he had proved just how menacing he could be. Down here there were no laws to keep his tendencies at bay, no status quo to force him into gentlemanly behavior.

Down in this horrible city of blasphemy and pleasures, Aiden Jayson Finnegan unleashed a reign of terror.

Shortly after, Wentworth graces us with his presence:

Seated in an armchair before the desk was a man roughly twenty years his senior, though one would hardly be able to tell. His shining blond hair curled loosely, but neatly atop his head and his laughing blue eyes sported no crows feet at their corners. He was shorter than Aiden, and slightly less slender, but even his form, by means of pure muscle, commanded respect.

His clothing, too, was opposite from the dark Mr. Finnegan. Light creams, embroidered in deep rose and blush complimented the lace spilling from his sleeves and neck, and the brilliant gold of his buttons and stickpin.

“You’re looking well, Aiden,” he said with a chuckle, observing the outfit so typical of his friend, and shaking his head at what he considered to be funeral wear.

“Don’t toy with me, Fly,” Aiden replied gruffly, taking a seat next to him, “I’m tired.”

“Ha. Tired of what? It’s near two-thirty in the afternoon!”

Aiden groaned, but ignored him otherwise. This man, Wentworth, was, quite literally, his partner in crime, and had been since the very beginning of his work here. They had a system, one that worked rather well for the both of them: Wentworth spoke, and Aiden ignored.

We learn a little bit about their line of work, and the sort of men they are:

Wentworth shrugged then, mostly because he didn’t actually have any opinion on the event that had taken place eight years ago. That was just the way Aiden was. His disregard for life was easily the reason he had been partnered with Wentworth, who valued the breathing but not the material. Possessions were replaceable. People were not.

That train of thought was a bit contradictory to his current profession as the most skilled charmer of innocents. Young girls fell weak at his knees, and into his arms, where they were then hoisted up into his carriage and carried to a facility where they were housed until being shipped out to a dealer.

He had been to slave auctions before; they were always loud and lively events, but he himself had little interest in actually purchasing one of his own. Once the girls had learned the truth of where they were headed, they hated him. It didn’t bother him overmuch; his position was far above theirs, but he knew that he would not want a servant who would resent him, and he certainly did not want a lover who would resist.

The same could not be said about Aiden, who, while Wentworth had gone to work seducing these poor maidens with his sweet words and flashy dress, kept them silent. Wentworth did not like to deliver the girls but Aiden had no remorse. Lining them up and sorting them into groups based on their attractiveness was nothing more than his job. He could handle their tears and their wailing easily. It meant they were frightened.

They deserved to be frightened. If a girl was so stupid as to allow the words of a finely dressed gentleman to sway her decisions, then she wasn’t worthy of anything more than what he was leading her towards. Foolishness was the greatest mistake a person could make in their life. He was paying for his, and now they would pay for theirs.

They receive their orders, kicking off the main plot line:

Once they were again seated before the desk, Xander took up his place behind it, and with his fingertips set firmly on the wood, leaned forward, his eyes serious and his mouth unsmiling.

“I have stolen something from the both of you,” he began, “something very dear to you. Both possessions are being held in a safe facility and once this mission is complete, will be returned to you.”

Neither of the two men even blinked. Xander had never threatened them before, never stole from them, and never felt the need to take collateral.

“This is serious then.” Aiden’s voice held no hint of emotion and he snuffed the life from his cigarette into an ivory tray.

“Very much so,” he replied. “There is a girl to the North. You two will retrieve her for me.”

Wentworth raised a brow. “I beg your pardon? One girl?”

Relaxing his pose, Xander reached for a decanter and poured himself a glass of amber liquid. “I had set my sights on this girl many years ago, when she was a child.”

Aiden crossed his arms. “She is valuable?”

“No, not valuable. This particular girl is a personal desire of mine. I intend to keep her.”

Then, Miss Luke Avery makes an appearance:

    Luke had no intention of letting any of these men up her skirts, but at the same time, very few of them were trying. She had made her desires known. It wasn’t just that she wanted marriage (she would never simply settle for a boy who compromised her), she wanted love.

These thoughts, naturally, made her quite unpopular.

It wasn’t exactly that she wasn’t liked, as many of the men, married and not, did thoroughly enjoy looking at her, and had no issue making a show of trying for her affections as she bustled about the tavern refilling drinks and making cheerful small talk with her father’s patrons. She was good fun for everyone when under the influence, but never would any of them consider her for marriage.

It wasn’t only the boys her age that were turned off by her attitude, but their mothers. They weren’t a big community, just slightly more populated than a village, and eligible members of either sex were scarce. No one could believe that Luke Avery, the daughter of the tavern owner, had the audacity to proclaim she would not wed without love.

We learn the state of their world:

The Noble Project was not a load of pig shit, she thought to herself. It was a desperate measure, taken by their rather desperate king, but for all the political and socioeconomic good it would do their world, she didn’t care. The program created nobility out of peasants. She could become a noble. She could save her father.

Rounding a corner and quickening her pace, she tried to contain her excitement. Their world was in a horrible place, she knew. Some years before she was born, strange things began to take place. People were becoming ill, with no apparent cure, mad for no reason, and even worse, crumpling to the ground–dead, with no cause.

It started somewhere in the East, steadily spreading across the land to the far West, and hitting the North and South as it went. Panic ripped throughout the kingdom. Walls were built, intruders executed, and by the more religious folk, anyone who strayed from the moral code of the Good Book were cast off into Hell without a second thought.

Still, for all of the efforts the citizens put forth to stop the spread of what they didn’t know or understand, it carried on.

And how The Noble Project came to be:

Whether the new king’s ailment was the intent of the Infection or simply a glorious opportunity, death unleashed itself upon the court.

It came swiftly, with such a force that it shook the very foundation. There wasn’t a soul with noble blood inside the walls that was spared that night. It wasn’t a violent massacre and it wasn’t the plague. It was something new, something strange. Something that Cale would never be able to forget.

[…]

He could not brush this off. He could not give himself the luxury of a mourning period, and he would not move on. Was this display a warning to him? Perhaps, but he was dying, so the threat of murder did not frighten him. Was it a promise that his kingdom would fall? No. No one could make that promise. No one could make that promise because until he drew his terminal breath, he would fight for his people.

And fight he did.

Cale was not a warlord like his father, not initially. Cale was the sort of man who studied position, class, and the effect it had on his kingdom’s economic standing. They could not afford to allow strangers into the land to trade, so they were entirely dependent on their peasants for resources. He had ignored the problems of the peasants before, so this time, he would repay them.

He knew that a kingdom could not flourish without its class devisions and king to peasant was too great a step. It was clear, by the destruction of the noble class, that he was not the only one who knew this. So he rebuilt.

The Noble Project was instituted six months after the genocide at the High City court, pulling exceptional candidates from the poorer population, fitting them with a title, a fortune, and rigorous training, then launching them into society, born again as nobility.

Aiden and Wentworth put their deception in motion:

Ridiculous thoughts kept coming to her. The weather, recipes she was certain she had never made, dates that  held no importance to her, and faces of people she had never met. Breathing worsened, and she soon found herself trapped against a wall, gasping for air, and praying that each breath would not be her last.

“Somebody help me.” It didn’t sound like her voice, and it didn’t sound like her language, but it was the best she could do.

“I’m not infected,” she said weakly as someone, though she couldn’t see them through her foggy blindness, charged forward.

A gunshot rang through the air, and when all went silent, including her thoughts, Luke’s knees gave out. A strong hand on her back stopped her from hitting the cobblestone of the alley she had wandered into, and when an arm came under her legs to lift her, she let her head loll back.

“Miss Avery,” came the smooth, deep voice of her hero, “we have you at last.”

And Luke falls for it hook, line, and sinker. (As much fun as she is, she isn’t the brightest of females)

“And there you have it!” Wentworth said, beaming. “And our job is to transport you safely to the High City.”

Luke’s breath caught in her throat. Certainly he didn’t mean…

But he did.

“You have been selected as a candidate for The Noble Project,” he told her gently, bending to his knees before her. “We have orders from his majesty–” he held out his arm and Aiden deposited a roll of parchment into his hand, “–to return to the city with you.”

He undid the seal and Luke stared ahead at the royal notice before her. Aiden watched silently. She would find no flaw in the papers. Among one of his most cherished, and most valuable talents was forgery of the written word. He needed only a sample of type or handwriting and for the rest of his days he would be able to replicate it exactly. As a child, he had practiced with none other than the Cale Rutherford, the King himself.

Luke begins her attempts at winning Aiden’s friendship (lol)

“This ship,” she repeated, looking up at him with those bright emerald eyes of hers, “it is not made to carry people. Why is that?”

“Do you find your accommodations unpleasant?”

“No, but–”

“Then don’t ask questions,” he snapped, cutting her off.

“Curiosity is healthy.” She was gripping the edge of the ship now, leaning backwards, her heels the only things keeping her vertical. She really was a child.

“It kills cats, I hear,” he replied, with little emotion.

Luke thought on that for a moment before her face lit up and she let out a rather fetching laugh. “Mr. Finnegan, are you being funny?”

The make the first stop on their journey!

The city was bustling with people of all sorts, much unlike her town. In her village, everyone had been set in their ways and the ways of their parents before them and their parents before them. Here, it seemed as if people had made their own choices. Women were laughing, men were hauling goods across the streets, and small children were chasing cats and dogs. Musicians sat on the corners, strumming their strings and beating away at various percussive instruments, their hats turned upward, a silent request for a bit of silver.

“This is wonderful!” Luke cried out to Wentworth who was riding carefully alongside her.

“The sun does know how to shine,” he agreed, raising his voice against the noise of the streets.

This was something Luke hadn’t considered. By the sea, this city had the wonderful advantage of having the sun visible at all hours of the day. It reflected off of the ocean’s glassy surface and radiated through the very streets, unlike her own town, where smoke hung thick over the rooftops and caked itself onto the very walls that made up their houses.

“Ah, but there are places far more beautiful than this pit!” Wentworth called to her, giving Rosie’ s reins a small flick and trotting on ahead.

Foreshadowing happens:

“I’ve half a mind to let you stay there,” he replied, checking his timepiece, “but fortunately for you, I am not permitted to leave you in dirty barns.”

“So Mr. Finnegan does take orders from someone.”

Aiden froze at her smug tone, his watch tucked halfway into his waistcoat. In ten years, he had never considered that fact. He did take orders, but not in the way an employee or a servant might. He made the decisions, he handled negotiations. He was a leader. He was in control.

Wasn’t he?

Suddenly here, with this girl a decade his junior, with no credibility, he began to doubt.

“Mr. Finnegan?”

Slowly, he looked up at her. She wasn’t smiling at him anymore. Some of her mousy hair had fallen over her eyes and she moved carefully to brush it aside.

She looked familiar.

Familiar in a way that he couldn’t place, and wasn’t sure he wanted to. Nothing about her was distinct, no part of her would stand out against a crowd except for her smile, and she wasn’t displaying that now. His eyes traveled across her face, searching, and wondering, but keeping an unsteady distance.

“Did I say something?”

Clearing his throat, Aiden shook his curiosity and reached forward, plucking her from the saddle. She was much smaller than her current garment suggested, and much lighter than any of the women he had ever previously lifted.

Luke realizes that men will always be men:

“My apologies if this is not what  you would consider ‘suitable housing’,” Aiden snapped, throwing her an icy glare, one that normally caused the bravest of men to cower in their boots. Luke, however, simply sighed.

“I won’t complain,” she told him, looking at him with a keen eye, “I’m not ungrateful.”

Aiden opened his mouth to retort, but halted his speech as the sharp booming of nearly a dozen doors slamming resonated through the entire establishment. This noise was followed immediately by the thundering of footsteps down the hall, and finally, the high pitched squeals of excited ladies.

‘Ladies’ was an incorrect term Luke realized, as these women came pouring down the stairs. Dressed only in the naughtiest undergarments she had ever seen, and tiny bustle skirts, the occupation of these girls was immediately clear and she felt her jaw fall slack.

“It’s a whorehouse.”

Her observation went without reply.

“Mr. Simon!” They cried, all crowding together at the bottom of the stairs, none of them daring to step foot onto the tavern’s floor, but each vying their way to the front of the pack.

“Ladies,” he replied smoothly, bowing with all the grace of a practiced gentleman, “it has been too long.”

“And Mr. Finnegan.”

As Aiden was addressed, their voices got lower, sultry, and slightly breathless. Luke rolled her eyes at this and swiveled in her seat to face the bar. She didn’t know either of these men very well, but it was quite clear that Wentworth was a man set out to please all the women he could find, and Aiden, well, he was superior to dealing with the troubles of a common tavern wench.

When the tall, brooding man stepped forward, Luke watched with vague interest, but when his hand closed around the bare arm of a mildly attractive blonde, her eyes widened. As he led the lingerie clad woman up the stairs with a firm hand on the small of her naked back and didn’t even so much look over his shoulder at either his partner or his charge, Luke felt her heart sink a little bit.

So perhaps Aiden Finnegan wasn’t superior to dealing with the common tavern wench.

And there we have it. Hope you’re enjoying the ride! I sure am! 😀