Britin ([info]_alicesprings) wrote on August 24th, 2011 at 09:52 am
A Stable Heart, Chapter 3
Title: A Stable Heart
Written By: [info]_alicesprings
Rating: NC-17
Summary: AU. When Luke has to hide out from the Grimaldi family, taking a job as a stable hand in Dallas seems like the perfect solution. It’s too bad Luke’s new “boss” Dr. Reid Oliver is such a jerk.
Author’s Notes: This was written for the wonderful and very patient [info]peggin for her generous donation in the auction to help Japan. I hope it’s everything you wanted! This is my first multi-chaptered fic, and given how difficult it was for me to write, probably my last! I hope you guys enjoy it. :) The fic is complete and I’ll be posting a chapter a day for the next week or so.

Massive amounts of beta love to the incredible [info]rhiannonhero and [info]cindergal!

Previous chapters: 1|2

There’s a knock on the door early the next morning. Luke’s alarm hasn’t even gone off yet, and it’s still dark outside. Luke’s half asleep as he flicks on the lights and stumbles to the door, wrenching it open and rubbing the sleep from his eyes with one hand.

Dr. Oliver’s standing on the other side, and it’s not until he looks down at Luke’s chest, and then his gaze pointedly slides even lower that Luke realizes he’s wearing just his boxer shorts.

Dr. Oliver’s still staring at Luke’s body, and Luke’s half-asleep brain must be running on a time delay, because it’s at least a full ten seconds before Luke thinks to say, “Hello, can I help you?”

Dr. Oliver’s eyebrows shoot up and he pauses for a moment, then shakes his head. “Sorry. It's early, I know, but I left my briefcase here last night and I need it for surgery this morning.”

“You... need your briefcase for surgery?” Luke’s a little sleep addled, but that doesn’t seem quite right.

“The files in it. Not the briefcase itself,” Dr. Oliver says. “Look, if you'll just let me get it, I'll be gone and you can get back to your beauty rest.”

Luke blinks sleepily.

“Mr. Walsh,” he snaps. “If you’d just step aside…”

“Oh, right! Sorry,” Luke says, moving out of the doorway.

Dr. Oliver grabs his briefcase off the couch and then steps back outside.

“Good luck with your surgery,” Luke says.

Dr. Oliver blatantly stares at Luke’s naked torso, and he self-consciously folds his arms across his chest. Dr. Oliver’s eyes slide around to a spot on Luke’s side, instead, and he knows he’s spotted Luke’s transplant scar. Luke drops his arms back to his sides and covers it up.

“Don’t need luck,” he says arrogantly. “But thanks anyway. Luke.” Dr. Oliver flashes a lightning fast smile Luke’s way. “Go back to sleep.”

Luke lifts a hand to wave goodbye before he can even think about it, then watches Dr. Oliver walk around the side of the house to his car. He’s wearing tight black jeans and a clingy, light green sweater, and Luke lets himself acknowledge for just a moment, in his hazy state, that he’s maybe kind of attracted to Dr. Oliver.


Luke’s alarm goes off an hour later, and he jolts awake, momentarily confused. Was he dreaming, or had Dr. Oliver been here this morning? He sits up and looks over at the couch, and the briefcase is gone. Oh, yeah. Dr. Oliver had been here, and he’d stared at Luke’s body shamelessly. And he’d called him Luke. And he’d been... different last night, too. More human. A smile forms unbidden on his face, then he realizes what he’s doing and forces a frown instead.

Just because Dr. Oliver’s gay, and kind of really, really hot, it doesn’t excuse the fact he’s also kind of a jerk.

His day is pretty uneventful. He looks after the horses, as usual, throws together a sandwich for lunch, as usual, and adds a few items to his shopping list. He needs to do some laundry, too, and Victoria tells him to go ahead and use the washing machine inside the house.

“Are you sure Dr. Oliver won’t mind?” Luke asks.

“Meh,” Victoria shrugs. “I don’t think he even knows where the laundry is,” she says. “I do his washing for him. Biodegradable soap only, he’s kind of loco about it, mijo.”

Luke snorts a laugh. “Is that like the can thing in the pantry?”

Victoria chuckles. “I told you he likes things done a certain way.”

Luke rolls his eyes. “I talked to him last night,” Luke says, sorting his colors and whites. “He said he was going to apologize for how he spoke to you.”

“He will,” Victoria says. “He always does.”

Luke hesitates. “He was... different. Nicer than usual.”

Victoria smiles.

“He told me he’s gay,” Luke blurts out. “But you probably already knew that.”

“I did.”

“I’m gay, too,” Luke says. “In case you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t, mijo” she says, then smiles and pats his cheek, leaving him to his piles of dirty laundry.

Luke decides to make chili and cornbread for his dinner with Dr. Oliver. He’s used to it eating it at least once a week at Al’s, and he misses it. He adds a dash of cinnamon, which he knows Henry uses at the diner, but isn’t part of his grandma’s recipe.

“Sorry, grandma,” Luke says, as he sprinkles it in the pot. His grandmother is kind of a purist when it comes to her recipes, but Luke’s more of a freestyler. He sticks faithfully to her corn bread recipe, though, and it turns out beautifully.

The chili’s done by around quarter to seven, and Luke turns the burner under the pot down low to keep it warm. He flicks on the TV and channel surfs for a bit, but there’s nothing worth watching so he flicks it back off. By five past seven Dr. Oliver’s still not home, but Luke knows the hospital’s only twenty minutes away, so he should be there soon.

By quarter past, he’s still a no-show, and Luke’s starting to get pissed, wondering if he’s playing some sort of mind game with Luke.

His cell phone rings at twenty past, and Luke jumps in his seat, scared half to death. No one calls his cell phone. The only people with the number are his dad, and Dr. Oliver’s assistant, a woman Luke’s spoken to about the horses a couple times.

“Hello?” Luke answers the phone.

“Luke? Hi, this is Nancy Jones, Dr. Oliver’s assistant.”

“Hi, Nancy, what can I do for you?”

“That depends. Can you get me out of working late?” Nancy jokes.

Luke laughs. “Sorry, no can do. Is Dr. Oliver cracking the whip?” A sudden image of a smirking Dr. Oliver holding a whip enters Luke’s mind, and his cheeks heat up. Christ. What the hell is wrong with him lately?

Nancy laughs. “He sure is,” she says. “That’s why I’m calling. He wanted me to let you know he’s stuck in surgery and he won’t be able to make dinner.”

“Oh,” Luke says, kind of embarrassed for some reason that Dr. Oliver had told Nancy they were having dinner together.

“Yup, an emergency came into the hospital this afternoon. He’s been in there for hours, but he sent one of the nurses out to tell me to be sure I call.”

“He did?” Luke says. “That was... considerate. Wait, I thought he ran a clinic, not worked in the ER.”

“He does,” Nancy says, “But this was a pretty bad case, so they called him in.”

“He really is that good, then?” Luke says.

Nancy laughs. “I know, I know. His ego’s enormous,” she says. “But he really is the best, and when you’ve got one of the world’s top neurosurgeon’s working nearby, you call him in when there’s an emergency.”

“Okay, well, thanks for letting me know, Nancy.”

“No problem,” she says. “Nite, honey.”

Luke hangs up the phone and fixes himself a plate. He eats slowly, preoccupied with the unexpected turn his night’s taken. He’s strangely disappointed that he didn’t get to see Dr. Oliver tonight, but he’s also strangely proud that the reason Dr. Oliver missed dinner was because he’s performing (hopefully) life-saving surgery. Why he’s proud, he’s not quite sure. Dr. Oliver’s his employer, not his friend, and not his... Luke shakes his head and starts filling the sink with water to do the dishes. Luke has no reason to feel proud of Dr. Oliver’s skill.

When he realizes he’s humming about ten minutes later, he just shrugs and keeps scrubbing.


All the servants were busy preparing for the ball to be held at Oakdale Hall. The kitchen was a hive of activity, scullery maids to-ing and fro-ing about, and the stable block servants preparing for the influx of carriages guests to the ball would be arriving in. Lukas welcomed the distraction, being too busy with preparations to dwell on Noah’s betrayal.

At night, however, when the other men had fallen into exhausted slumber, Lukas laid awake, his body tired but his mind unable to stop turning. Noah and Madeleine were to be married soon after the ball, and then Noah would move closer to the main house to live with his wife in the servants quarters. Madeleine would take Noah’s name and they would become husband and wife.

The thought of them living together, and sharing a bed, something Lukas was unable to do with Noah, tore him up with grief. Lukas did not know how he would endure it.

The night of the ball finally arrived, and the most important families in Derbyshire were in attendance at Oakdale Hall.

Lukas had pilfered a bottle of wine from the house. He’d never stolen so much as a cube of sugar in his life before, but tonight, the temptation had been too much to resist. Lukas wanted nothing more than to drown his sorrows, and forget the horrible image of Noah and Madeleine together, which was seared into his brain.

The stable block was deserted and Lukas was confident he was at no risk of being discovered there. Everyone would be too busy with the festivities to notice him missing.

Lukas took a swig of wine, cringing at the taste, but swallowing down as much as he could. He wanted to forget, to erase the image of Noah and Madeleine rutting together, and especially the sounds of Noah grunting and moaning. Lukas thought he was the only one who’d been privy to such sight and sounds. How wrong he’d been. How stupid.

Lukas squeezed his eyes closed and swallowed more wine. His head was starting to feel pleasantly fuzzy, the memory of Noah and Madeleine together growing hazy.

“That’s better!” Lukas told one of the nearest horses. “I shall forget that no good bastard!”

The horse merely snorted. “Oh ho!” Lukas cried drunkenly. “Even you are ignoring me! You and Noah must be the best of friends!”

Lukas held the bottle to his lips, ready to take another swig, when he heard a commanding voice from behind.

“Who’s there?” they demanded, and Lukas turned around slowly and found himself in Jude Lovell’s presence.

“Smith, Sir,” Lukas said, attempting to hide the bottle of wine behind his back, but his movements were clunky, his reflexes dulled from the wine he’d consumed.

“What do you have behind your back, boy?”

Lukas swallowed hard, and fear began taking over the drunken part of his mind, sobering him up immediately. If Mr. Lovell chose to do so, Lukas would be let go in disgrace for thievery. He and his mother would be out on the streets, and Lukas without favorable references would have little luck securing work in private service.

“Well,” Mr. Lovell demanded impatiently. “Show me what you are hiding.”

Reluctantly, Lukas held up the half drunk bottle of wine.

Mr. Lovell lifted one eyebrow, and Lukas swallowed hard.

“You stole that from my party,” he said. “And you’re in here drinking when I assume you should be working with the other servants.”

Lukas kept his eyes downcast. “I’m sorry, Sir. I will reimburse you, of course, but please, Sir, I beg of you, please don’t sack me.”

Mr. Lovell studied him for a long moment, and Lukas anxiously bit his lip. Mr. Lovell could hardly be described as kind, from what Lukas had witnessed of his behaviour since his return to Oakdale Hall, yet Lukas prayed the man would show some hidden kindness tonight, some sort of compassion, though he had no reason to given the circumstances.

“Oh, all right,” Mr. Lovell finally said. “I won’t tell anyone, as long as you share.”

Lukas’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You— you wish to share the bottle, Sir?”

“Hand it over,” Mr. Lovell said, and Lukas was surprised to see him drink from the bottle Lukas’s lips had been on.

“You really won’t sack me, Sir?”

“I could hardly explain why I caught you here when I’m not supposed to be here myself, can I, boy?”

Lukas frowned. “True enough, Sir. Are you not enjoying the ball?”

Mr. Lovell snorted and took another swig of wine. “I’m supposed to be finding a wife,” he said. “Yet I have no desire to do so.”

Lukas was silent. It was not his place to comment on such matters, and yet... “Are there no pretty young ladies at the ball who have caught your eye, Sir?”

Mr. Lovell snorted again and took another swig before handing the bottle back to Lukas.

“I do not wish to marry any pretty young lady,” he said.

Lukas took another swallow of wine for himself and looked at Mr. Lovell thoughtfully. It was his duty to find a wife, and eventually to create male heirs to which Oakdale Hall could be passed down. That was the whole purpose of the ball, yet Lukas was grateful he was held to no such societal obligations himself. The thought of entering a loveless marriage held no appeal to Lukas, and loveless it would be, for Lukas knew, as sure as he knew that his eyes were brown and his hair was blond, that he could never feel the love and the passion for a woman that he felt for Noah.

“I do not wish to marry any young lady either, Sir.”

Mr. Lovell studied him critically, and Lukas shifted uncomfortably. Had he revealed too much? There was danger in voicing such an opinion, if it was interpreted the wrong way. Though of course Lukas meant it in entirely the way in which he said it. But what if Mr. Lovell grew curious, what if he investigated further, and discovered Lukas’s proclivities? Lukas’s heart began to race in his chest.

Finally, Mr. Lovell held out his hand and simply said, “I shall take more wine now, Smith.”

Lukas sighed in relief and passed the bottle back to Mr. Lovell, and as he did so, their fingers brushed together. Lukas felt a tingle where Mr. Lovell’s fingers covered his own, and their eyes met and held for a moment that seemed to stretch for a long time. There was something in Mr. Lovell’s eyes, some sort of understanding. Lukas’s heart raced once again. There was no way... Mr. Lovell couldn’t also be...?

Mr. Lovell swigged from the bottle, then sat down on a bale of straw. Lukas stood uncertain for a moment until Mr Lovell finally gestured for Lukas to sit beside him. He did so, and they drank in silence for a while, the only sounds coming from the horses, who made the occasional whinny, or stamped their hooves to the ground.

Lukas cleared his throat. He could not stand the silence any longer. “Are you pleased to be back at Oakdale Hall, Sir?”

Mr. Lovell sighed. “I suppose so,” he said, though he sounded unconvinced.

“Did you enjoy your time at Oxford?”

“I did indeed,” Mr. Lovell conceded. “I wish I had been able to stay longer, there is still much l wish to learn.”

Lukas smiled wistfully. “I think I should have liked to go to college,” Lukas said. “Though I know it aint possible.”

“Oh,” Mr. Lovell said, and his face looked surprisingly kind then. “I suppose you must think me dreadfully spoiled, complaining about leaving college when you have not the means to experience it yourself.”

“Not at all, Sir,” Lukas said, remembering his place, yet also finding himself softening toward Mr. Lovell. He was showing none of the pride and arrogance Lukas had seen in the past.

“What should you like to have studied then?” Mr. Lovell asked.

“I don’t know,” Lukas said, embarrassed. “I enjoy words, Sir. Making up stories and such. Perhaps literature.”

“You enjoy reading?”

“Oh, yes, Sir!” Lukas’s eyes lit up. “I have read a little of the new poets, and I enjoy them very much, though there is little opportunity to read around here, work keeps me busy.”

“There are several volumes of poetry inside the house,” Mr. Lovell said. “The new ones you fancy, Shelley and Byron in particular. Perhaps you would like to read them?”

“Really?” Lukas asked, his eyes wide. “I’d be much obliged. Thank you, Sir!”

Mr. Lovell smiled, and Lukas could not help but smile back. He was enjoying his conversation with the younger Mr. Lovell far more than he ever could have imagined.

“What else should you wish to have learned at Oxford, Sir? If you had stayed longer.”

The smile fell of Mr. Lovell’s face then, and was replaced with a wistful look. “It does not matter,” he said. “I have received the education my father wished for me to have.”

Lukas shifted on the bale, and his knee brushed against Mr. Lovell’s leg as he turned sideways. “But there is something else which interests you?”

Mr. Lovell shifted, too, and his own leg pressed against Lukas’s. Neither of them moved away.

“I am interested in medicine,” Mr. Lovell confided.

“You wish to be a doctor?” Lukas asked, surprised. It was a worthy occupation, yet one below the Lovells’ station. Lukas understood why Mr. Lovell’s father would not allow his son to enter such a profession.

“Not especially,” Mr. Lovell said, but his eyes lit up with excitement. “It is surgery which is of great interest to me,” he said.

Lukas’s eyes widened in surprise. “Surgery?” He knew little of such things, besides the stories he’s heard about amputations, particularly on soldiers wounded in the war. The stories the men in the stable block told were enough to curdle Luke’s blood.

Mr. Lovell smiled and nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, my particular area of interest is brain surgery, trepanation, and the like,” he said. “The brain is fascinating and yet there is so much we do not know about it, so much still to study and to learn. There must also be ways of improving surgical techniques on the skull, as well as other areas. The possibilities are endless!”

Lukas smiled at Mr. Lovell’s enthusiasm. “You seem so passionate about it, Sir!”

Mr. Lovell’s face dropped again, then. “Yes, Smith. But it is of no consequence. My father refuses to let me waste my time on such matters. He wishes for me to marry quickly, and for the new Mrs. Lovell and I to take our place in society.”

Lukas sighed heavily. “I wish you could follow your passion instead, Sir,” he said.

Mr. Lovell leaned a little closer, and studied Lukas’s face intently. Lukas could feel his warm, wine-scented breath against his lips, and he drew in a shaky breath.

“I wish you could do that too, Smith,” he said.

Lukas swallowed. “You are very kind, Sir,” he whispered.

“I shall bring you a volume from Lord Byron tomorrow,” he whispered in return.

“Thank you,” Lukas said. “I should like that very much.”

They were but a couple of inches apart by this stage, and Lukas held Mr. Lovell’s gaze. His eyes were blue, like Noah’s, but they seemed so different right now, open and clear while Noah’s had always seemed shuttered, like he did not wish to allow Lukas to see inside. The light from the oil lamp was dim, and the shadows played on Mr. Lovell’s face, clinging to the curve of his cheekbones, and the strong line of his jawline. Mr. Lovell was a handsome young man, it was plain to see, and Lukas felt as though he understood him better now. He was not surly because he was unkind, he was simply unhappy and stifled by society’s conventions. Lukas could certainly relate to that.

Mr. Lovell moved forward another inch, until their noses were almost touching, and Lukas released a shaky breath. Mr. Lovell’s eyes darted down to look at Lukas’s lips, before meeting Lukas’s gaze once again.

A whimper burst forth from Lukas’s throat, and Mr. Lovell’s eyes went soft. His palm came up and pressed against Lukas’s cheek, and Lukas whimpered once more, falling forward and bridging the gap between them.

Mr. Lovell’s lips were soft, and Luke brought his own palm up and laid it to rest against Mr. Lovell’s cheek as their mouths pressed together. Luke exhaled a shaky breath against Mr. Lovell’s lips, and he used the occasion to lick against Lukas’s lips, seeking entrance to his mouth. His tongue tasted of wine, and Luke moaned, suckling it with his own tongue as the kiss went on and on.

Mr. Lovell finally pulled back, a small smile playing on his lips. Lukas’s own face broke out into a grin. “Mr. Lovell, that was quite unexpected.”

Mr. Lovell laughed. “But not unwanted, I hope.”

Lukas shook his head. “No indeed,” he said, unable to erase the smile from his lips.

“I must return to the ball,” Mr. Lovell said, and stood up reluctantly. “I have been missing for quite a while. I’m sure my father is most agitated by now.”

Lukas nodded. “I should return to work myself,” he said. “I came here to... get away from someone, but I don’t think I’m nearly as upset about him as I was one hour ago.”

“Was the person you were trying to avoid, was it, did he, was he...” Mr. Lovell trailed off, unable to find the words, but Lukas knew instinctively what he was trying to ask.

Lukas nodded. “But he is of no consequence,” Lukas said. “Not any more.” Lukas toed at the ground with his boot, unable to stop the flush rearing up his neck. It was true, Lukas no longer felt the mix of anger and sadness which had overwhelmed him earlier. He was now instead overwhelmed with the sweetness of Mr. Lovell’s kiss, and the kindness he had demonstrated tonight.

“Very good,” Mr. Lovell said. “I am glad to hear it.”

Lukas smiled shyly and Mr. Lovell took a step closer. “You are far too beautiful to wear a frown,” he said, thumbing at Lukas’s chin. “You should smile, always.”

Lukas exhaled in a rush, and looked at Mr. Lovell through his eyelashes. Noah had never once said such a thing to Luke. He did not believe beautiful was a word which men should use to describe one another, and had scoffed the one and only time Lukas had tried to pay him a similar compliment. Mr. Lovell, however, seemed to have no such reluctance.

“Farewell, Lukas,” he whispered. “Until tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” Lukas replied, and watched as Mr. Lovell left the stable.


Luke leans back in his chair, his eyes on the laptop screen and the words he’s written, almost subconsciously. He exhales a little shakily himself, and presses two fingers against his lips. It’s almost like he can feel the kiss himself, but what disturbs him the most about the sensation is how much he actually wishes it was true.


Dr. Oliver gets home around six the next night. Luke was planning on having leftovers for dinner, and after a moment’s debate, he wraps up enough for two and heads over to knock on the back door of the house.

“Hey,” Dr. Oliver says, sounding surprised when he opens the door. “What are you doing here?”

Luke takes a deep breath. He feels nervous, almost like he’s on a date or something, which is weird. He’s not on a date. He doesn’t even like Dr. Oliver. And besides, he’s Luke’s boss. Kind of. And he probably doesn’t even like Luke either. He just likes Luke’s cooking.

“I thought I’d bring you some leftovers from last night, since you missed out on dinner,” Luke says. “If you’re interested.”

“Oh, I’m interested,” he says, his eyes sweeping up and down Luke’s body before settling on the dishes in his hands. “Very interested.”

Luke smiles tightly as he steps through the door Dr. Oliver’s holding open for him. There’s no mistaking his innuendo this time, and Luke swallows hard as he follows him to the kitchen.

“Thanks for having Nancy call me last night,” Luke says. “That was surprisingly thoughtful of you.”

Dr. Oliver snorts. “I’m a thoughtful guy,” he says, and Luke rolls his eyes.

Dr. Oliver smiles, and Luke’s surprised at his body’s reaction to that. His dick twitches in his jeans a little. Why does Dr. Oliver have to look so good when he smiles? It’s entirely unfair.

“So, what’s on the menu?”

“Chili and cornbread,” Luke says, placing the dishes onto the kitchen counter. “Oh God,” he says. “I made chili. In Texas. What was I thinking?”

Dr. Oliver’s busy pulling foil off the dishes and peering inside. “Are you kidding? This is great,” he says. “They don’t use beans in the chili here. I’ve missed eating real chili like this.”

“Really?” Luke says. “Okay good. Well, I’ll just heat it up then.”

Dr. Oliver points at the microwave and Luke makes himself at home, reheating the chili and putting the cornbread in the oven.

“You made the cornbread too? You didn’t buy it?”

Luke chuckles. “You seem incapable of believing that people can actually cook meals from scratch, Dr. Oliver.”

Dr. Oliver shrugs. “I haven’t met too many people who do. Victoria. But that’s her job.”

“Your mom never cooked?” Luke asks.


“Your dad?”


“Never?” Luke asks. “Not even once?”

“They were dead, Mr. Walsh. Hard to whip up a meal from beyond the grave.”

“Oh God, I'm so—”

“Oh, please, don't give me the ‘I’m sorry’ bullcrap. You don't care. It was a long time ago, anyway. Let’s move on.”

“No. I... I do care,” Luke says.

Dr. Oliver just shrugs and looks away. “How long until the food’s ready?”

“It’s done now. You hungry?”


Luke chuckles and takes the cornbread out of the oven. “Spoons?”

Dr. Oliver opens a drawer and grabs cutlery, then heads to the fridge. “Water okay?”

Luke nods, and Dr. Oliver grabs a bottle of water and a beer for himself, and they both sit down at the kitchen table.

“So, did the patient pull through last night?”

“Of course,” Dr. Oliver says. “I was operating on him.”

Luke rolls his eyes. “So modest.”

“I’m too good for modesty,” Dr. Oliver says, swallowing his first mouthful of food. He makes a low, moaning sound in his throat and then licks his lips. Luke’s traitorous dick twitches in his jeans again, and he shifts uncomfortably in his chair, taking a calming swallow of water.

“This is amazing,” Dr. Oliver says.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Luke says, but he’s pleased with the compliment.

You’re too good for modesty,” Dr. Oliver says, and Luke flushes, picking up his own spoon and digging in.

Luke takes a bite and can’t help but moan a little obscenely himself. It tastes even better the second day.

“Told ya,” Dr. Oliver says, slurping up another spoonful.

Luke nods. “I love chili.”

“Me too,” Dr. Oliver says. “There was this place near where I went to college. I used to eat there all the time, they had amazing chili.”

“Where’d you go to college?”


“Of course you did,” Luke says.

“What about you?”

“Uh, I didn’t go to college,” Luke says, settling on an approximation of the truth.

“Oh,” Dr. Oliver says, and Luke stares at his bowl of chili, willing away the blush he can feel working its way up the back of his neck.

Luke’s still ashamed of his behavior over the student election, and his subsequent expulsion. Most of the time he tries not to think about. He made amends by working with his Foundation, and while the good he did there might not have completely made up for his mistake, it went a long way. And now, he’s happy working with his Foundation, and he’s assembled a good team around him who make up for any shortfalls in his own knowledge. Like he told his parents and his grandmother back then, college isn’t the only place to get an education.

Noah’s part in getting Luke kicked out of college still burns though. Which is why Luke tries not to think about it. But now, sitting in front of Dr. Oliver, who surely has to be one of the most highly-educated people Luke’s ever met, he can’t help but feel a little bit like that stupid kid again.

Dr. Oliver’s shifting uncomfortably in his own chair now, and Luke blows out a breath. They eat in silence for a few minutes, until Dr. Oliver’s bowl is empty and he’s swiping a piece of cornbread through the bowl, soaking up all the juices.

Luke chuckles. “You really liked it, huh?”

Dr. Oliver nods, his mouth full of bread.

“It’s pretty easy to make, you know,” Luke says. “Chili, I mean. I could teach you.”

Dr. Oliver makes a choking sound, and his jaw works hard trying to swallow.

“Um, only if you want to.” Luke says.

“No, no, I do. How about this weekend,” Dr. Oliver says when he’s finally swallowed. “I’m going in to work on Saturday morning, but I’ll be done by lunch. Maybe we can do it in the afternoon.”

A sudden image of doing it with Dr. Oliver flits through Luke’s mind for a second before disappearing. Luke clears his throat. “Sure,” he says. “I’ll order the ingredients.”

A strange look passes over Dr. Oliver’s face then. “Just tell me what you need and I’ll get Victoria to pick it up,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to pay for the ingredients when I’m getting a free cooking lesson.”

Luke starts to say that it’s no problem, that he can afford it, but then he remembers he’s supposed to be on a stable hand’s budget, and he flushes, looking down. “Um sure,” Luke mumbles. “That’d be great.”

“Hey,” Dr. Oliver says gently, and Luke looks back up, his face pink from the lie. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he says.

Luke takes a deep breath. Most of the time, Luke forgets that he’s lying just by being here. That he’s not Luke Walsh — stable hand. Luke lied about so many things when he was a kid. He lied to his parents about his feelings, he lied about being gay, he lied about hanging out with Kevin and getting drunk. Luke hates who he was when he was sixteen, and he’s tried to live a better life since then, but now he’s lying to Dr. Oliver, and Juan and Victoria, who Luke likes and respects. And sure, Dr. Oliver can act like a jerk, but Luke’s starting to believe a lot of it’s just an act, and besides, Luke’s living in the guy’s house. He deserves honesty. Luke bites his lip, remembering that the lies are to keep him and his family safe.

Luke shakes off the discomfort, and lets Dr. Oliver deliberately misunderstand the cause of Luke’s embarrassment. “I’ll make a shopping list,” he says. “Have you got a pen and paper?”

“Follow me,” Dr. Oliver says, and leads Luke into the living room. He grabs a notepad and a pen off the desk, and hands them to Luke, their fingers brushing together in the process.

“Uh, take a seat,” Dr. Oliver says, pointing at the sofa.

Luke sits, and starts jotting down the ingredients they’ll need while Dr. Oliver disappears back into the kitchen. Luke hears the sound of dishes being cleared, and a moment later, Dr. Oliver reappears holding a fresh beer and a new bottle of water for Luke. He drops down next to Luke on the sofa, and Luke becomes hyper aware of Dr. Oliver’s body settling so close, the sofa cushions dipping under his weight.

Luke stares at the notepad, tapping the pen against his leg as his mind blanks on the remaining ingredients. He can faintly smell Dr. Oliver’s cologne. Something light, and fresh, and Luke takes a deep breath, liking the scent.

Dr. Oliver takes a pull from his beer and Luke sneaks in a glance at the long line of his throat, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. Luke wipes his sweaty palm against the leg of his jeans, and refocuses on the shopping list, finally remembering the other ingredients he needs. He finishes writing and hands the notepad and pen over to Dr. Oliver, who drops them down onto the coffee table next to a wooden chess set.

“Oh!” Luke says. “You play chess?”

Dr. Oliver nods. “You?”

“Yeah,” Luke says. “I’m pretty good.”

“So, let’s play,” Dr. Oliver says, and picks up the board, sitting it between them on the sofa.

“Are you sure?” Luke asks. “I didn't mean to take over your whole evening. I just wanted to bring you some food.”

“Scared I’ll beat you, huh?” Dr. Oliver goads.

Luke narrows his eyes. “Bring it.” He turns and sits sideways on the sofa, and makes the first move, and almost before he’s blinked, the game’s over and Dr. Oliver’s calling ‘checkmate’.

“You totally just hustled me!”

Dr. Oliver smiles widely, and Luke notices how that makes the lines around his eyes deepen in a way that’s way too attractive. Damn him.

“Where’d you learn to play like that?” Luke asks.

“Harvard Square,” he says. “I used to hang out with these seventy-year-old Ukrainian guys after school. They showed me the game. I got to be pretty good.”

Luke’s kind of ridiculously charmed by the thought of a young Reid Oliver hanging out with a bunch of old guys learning chess. “Did you play for money?”

“Quarters,” he shrugs. “It was more about bragging rights. Then my folks started entering me into these competitions and I never lost.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No,” he says. “I was more of a trained seal, I wasn’t a kid.” He shakes his head slightly. “Then one day I just up and refused to do it anymore.”

“How old were you?”

“Twelve,” he says. “My folks were pissed. I was pissed at them. I didn’t talk to them for a whole month. And then...”

“And then what?”

Dr. Oliver picks a rook up off the chess board and twirls it in his fingers. “Then they got into a car wreck. They died at the scene. I never got a chance to speak to them.”

Luke tries to imagine what it must have been like for Dr. Oliver, for Reid, a twelve-year-old kid to lose his parents like that, and to have never gotten the chance to say goodbye. Or how he would feel if something like that happened to his own family. It makes his chest hurt.

“Dr. Oliver,” Luke says, “Reid. I really am—”

“I already told you, sorry’s bull—”

“Shut up,” Luke says, cutting him off. He puts his hand over Dr. Oliver’s. “I am sorry, and it does matter. It’s not bullcrap.”

Dr. Oliver studies him intently. After a moment, he nods slightly, and Luke releases his hand.

“Uh, I should probably get going,” Luke says, standing up.

Dr. Oliver nods. “Thanks for dinner,” he says. “Again.”

Luke smiles. “Sure.”

“We should have the cooking lesson here,” Dr. Oliver says. “There’s more room in my kitchen.”

“Okay,” Luke agrees, heading for the hallway to take him out the back door.

Dr. Oliver follows him to the door. His eyes dart down to Luke’s mouth before flicking back up to meet Luke’s eyes again. “Okay, I’ll seeya later. Oh, Annie Judd’s coming back again on Friday morning.”

“Eight o’clock?”

“Eight o’clock,” Dr. Oliver confirms.

Luke steps out into the night and when he’s a few steps away, he spins around and calls out, “Good night, Reid.”

Dr. Oliver stares at Luke for a moment, then flashes one of his super fast smile and calls out, “Nite, Luke.”

Luke grins as he walks back to his quarters. He feels strange, almost happy, and it’s at such odds with this situation he’s in, and with being away from home... and Noah, that Luke’s not really sure how he can feel this way. But It doesn’t matter anyway, nothing’s going to happen between him and Reid. They’re just being friendly.


The following day, Lukas kept a close watch on the entrance to the stable block, awaiting Mr. Lovell’s arrival. The men around him were ill-tempered, having worked late into the night assisting the guests with their departure at the ball’s conclusion, and having to rise early this morning.

Lukas, however, could not keep the grin off his face, and despite the lack of sleep, he felt as if he were walking on air.

“What are you so bleedin’ happy about?” Hughes asked with a frown at one point.

Lukas merely shrugged and went about his work, his smile unbudging.

Noah too, had thrown several inquiring looks his way, and Lukas knew his obvious good cheer was unnerving Noah.

Noah had been ignoring him ever since the incident with Madeleine, but now he seemed far too interested in Luke’s good mood.

Good! Lukas thought, rather uncharitably. Let him be bothered!

Lunch came and went, and still Mr. Lovell had not appeared. Lukas began to fret. What if he had changed his mind? What if he’d thought of Lukas in the cold light of day and decided he wanted nothing to do with him? Lukas began to feel ill, the smile he had worn all day falling from his face.

He had almost convinced himself that he’d been a fool when Mr. Lovell finally made an appearance late in the afternoon. He strode into the barn and made headed directly to where Lukas and Hughes were mucking out stalls.

“You!” he said gruffly. “Smith. I wish to ride. Saddle a horse for me.”

“Yes, Sir,” Lukas said, his eyes on the ground. He was not sure what to make of Mr. Lovell’s harsh manner, but he laid down his pitchfork and lead Mr. Lovell away from Hughes, walking down a long row of stalls to his right. Lukas glanced back and saw Mr. Lovell following him, and he subtly indicated that Lukas should continue down the row, away from the main area of the stable block.

After several paces Lukas came to a stop, Mr. Lovell stepping in close beside him. There was only one other man in sight, and he was several yards away. Lukas was confident no one was paying them any mind.

“Hello, Lukas,” Mr. Lovell said quietly. “I trust you are well today?” His eyes were soft, a gentle smile playing on his lips, and Lukas knew his harsh tone had just been an act to fool the others in the stable house.

Lukas grinned. “Hello, Mr. Lovell,” Lukas said. “I am very well, thank you.”

Mr. Lovell smiled shyly. “You must call me Jude when we are in private.”

“Really?” Lukas whispered, his eyes wide.

Mr. Lovell nodded, then withdrew a small volume from inside his waist coat.

“This is for you,” he said. “Lord Byron.”

“Oh!” Lukas cried. “Thank you, Sir.”

Mr. Lovell tut-tutted, and Lukas blushed. “Thank you, Jude.”

“Do you really wish to go riding?” Lukas asked. “Should I saddle a horse?”

Jude shook his head. “No, I merely needed an excuse to see you.” He looked back toward the main area. “We should not dally,” he said. “The men might grow suspicious.”

“I was— I waited for you, all morning,” Lukas said. “I began to grow afraid that you did not wish to see me again.”

“No!” Jude said fiercely. “That is not the case at all. It is quite the opposite, in fact.”


Jude nodded. “I tried to get away earlier but Father would not let me escape. He spent hours interrogating me about the ladies who were at the ball, asking which ones I fancied, and growing angrier and angrier when it was clear there were none I liked.”

“Were you in trouble for missing from the ball last night?”

“A little,” Jude said. “But Father would not make a scene at the ball. Besides,” Jude whispered, leaning even closer. “It was worth it.”

Lukas blushed, his heart leaping “When can I see you again?” he asked. “In private.”

“There is a place in the garden,” Jude said. “A private place nested near the Oak trees on the south side. Do you know it?”

Lukas nodded his head. “With the old stone wall?”

“Yes,” Jude said. “I shall meet you there. When can you get away?”

Lukas frowned. “I don’t think I shall be able to sneak away until tomorrow,” he said. “Around ten, once the horses are fed.”

Jude nodded. “I shall await you then,” he said, and allowed his fingers to brush Lukas’s hand gently. Lukas squeezed his fingers for a brief moment, then Jude strode away, past the horses and out of the stable block.

Lukas pocketed the volume of poetry, then headed back to the main area.

“He change his mind, did he?” Hughes asked, hitching a thumb at Jude’s departing back.

Lukas nodded. “Decided he didn’t want to ride after all,” Lukas said.

Hughes shrugged and gestured pointedly at Lukas’s abandoned pitchfork, and Lukas resumed his work. His smile had returned, however, and this time it stayed put.
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