Written By: _alicesprings
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 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. :)
Massive amounts of beta love to the incredible rhiannonhero and cindergal!
The fic is complete and I’ll be posting a chapter a day for the next week or so.
“The solution to one of our problems may have just fallen into our lap,” Holden says. “I’ve just had a call from one of my contacts in Texas. Nice guy, breeds just outside of Dallas.”
Luke shrugs. “And?”
“And he just sold a couple of horses to some rich doctor out there who needs a stable hand to look after them. Trouble is, he needs someone to start right away but he can’t find anyone. Wanted to know if I knew anyone looking for work. The doc’s prepared to throw in a big bonus so long as they’re at his place today.”
“So what?” Luke says, not getting it.
Holden grins. “Told him I had just the man for the job.”
“You do? Who?” Luke asks. Then it hits him. “Oh no way, Dad!”
“Come on, Luke! The best way to protect you is to hide you away somewhere nobody would think to look. You know how to look after the horses, so you can do the job. We’ll just have to give you a false name and you’ll be out of harm’s way today. It’s perfect!”
Luke sighs. “I have to go today? It’s too soon. We don’t even have time to prepare...”
Holden waves a hand dismissively. “The sooner the better, Luke. This is too good of an opportunity to waste. You’ll live at his house, stay out of sight. No one will suspect a thing. Please son,” Holden says, squeezing Luke’s shoulder. “Your mother and I just want you safe.”
Luke sighs. “Okay, I’ll do it,” he concedes. “I couldn’t stand it if any of you guys got hurt because of me. I’ll leave Oakdale until it’s safe to return.”
Later that afternoon, Luke finds himself on Lucinda’s private jet, heading to Dallas. There’s supposed to be a car waiting at the airport to take him out to Dr. Oliver’s — Luke’s new employer — property. The whole thing’s happened so fast Luke hasn’t really had time to think about what exactly he’s gotten himself into. He’s moving to Texas, he has to assume a fake identity, cease contact with his foundation, and he’ll be away from his family and friends with limited contact for God knows how long.
Luke sighs, sending up a silent prayer that everyone back in Oakdale working on getting Luke out of this mess can do it fast. Luke hasn’t even arrived in Dallas yet and he already wants to go back home.
The houses in Dr. Oliver’s neighborhood are impressive. As they drive, they pass large lots with sprawling homes set out on acreage. It’s a ritzy suburb, and clearly one of the wealthier areas of Dallas. Luke wonders what Dr. Oliver's like. All he knows is that he's a neurosurgeon, according to his dad's contact in Dallas.
When Luke arrives at his temporary new home, he’s greeted by a white-haired man wearing a Stetson who introduces himself as Dr. Oliver’s gardener, Juan Torres.
“Luke Sn— Walsh,” he says, introducing himself with the moniker they’d settled on. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Juan squeezes his hand firmly and smiles, his eyes crinkling in deep wrinkles at the sides. “My wife Victoria is Dr. Oliver’s housekeeper,” he says. “We’re here most days; you’ll see us both around the place. She’s already left for the day today. I’ll show you around.”
Luke nods, and follows Juan around to the back of the house. It’s a good size property – just over eight acres, Juan tells him, so there’s plenty of room for two horses. Juan tells him the horses are due to arrive around 5:00, which gives him a couple hours to prepare.
The stable hand’s quarters are small, but neat, and located close to the barn, at the back of the main house. It’s basically just one big room, with a tiny separate bathroom attached. Large, colorful rugs cover the hardwood floor. There’s a small but serviceable kitchen with what looks like a brand new fridge — already stocked, a bed with fresh linens, a table and two chairs, a small couch and a television. There’s also a desk, with instructions on how to access the property’s WiFi jotted down on a notepad.
It’s cozy, and Luke thinks he could be pretty comfortable here. As comfortable as this situation can possibly be, anyway.
There’s something kind of romantic about the ranch style of the house that appeals to Luke. It’s single story with a long, low roofline and an attached garage. The windows are large and decorated with shutters, and there’s a mix of stucco, brick and wood on the exterior that shouldn’t really work together, but it does.
A long driveway is hedged in by manicured bushes and the gardens are lush and pretty.
The property is securely fenced, peaceful and quiet, and far enough away from the neighbors that you could almost forget you were less than twenty minutes from the city, as Juan tells him they are. The air is clean and fresh, and it reminds Luke of Oakdale, and the farm. He feels a pang of longing, and has to squeeze his eyes closed against the feeling for a second. It’s much too early to be homesick already.
All in all, Luke’s new home for the time being looks like a pretty charming place.
After the tour, Luke follows Juan to the barn, where he slides open a big, wooden door. “Dr. Oliver had these things delivered this morning,” he says.
There’s stacks of hay and bags of feed, brand new tack, and all sorts of things Luke’s not even sure he needs, and it’s all unceremoniously piled on the barn floor.
“Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Luke says, attempting to muster up a smile.
Juan chuckles and claps a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know why the doctor ordered these horses,” Juan tells him. “And in such a hurry too. He’s shown no interest in horses before and today it was all ‘Hurry, hurry. Get the place ready!’”
Luke shrugs, and together with Juan they begin sorting out the pile of supplies. There’s every conceivable kind of equipment used for horses, and Luke’s pretty sure it must have cost a small fortune. It’s almost like Dr. Oliver had ordered everything, not knowing what he needed. From what Juan tells him, Luke has to wonder if Dr. Oliver even knows anything about horses.
As they make sense of the supplies, Juan tells Luke he and Victoria have worked at the property for almost 30 years. They used to work for an older couple, Bill and Martha Johnson, who’d spent their entire married life there raising three kids before retiring and leaving Texas to move closer to their granddaughter, who has leukemia, in California.
“Does Dr. Oliver have a big family?” Luke asks.
“Nope, no kids.”
“His wife throw lots of parties?”
“Nope,” Juan says again. “He’s not married.”
Luke frowns, wondering why Dr. Oliver needs such a big place, in that case. “Does he have a girlfriend?”
“No girlfriend,” Juan says slowly. “The house is mostly empty. A lot of rooms don’t even have furniture. He just keeps ‘em shut up tight.”
“That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?”
Juan just shrugs and goes to load up a wheelbarrow with wood shavings for them to lay down over the mats.
The horses arrive just before 5 o’clock, as scheduled. A pair of gorgeous chestnut geldings that make Luke smile.
Together with Juan, they finish preparing the floors, and then fill four buckets with fresh, clean water, putting two in each stall. Luke measures out a few quarts of grain for each horse, and he and Juan toss three or four flakes of hay on the floor of each stall before Juan shakes Luke’s hand again, tips his hat good bye, and heads home.
Luke’s just finished getting the horses settled into their new home for the night and gone inside to grab a bottle of water from the fridge when there’s a knock on his door.
“You the stable boy?”
The guy is about Luke’s height, lean, and with piercing blue eyes. He’s younger than Luke was expecting, though he’s not really sure why. He supposes he just assumed a brain surgeon would be older.
Luke smiles. “I’m Luke Walsh,” he says, holding out his hand.
He nods and shakes Luke’s hand. “Dr. Reid Oliver. You can call me Dr. Oliver.”
Luke quirks up one eyebrow. “Okay then, Doctor Oliver. Would you like to take a look at your horses?”
“Not particularly,” Dr. Oliver says. “Just have them ready by 8:00 a.m tomorrow.”
“Ready for what?”
“Someone’s coming to see them.”
“Should I saddle them up?”
Dr. Oliver shakes his head. “No need. Just have them spiffy and shiny or whatever the hell it is you do that I’m paying you for.”
Luke narrows his eyes. He hates it when rich people throw that phrase around. Luke’s pretty sure he could buy and sell Dr. Oliver about three times over, brain surgeon or not, but he’s supposed to be under cover so he refrains from pointing out that Dr. Oliver isn’t paying Luke to put up with his bad attitude, just to look after his horses.
“Are you sure you don’t want to just come and take a quick look at the horses?”
“Let’s be clear, Mr. Walsh,” he says. “I don’t give a damn about the horses, your role here is to watch them so that I don’t have to.”
“Why’d you buy them then?” Luke asks, irritated.
“And that’s your business how?”
“I guess because they are my business. I’ll be taking care of them.”
“Why I do anything is never up for discussion, am I clear? We aren’t going to be friends. I’m your employer and I run a tight ship. Just do your job and we’ll be fine.”
“So, you bought the horses for what? Show? Prestige?”
Reid glares at him. “You know, I don’t have time for this. I don’t need to explain myself to you. Do your job, or I’ll fire you. Are we clear?”
“Crystal. I’ll have the horses all shiny and spiffy tomorrow for their visitor.”
Dr. Oliver nods and turns, walking back to the main house without a backwards glance.
“I’m fine too, thanks for asking,” Luke says sarcastically as he closes the door. “All settled in, so happy to be here!”
Luke pulls a pair of clean boxer shorts and a t-shirt out of his suitcase and heads for the bathroom, eager to wash the day away. “And you’re only paying me a pittance, by the way,” Luke mutters as he pulls off his clothes, “to spit shine your horses.”
Stable hands really don’t get paid much, so it’s not as if Dr. Oliver’s doing him a disservice in that regard. Still, the guy could have been less of an ass. He must have appalling bedside manner. Luke thinks of the wage he’s earning here, which will be paid into a bank account under the name of L. Walsh – one of his grandmother’s accounts – and decides to donate the money to the ASPCA when this whole charade ends.
Luke steps into the shower and lets the hot water run over his head and shoulders, turning his face up into the spray.
As he shampoos his hair, he thinks of Noah, and wonders what he’s doing right now. He wonders if Noah’s missing him as much as Luke misses Noah. This latest breakup has been the toughest one yet. Noah had said so many awful things — they both had, but Luke had taken them back almost immediately. Sure, they’ve broken up before, but they always get back together again. Only this time, Noah’s out in L.A. and Luke hasn’t seen him in months. He’s been biding his time until Noah returns to Oakdale. He’s sure they’ll get back together again then. It’s just a matter of time.
Time. It’s all Luke’s got now. Tons of it. Luke has no idea how long he’s going to have to stay here, acting out this charade, until it’s safe for him to return home. “Damnit!” Luke bangs his fist against the tiled shower wall, and a sudden burst of pain radiates down his arm.
“Idiot,” Luke mutters to himself, stretching out his fingers as the throbbing pain slowly recedes. He can’t afford to hurt his hands, he’s here to work as a stable hand, after all. This situation sucks, but there’s nothing to be done about it. It’s not safe for his family if Luke’s in Oakdale right now, and besides, there are horses to tend to. They need him.
Luke turns off the water and steps out of the shower, grabbing a fluffy towel from the rack — left there for him by Victoria, who, Juan had told him, had cleaned and stocked his quarters earlier today in preparation for Luke’s arrival.
Dr. Oliver is a jerk, but he sure doesn’t mind throwing his money around, that much is clear. The horses, and Luke’s presence here are proof of that. Too bad the guy doesn’t seem the least bit interested in the horses he’s paid top dollar for. And it’s too bad he’s such a pompous ass because he’s kind of good looking. Not that Luke cares about that.
“Jackass,” Luke mutters as he slaps together a sandwich for dinner. He’s too exhausted from the mentally draining stresses of leaving home, the flight, and getting the barn prepped for the horses to even begin contemplating cooking something.
He pulls the cell phone his dad had given him before leaving out of his bag and sends a text with one hand as he bites into his sandwich with the other. All good.
A few moments later he gets a reply. Glad to hear it. Take care.
Luke sighs. He’d prefer to call and hear his dad’s voice right now, but they promised to try and stick to ambiguous texts only, barring an emergency. The cell phone is brand new, and Holden has one too, both with untraceable phone numbers and paid for in cash. Luke rolled his eyes at the melodrama of it all, but the threat against him, and his family, is serious, and Luke’s willing to go along with whatever it takes to ensure their safety.
With his sandwich demolished, Luke sets the alarm on his phone to wake him in time to have the horses prepped in the morning, crawls into bed and falls asleep in seconds.
Morning comes much too soon, and Luke’s up by 6:30, sucking down a cup of coffee and pulling on some work clothes. He heads for the barn and measures out two buckets of feed, talking quietly to the horses while they eat their breakfast.
“How ya doing there, guy?” Luke asks, patting one of the horses. “Liking your new place so far?”
The horse nickers quietly, munching on his oats.
“I’m not so sure myself,” Luke says glumly. “I’m gonna reserve judgment for a while.”
When the horses have eaten, Luke moves them out of their stalls and gets started on the cleaning. He hauls the soiled bedding out in a wheelbarrow, then spreads a couple of inches of fresh wood shavings down. By the time he’s put fresh drinking water into each stall, groomed and corralled the horses back in, it’s after eight o’clock and Luke’s famished.
He heads back inside and hurriedly eats a bowl of cereal, and a few minutes later he hears the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Luke walks back to the barn, awaiting the arrival of Dr. Oliver’s guest, wondering who it could be, and just a few minutes later, his question is answered.
Dr. Oliver leads a pretty, brunette woman, probably in her early 30s, out of the house. Luke wonders if she’s his girlfriend. Maybe Juan was wrong? A second later, a young girl, no more than seven or eight dashes out of the house and runs up the woman, clasping her hand.
The woman smiles down at her, and all three of them start walking towards the barn. The little girl is grinning, skipping as they walk, and it’s clear she’s excited to see the horses.
“Hold my hand, Dr. Reid!” The little girl demands, and Luke’s more than a little surprised to see Dr. Jackass smile down at her, and take her other hand. It’s just a fleeting smile, one that disappears almost immediately, but Luke can’t help but notice how it softens his face, makes him seem more... human. The two adults swing the little girl between them as they walk, and her happy laughter rings out.
When they arrive at the barn, Dr. Oliver releases the girl’s hand and approaches Luke.
“Good morning, Dr. Oliver.”
Dr. Oliver nods curtly but doesn’t return the greeting.
“Yes,” Luke says. “You can bring your guests in.”
The woman approaches with a smile, and Luke returns it.
“Hello,” he says politely.
“Hi, I’m Laura Judd,” she says, sending a sideways glance at Dr. Oliver.
Luke waits for him to make the introductions, but he doesn’t say a word, so Luke holds his hand out and initiates them himself. “Luke Walsh, I’m the stable hand.”
Laura smiles at him again, and says, “This is my daughter, Annie.”
The little girl smiles up at him shyly, her face framed by a mass of dark curls.
Luke crouches down and holds out his hand, and Annie giggles as she shakes it.
“Hi there, Annie,” he says. “I’m Luke. Have you come to see the horses?”
Annie nods, and Luke stands back up, clapping his hands against his thighs.
“Well come on in,” he smiles. “They’re right this way.”
Luke leads them to the stalls where the horses are waiting, then stands back out of the way.
Laura picks Annie up and holds her on her hip. “Look, baby,” she says, pointing at the horses. “Aren’t they pretty?”
Annie nods, then cranes her neck. “Come and look, Dr. Reid,” she says. “Look at the horsies!”
Dr. Oliver flashes that quick smile again and steps closer, and the three of them peer into the first stall.
If Dr. Oliver would smile like that more often, he probably wouldn’t be half so bad, Luke decides.
The horse comes closer, wanting to meet his visitors, and Luke says, “Do you want to touch them, Annie?”
Her eyes are wide, and a little uncertain, and Luke smiles at her. “They won’t bite,” he reassures her. “What do you say?”
She nods, and Luke holds his hand out, running it firmly down one of the horse’s nose. He neighs quietly, and Annie grins.
“It’s okay, baby,” Laura says. “Touch the horsie just like Luke’s doing.”
Annie nods and leans forward, her small hand stroking along the horse’s nose, and she laughs delightedly.
“It feels funny, Mommy!”
Laura smiles, and Annie brings her other hand out too, both of them exploring the horse’s nose and neck.
“What’s its name, Dr. Reid?”
“Uh,” Dr. Oliver clears his throat. “He doesn’t actually have a name yet,” he says. “Maybe you can help me decide what to name them both. How does that sound?”
“I can name them anything I want?” Annie asks, her eyes wide.
“Yup,” he says. “Well, nothing too girlie like Buttercup, or Daisy.” Dr. Oliver pulls a disgusted face, and Annie laughs. “Boys names. They’re both boys,” he says, then turns to Luke for confirmation. “Right?”
“Yeah, they’re both boys,” Luke says. “Geldings.”
Great. So, this jerk’s bought two expensive horses just to impress some woman with a kid. It’s clear he doesn’t know the first thing about the animals, like whether they’re male or female, or particularly cares, either. Luke fumes as the trio move over and start petting the second horse, chattering about possible names. Buying a horse isn’t like buying a goldfish. They need a lot of care, attention and money, and Luke begins to feel incredibly angry as he watches the three of them interact.
They only spend about twenty minutes with the horses before Annie starts getting restless and whiny.
“You tired, baby?” Laura asks, and Annie nods.
“We should go,” Laura says to Dr. Oliver and he nods and starts to leads them out of the barn.
“Bye, Sonny! Bye, Storm!” Annie calls out to the horses with the names they decided on.
Laura stops by the barn door and turns around. “Thank you, Luke,” she smiles, and Luke grins. “No problem!”
Laura Judd seems like a nice person, even if Luke’s new boss is rude and way too entitled. He hopes Dr. Oliver treats his girlfriends better than he treats his employees.
“Bye, Luke,” Annie says, and waves, and Luke waves back. Dr. Oliver just stares at him for a long moment, then leads them back to the house, and a few minutes later Luke hears the sound of a car heading down the driveway. A moment later, a second car follows.
“Guess he’s gone to work,” Luke tells the horses. “Show’s over for the day, boys.”
The horses blow gently and nuzzle at each other, and Luke leaves them to get used to their new home, heading inside for a quick shower.
Afterwards, Luke unpacks his suitcase, hanging shirts in the closet and putting socks and underwear into the dresser, then sets his laptop up at the desk, connects to the internet and checks his email. He can’t reply to anything, though. He’s not supposed to contact anyone except his dad until this whole mess gets sorted out.
Luke’s already itching to get back to work with his Foundation, there’s an exciting project for at-risk gay and lesbian teens he was working on before the threat, and he hates having to postpone it, but he can’t take the chance, not when it also puts his family in danger.
Luke sighs and closes the laptop, deciding to head back to the stables to get the rest of the supplies organized. He separates the equipment he’ll need from the stuff he doesn’t, arranging everything neatly, and then feeds the horses their lunch before leading them out to the pasture while he tidies their stalls again. Luke’s been around horses since he was a little kid, and he’s no stranger to mucking out stalls or grooming the horses, but he’s never had to take it on as a full-time responsibility, and the tri-daily feeding and cleaning routine isn’t exactly Luke’s favorite way to spend his time.
Just before lunch an older woman walks in to the barn and calls out a hello. She has a long black braid peppered with grey, is at least two feet shorter than Luke, and a little on the plump side. Her eyes crinkle when she smiles and in a strange way she reminds Luke of his grandma Emma, even though they look nothing alike.
“You must be Victoria,” Luke says, and she nods and shakes his hand.
“And you must be Luke,” she says. “Juan told me he met you yesterday.”
“He told me all about you,” Luke says. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too, mijo,” she says kindly. “Can I see the horses?”
“Of course!” Luke says, and shows her Sonny and Storm. “I’m glad someone’s interested in them. Dr. Oliver sure isn’t,” Luke says.
Victoria laughs and strokes the white stripe on Storm’s nose. “Dr. Oliver’s a real character,” she says.
“He’s something all right,” Luke mutters. “He’s kind of... cold, don’t you think?”
Victoria smiles fondly. “He can seem that way,” she says. “But he’s a good man underneath.”
Luke’s skeptical, but he can see that Victoria obviously cares about Dr. Oliver, and he’s curious as to why. His behavior so far has done nothing to endear him to Luke.
“I bet it was a real change when he came around,” Luke says, trying to fish for information without being too obvious. “He must have been really different from the Johnsons.”
Victoria smiles again. “Dr. Oliver is particular,” she says. “He likes things done a certain way, but he admires a job well done, too. I can’t complain.”
Luke files that information away, and Victoria gives Sonny one final pat before moving over to Storm.
Luke asks, “Do you ride?”
“I used to,” she says, stroking the horse’s neck. “Years ago. I can’t manage it any more. The arthritis in my knees slows me down.”
Luke wrinkles his nose in sympathy. “So, do you work here every day?”
“I have the weekends off,” Victoria says. “And sometimes during the week, too. The house is much emptier than when the Johnsons lived here, so there’s not as much to do, but I prepare meals for Dr. Oliver, too. Mrs. Johnson did her own cooking.”
Luke nods, and Victoria asks, “Do you need anything, Luke? More groceries, towels, anything?”
“No, I’m good,” Luke says. “Thank you for getting everything ready for me. It’s a nice place.”
“It’s a beautiful house,” Victoria says. “I like it here very much. And now I should get back to the cleaning!”
“I’ll see you around,” Luke says, and Victoria smiles, pats his cheek and ambles back to the house.
Luke makes himself a sandwich for lunch then checks his email again out of habit. He still can’t make contact with anyone though, and he’s incredibly frustrated. There’s still a few hours before Luke needs to bring the horses in for the night. Luke’s unpacked, his fridge is stocked and there’s nothing much else to do.
In his hurry to pack and leave Oakdale as quickly as possible, Luke forgot to grab some books to read, and he doesn’t own an e-reader. He’s always loved the smell of books, the weight of them in his hands and prefers that to an electronic device. He’d kind of kill to have one right now though. He weighs up the pros and cons of having a package delivered, but decides not to risk it. He doesn’t know how closely his family is being watched, but he doesn’t want to take the chance of a Grimaldi getting curious about why his grandmother would be having stuff delivered to an address in Dallas, Texas. Luke supposes he could go into the city and buy some books, but he has no way of getting in without a vehicle. Then again, he should probably lay low and stay out of sight anyway. He’s here because his life is in danger, not for a vacation.
Restless and bored, he opens up a blank word processing document on his laptop. Luke bites his lip, and stares at the page. He rests his elbows on the desk and leans forward in the chair. The last thing Luke wrote was the film script he gave Noah to use for his film. Luke was so excited about working with Noah on the project, but Mason had dashed his hopes pretty quickly. Luke’s script had “potential”, but it wasn’t good enough. Luke hadn’t felt much of an urge to write after that. Besides, then he’d started working with Damian at Grimaldi Shipping, and then his dad had been presumed dead in Kentucky, and things went crazy. Life just took over.
Luke stares at the blank page and sighs again. He used to love to write. There was a time he thought he was pretty good at it, and could maybe even do it professionally. That seems like a lifetime ago now. Luke’s rusty, he hasn’t written anything that’s not related to work in months. He’s not even sure where to start. Nothing heavy. Maybe something like those dumb historical romance novels his sister reads and swoons over. Only gay. Why not? Shits and giggles, Luke tells himself, and begins to type.
Derbyshire, England, 1816
Lukas Smith had been a boy of just thirteen, and still shaken by his father’s untimely death from typhoid fever when he and his mother, Lilian, had arrived at Oakdale Hall. It was one of the grandest estates in Derbyshire, and took a staff of forty servants to keep it running in order. The Lovells were among the wealthiest landowners in England, and divided their time between Oakdale Hall and their residences at London and Bath.
His mother had worked her way up from scullery maid to one of the upper housemaids, impressing Mrs Lovell with her appearance and manners. Lukas and his mother had a comfortable life, if not the one Lukas secretly dreamed of.
Lukas spent most of his time in the stable block, a large two story building behind the main house which had stalls for up to eighty horses, and a huge blacksmith’s shop which was always hot and steamy. With such a large number of horses, farriers worked constantly to keep them in shoes, and the carriage house was a hive of activity, quieting only at night when the men fell into exhausted slumber.
Mr. Holden, the head coachman, had taken Lukas under his wing, teaching him how to care for the horses, and over the years, Mr. Holden had become like a father to Lukas. The man held a deep love for the animals under his care, and he took pride in maintaining the best stable block in the shire.
Lukas knew Mr. Holden also cared deeply for Lilian, and his mother returned Holden’s affections, though they tried to pretend otherwise. Lukas knew his mother was trying to protect his feelings, so distraught he’d been over his father’s death, but Lukas was no longer a boy; he was a man, and it warmed his heart that his mother had found happiness once more. However, he was content to let them go on as they were and maintain their illusion of secrecy. After all, their attempt at subterfuge was not harming anyone.
Mr. Winston was in charge of the blacksmith’s shop, and his young striker was Noah, Lukas’s best friend. The first floor of the stable block was occupied by granaries and accommodation for the many stable staff, including Lukas and Noah.
Lukas and Noah were not only the best of friends, they also shared a secret. One which could cause them great harm if it were they to be discovered.
Noah had come to Oakdale Hall more than two years prior. An orphan, he had forged his way from London through Leicestershire, working along the way as a stable boy and labourer before arriving in Derbyshire. The pair were inseparable from the time Noah arrived.
Lukas had always known he preferred the company of his fellow man rather than that of women, although he had never acted on his feelings until a day almost two years prior. Lukas and Noah had been out by the pond, having performed their morning chores and seeking to escape the stifling heat of the stable block. Mr. Winston had been shouting for Noah, his face red and sweaty as he bellowed, and Lukas and Noah had laughed gaily as they snuck away.
The Lovells were away in Bath, and though they were not supposed to, Lukas and Noah had taken a dip in the pond, seeking to cool down. When they emerged, collapsing onto the lawn with their wet shirts clinging to them, and laughing without a care in the world, Noah had leaned over and kissed Lukas on the mouth. Lukas was shocked at first, and Noah had run away looking mortified and proclaiming it nothing but a joke.
Lukas had confronted him later that night and reassured him, telling him that his attention was not unwanted, and ever since, the two of them would try to steal away as often as they could, making time to share their fervent kisses. This had gone on for over a year, and it was just a few months earlier when Noah had finally allowed Lukas to touch his penis intimately, something Lukas had been begging to do for months, almost as long as he had long been bringing himself to release with Noah’s name on his lips.
They had snuck away from the stable block late at night, and run off to one of the groves of Oak trees near the eastern side of the house, closest to the stable block. Noah had allowed Lukas to pull his engorged shaft from his trousers and bring him to a release with his hand. It had been wonderful, even though Noah had not been ready to do the same to Lukas, but he knew his day would come.
For now, Lukas had to be content with the stolen moments he and Noah could find. If anyone were to see them, or find out what they did together, it would be disastrous. It wasn’t simply lust which fueled Lukas, however, it was love, He loved Noah, and did not believe there was anything sinful about it. How could love possibly be sinful? Noah would laugh at Lukas when he spoke of such things, and though he proclaimed to care about Lukas, he had not yet returned Lukas’s proclamations of love, refusing to believe that two men should love each other as a man and woman do.
Lukas had been at Oakdale Hall for more than five years and was yet to meet his master’s only son. Jude Lovell had been away at Eton College when Lukas and his mother had first arrived, and then later at the University of Oxford, spending his holidays at the Lovells’ London residence. Now, at three and twenty, with his education completed, Mr. Lovell would be returning to the country estate in Derbyshire for the first time since his childhood.
The servants had been preparing for his arrival for weeks. The house staff were busy readying the east wing of the house which was to be used for Mr. Lovell’s quarters, the kitchen staff had been instructed to stock up on his favorite foods, and the cook had been preparing furred game and fowl, and boiling beef for days.
Lukas was curious about the young man, whose arrival had been met with such fanfare, but he had been at Oakdale Hall for more than a week before Lukas finally met him. He had come to the stable block one day demanding a horse be prepared.
“You,” Mr. Lovell pointed at him. “What’s your name?”
“Lukas Smith, Sir.”
Mr. Lovell sniffed. “How old are you, boy?”
“Well,” Mr. Lovell sniffed again. “Saddle up a horse for me, Smith. I wish to go riding.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lukas answered, scrambling to undertake the task. “Was there a particular horse you wished to ride?”
“No,” he answered. “I don’t care, just hurry yourself; I wish to leave before dark.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lukas muttered. There were still several hours until nightfall.
Jude Lovell was about Lukas’s height, but a little leaner, and his tight, riding breeches revealed well-muscled thighs and buttocks as he mounted his steed. His hair curled along the back of his neck and over his forehead, and seemed to be a mix of colours which looked different depending on the light. His cheekbones were prominent and his jaw line strong, and his eyes were a piercing blue. It was a striking face, and Lukas could admit to himself, a handsome one, but his behaviour made him decidedly unattractive in Lukas’s eyes.
In the time since he had arrived, Mr. Lovell had taken to stomping about Oakdale Hall with a surly look on his face, ordering servants around with a sharp tongue, and disrupting the household’s previously smooth running. His mother had told him the man was cold and rude to all the house staff, and Channing, the valet who had been assigned to Mr. Lovell was receiving tongue lashings daily, as nothing pleased Mr. Lovell; the accommodations were too draughty, the food ill-prepared, and his clothes improperly pressed.
Lukas had observed Mr. Lovell walking around the gardens from a distance once or twice, and he was yet to see the man smile. He wore an almost constant frown, which furrowed his brow and pursed his lips. On the occasions Lukas would see him, he found himself hoping he would smile, just once, so that Lukas would know it was possible. But nothing seemed to please Mr. Lovell, and he complained about everything; the food, the weather, and the service provided by the house servants, who gossipped about him with great venom and fervour. Now that Lukas had met the man for himself, he could do nothing but agree with the reports of his bad manners.
When he had returned from his ride, Lukas had been high above in the hayloft, and it had fallen to Hughes, one of the other stable boys to take the horse from Mr. Lovell.
“Where’s the other boy?” Mr. Lovell had demanded. “Smith.”
Hughes had looked around, seeking out Lukas, and to his shame he had not made his presence known, wishing to avoid the rebuke he sensed was coming. Instead, he hid behind a large stack of straw bales.
“Not here, Sir,” Hughes had answered. “But I can take him. I’ll groom him well, Sir.”
“I doubt that!” Mr. Lovell had scoffed. “I don’t believe any of you fools know the first thing about horses,” he said, and Lukas noted the flush of red on his neck, and the sweat on his brow.
“When I wish to go riding I expect nothing but the finest steed, and instead Smith gave me this nag!”
Lukas flinched from his hidden position above. He had saddled up one of the finer horses. The stallion was no more a nag that Lukas was. The man was simply insufferable.
“Sorry, Sir,” Hughes had said. “It won’t happen again.”
“It had better not!” Mr. Lovell had said, and stormed from the stable block, his chest heaving as though he had been in full exertion.
Luke stops typing and leans back in his chair, cracking his knuckles as his eyes quickly scan over what he’s written. He’s not entirely sure where the story’s going, or even where it came from, but the words are flowing and Luke’s missed this creative feeling, so he decides not to examine it too closely, and just go with it.
He doesn’t see Dr. Oliver for the rest of the day. Not used to the physical requirements of his new job, Luke’s tired from the day’s labor and already tucked up in bed by 10:00. He’s drifting between asleep and awake when he hears the sound of a car in the driveway. Dr. Oliver must have been working late, Luke thinks, closing his eyes.
Long, hard hours.
Luke sighs, his body relaxing into the mattress. The edges of his mind going fuzzy as sleep calls to him. His mind turns to Noah, and as tired as he is, he feels his cock stirring. Relaxing even further into the mattress, Luke slips his hand inside his boxer shorts, and starts to stroke himself, enjoying the weight of his cock in his hand.
A moment later, the door swings open quietly, and Dr. Oliver appears, not much more than a silhouette, the moonlight spilling in behind him. He’s holding a briefcase in one hand, and it’s obvious he hasn’t gone inside the main house yet.
“What are you doing here?” Luke whispers.
“Shh,” Dr. Oliver says quietly. “Just relax.”
Luke closes his eyes again, and hears Dr. Oliver’s footsteps padding across the hardwood floor. A moment later, the sheet is pulled gently away from the bed and Dr. Oliver’s hand is on him, his fingers skimming down Luke’s bare arm. Luke shivers, goosebumps breaking out over his flesh, then Dr. Oliver’s warm hand slips inside Luke’s boxer shorts, nudging Luke’s hand aside and taking over the strokes, tugging him to full hardness.
Luke gasps, sitting upright in bed. The room’s empty, no one’s here. Luke slumps back down.
God. What the hell was that? Luke exhales harshly, his heart pounding in his chest.
He tries to steady his racing heart, and get back to that warm, sleepy place from earlier. Luke misses Noah, that’s all this is. He’s horny, and lonely, and writing that story earlier probably didn’t help. Luke just hadn’t realized until now that he’s written such a strong physical resemblance between Dr. Oliver and Mr. Lovell.
Luke pushes his hand against his crotch, rubbing a little. He’s hard, and the friction feels good, but he takes his hand away and turns on his side, refusing to jerk off with that dream still fresh. Luke closes his eyes again, but it’s a long time before he falls asleep.
Luke’s bent over shoveling soiled bedding in the stables the next morning when Dr. Oliver appears, a mug of coffee in his hand.
“Mr. Walsh,” he says from behind, startling Luke.
“Dr. Oliver, I didn’t hear you come in. Good morning.”
Luke’s a little flustered by the memory of his thoughts about Dr. Oliver last night, and a little discomfited by how good Dr. Oliver looks this morning, fresh but still a little sleepy, his face softer than Luke’s seen it before. Luke notices his jawline, and that the top three buttons of his shirt are undone, showing off a long expanse of his neck.
Dr. Oliver’s long, slender fingers are wrapped around the handle of his coffee mug, and Luke makes a note to add in a description of Mr Lovell’s hands to his story, remembering how those fingers felt around his cock in his dream. Luke’s heart speeds up and he feels a little shaky, annoyed at himself for even thinking those thoughts. Dr. Oliver’s obnoxious, and a jerk, and straight. And not Jude Lovell. Besides, he’s in love with Noah. Luke doesn’t know what the hell is wrong with himself. He turns away for a moment to put down the shovel and collect his thoughts.
“Everything all right here?” Dr. Oliver asks. “The horses settled in?”
Oh, now he cares? Luke thinks angrily. “Yes,” Luke says curtly. “They seem happy enough, and there’s enough supplies to last a while.”
“Right, that’s good,” Dr. Oliver says, a little awkwardly. He clears his throat and taps his hand against his thigh. He seems almost nervous, and it confuses Luke. He’s been nothing but a jerk so far, and Luke’s not sure what to make of this switch.
“When you need to restock, give my assistant a call, she arranged for this stuff,” Dr. Oliver nods at the piles of equipment Luke organized yesterday. “She has all the details. There’s an account set up in my name with one of the local suppliers.”
“Your assistant arranged everything?” Luke asks. “The horses, too?”
Dr. Oliver nods, and Luke smiles wryly. “That explains it, then.”
“There’s a lot of stuff here you don’t really need,” Luke says. “Equipment, mostly. Expensive equipment.”
Dr. Oliver shrugs, apparently unconcerned at the small fortune he’s wasted. “Well, just order what you do need next time. Do you have your own vehicle?”
Luke shakes his head no.
“Okay, talk to Juan, he can pick it up,” Dr. Oliver says. He hesitates a moment. “Victoria buys groceries for me,” he says. “She could probably pick stuff up for you too if you want, or take you with her. I don’t think she’d mind. You should talk to her.”
“That sounds great, actually,” Luke says, thinking it would be best not to venture away from the safety of his anonymity at the property if he can avoid it. “Thanks.”
Dr. Oliver nods, then turns to leave.
“Wait,” Luke says. “Do you have a trainer for the horses?”
“No,” Dr. Oliver frowns. “Why would I?”
“Uh, they need exercise,” Luke says.
Dr. Oliver snorts. “So exercise them.”
“Stable hands don’t usually ride the horses,” Luke begins to explain.
“You know how to ride, don’t you?” Dr. Oliver says. “So, ride them.”
Luke sighs. The jerk’s back. “What about your guests?” Luke asks. “Will they be returning?”
“Yes,” he says. “I’ll inform you beforehand, like last time.”
“Okay,” Luke says, and watches Dr. Oliver leave the stables, stopping to wipe his shoes on the way out, cursing about germs and horse poop under his breath.
Luke snickers softly at Dr. Oliver’s obvious disdain for the mess associated with the horses, and wonders why he went to such extreme lengths — and expense — just to impress a woman who’s not even his girlfriend yet. Then again, he did seem to actually like Annie, too, so maybe he’s not all bad. Besides, Luke would do almost anything for Noah, no matter the cost, so he sort of gets it.
Sighing, and annoyed at himself for even thinking charitable thoughts about Dr. Oliver, Luke gets back to work.
Luke gets contact information for Dr. Oliver’s assistant, and talks to Victoria about his groceries. They decide it’ll be easiest if she picks up a weekly order for him when she does her regular shopping for Dr. Oliver. He sees Juan again, too, out along the driveway trimming bushes that barely need it, and doing other tasks that seem entirely unnecessary to Luke. He shakes his head once more at Dr. Oliver’s apparent need to throw around his money.
Half a week passes and by now Luke’s settled into a routine. He gets up early to feed the horses, then his day is divided between feeding, grooming and cleaning activities. He’s writing more, too, his silly story, as well as scraps of a bunch of different ideas, but he misses his work with the Foundation, and the routine of his life in Oakdale. He misses the coffee at Java, and the chili at Al’s. Most of all, he misses his family, and he misses Noah.
Luke thinks about Dr. Oliver, and how Juan had said he had no family that visited. Luke wonders if there are people he misses, and who miss him in return, then decides no one could miss such a jerk. Then he remembers Victoria’s words in the stable, that Dr. Oliver was a good man underneath. Luke’s yet to see it. He wonders how she knows that, what he’s done to prove it. Luke’s almost never seen him home when Juan or Victoria are here, but he supposes two years is long enough for them to know him better than Luke does. He’s barely been here a week, after all.
Luke hasn’t seen Dr. Oliver since the morning in the barn. He usually leaves for work sometime before nine and doesn’t get home until dark. He’s worked late more than a few times, too, Luke’s heard his car in the driveway around 11:00 more than once. He doesn’t spend much time at home, but Luke imagines that will have to change when things with Laura Judd kick into gear. Workaholicism doesn’t really go well with relationships. Luke and Noah’s implosion is proof enough of that.