Extra long since I've updated but forgive me. Though I have this story planned out I haven't gotten time to put pen to paper, due to laziness... This chapter was actually finished a few weeks ago and I hope you all enjoy it.
Aiden was sitting on Harper's bed, looking out the window at the reddening sky. He had left the auction early, not being able to stand seeing Harper on Ethan's arm. Since leaving, all he could think about was if his and Harper's life would have been different if they met each other first. Or if running away with her was a feasible option.
He did have some money, though not near the amount Ethan had. But it was enough for them to live comfortably for several years. And if Aiden continued to meet success with his book sales, they could remain independent for a long time as long as they didn't splurge on unnecessary things.
The only problem was Harper probably would not be able to live without the riches their peers took for granted. Aiden wasn't saying Harper was materialistic, but he knew that people who grew up a certain way had a harder time living differently. The only reason Aiden wouldn't find much problem living in a small cottage or apartment with little to his name was because he was used to not receiving much from his family. Since reaching his maturity, everything he owned, he had purchased himself. He also knew how to cook and clean because his aunt had ordered the maids not to wait on Aiden, the "bastard child", or they would lose their job. However, that was thanks to the cook who had taken pity on him and welcomed him into her kitchen.
The sound of the door knob jiggling pulled Aiden from his wayward thoughts. Moving quickly, he hid behind the door in case the person entering the room was not Harper. Luckily, it was, her expression blank as she entered the room. As she closed the door, Aiden saw her eyes caught a glimpse of him. Immediately her mouth opened as if to produce a scream while her arm flung out to hit him.
With fast reflexes, Aiden wrapped an arm around her body, pinning her arms to her side, and cover her mouth with his hand. "Harper, it's me. Don't be afraid."
Instantly, she calmed with his words. She spoke as he released her. "What are you doing in here? Is everything okay? Why did you leave before us?"
"Come somewhere with me," he told her, not answering her questions.
She hesitated a moment before nodding. "Okay." Then she sighed as if realizing something. "Eleanor will surely have a fit if she discovers my absence."
The last thing Aiden wanted was to cause Harper trouble, so he rearrange his plans in his head. "After Eleanor takes care of your nightly routine, meet me in the cellar. If it's still too much of a concern for you—
"No. I'll come. I'll wait a few minutes after Eleanor leaves me tonight then go to you," she assured him with a smile.
Feeling elated, Aiden leaned down as pressed a kiss to her lips. "Until tonight."
"Until tonight," she repeated.
He kissed her once more before slipping out of her bedroom.
Harper felt adrenaline rushing through her veins as she crept out of her bedroom that night. It wasn't the first time she had snuck out. After all, she had made her way to the questionable part of town many times at odd hours in the morning to get her robot working. However, this was the first time she was sneaking out to meet up with a man. Something about that gave her a thrill.
She wondered if she would have felt the same way if it had been just anyone. Maybe. But because it was Aiden it felt more special.
Since she had to get ready herself without help for this outing, Harper put on a pair of trousers and a knit blouse. Men definitely had an upper hand when it came to dressing and it was quite annoying that women still had to suffer through tightly laced corsets just to be acceptable. Though, Harper couldn't help but feel nervous at how Aiden would feel when he saw how she was dressed. She couldn't exactly explain it but when she was with him she wanted to appear her prettiest yet she felt comfortable wearing anything in his presence.
She kept her hair in the braid Eleanor did before sending her to bed. However, she tucked that braid into her so she was less conspicuous.
The halls were dimly lit by the low burning lamps. Below her, the floor boards creaked with her weight despite her efforts to stay light on her toes. Thankfully, the noise wasn't too loud to alert anyone. Just as she was about to go down the back steps, she heard voices coming towards her.
Pulling the hood of her cloak tight over her head, she hurried into the nearest room, leaving a slight crack in the closed door.
"Lord Chambers has come home drunk again."
"I wonder what causes the lord to allow himself to become so wasted?"
It was a maid and footman. Which ones, Harper wasn't exactly sure but there was no mistaking the baritone and alto voices.
"I heard he is no longer bedding Lady Chambers," The maid revealed.
Yeah, and he wasn't ever going to. Harper thought to herself. The fact that the staff was talking about something so personal should have surprised her but it truly didn't. Though, she wondered the appeal of talking about such things.
"He's already tired of the bonnie lass? A bit shocking."
Harper watched the two pass by her hiding spot, heading down the hall.
"Lady Chamber is pretty but quite odd. I've never known a miss to read the type of books she does. Did you hear…"
Their voices trailed off and after a few seconds, Harper opened the door a bit more to check if the coast was clear. Hurrying out of the room, she headed down the service steps, the two flights to the cellar.
It was pitch black in the room once the door closed behind her but Harper didn't panic. She knew Aiden was probably already down here waiting for her. All she had to do was—
"Harper, you're here."
A smile pulled at her lips as she spun on her heels in the direction of his voice. She couldn't make him out in the darkness but knew he could probably see her. His pupils had to be larger than average for him to see in such a dark room. Like a cat. Now that she thought about it, he did have some cat like qualities.
She wanted to reach out and hug him but held it in for fear of grasping at air and falling flat on her face. His hand took hold of hers, giving it a slight tug so that she was pressed against him.
"Stay close to me."
That sounded like a great plan to her. Without complaint, she allowed him to lead her through the cellar. When they reached a set of steps, he warned her. Within moments, they were standing in the cool night air. Aiden briefly released her hand to close the secret hatch.
As she waited, Harper looked up at the night sky. The stars were hidden by scattered clouds but just enough moonlight peaked through the fluffs of cotton to brighten the night. Harper had just learned yesterday that the white magnolia symbolized the moon and the lunar goddess of ancient pagan traditions. It was also the flower used by lovers to send secret messages to each other. Exchanging the flower back and forth with Aiden would probably prove as thrilling as this sneaking out was but it better they not in the effort to avoid suspicion. That didn't mean she could help giggling just thinking about it.
"Something on your mind?"
Harper gave a start at Aiden's voice in her ear. She had become so lost in her thoughts she hadn't realized his approach.
"Just nonsense. Where are we off to?"
"My favorite place in town."
Harper watched as his eyes trailed downward, taking in her outfit. "Pants?"
"Is it weird?" she asked, biting her lip.
Aiden shook his head. "They fit you. While it isn't common for women in our circle to wear them, plenty of working ladies wear them."
Really? That was something Harper hadn't heard of before. It was also nice to know she wasn't alone in wearing men's clothing.
About half an hour later, Aiden was helping her out of the hackey he caught on the street in the slums of downtown. No matter how many times Harper has come to this area, the air still smelt putrid to her. What was special about this area that Aiden wanted to come here?
After paying the driver, Aiden led her a few blocks down the street into an alley. When Harper had come to this side of town, the few times she did, she always felt a little fear but, with Aiden by her side, she wasn't as scared of the 'what if's. A little ways into the alley was a door, on which Aiden knocked in an odd fashion. A small part of the wood, that was about eye level, slide open from which two eyes appeared followed by a gruff voice.
"Who goes there?"
Aiden automatically responded, "B.B.W."
The man on the other side of the door grunted then closed to eye slot. The sound of locks shifting sounded followed by the door opening.
Harper glanced up at Aiden, trying to decipher what he just said as he led her through the door and up a flight of steps. "Who's B.B.W?"
Aiden tossed her a grin over his shoulder. "The big bad wolf."
"From the three little pigs?"
"Kind of. It's just a thing here. Don't think too hard on it."
Harper nodded but her curiosity would not quell that easily.
At the top of the wooden step was a long hall with multiple doors. They walked all the way to the end to the door just in front of them. Aiden opened that door, ushering her inside.
The first thing Harper noticed was the low ballad being played on a piano while as enchanting alto voice sang a song she had never heard before. There were a few tables in the room, most with occupants, that each had a candle in the center of the table. Beyond those candles were some lights by the stage and bar but those were on a low setting, providing just enough light to see what was there but not enough to brighten the whole room.
With a hand on her lower back, Aiden guided her through the tables to an open booth in the back corner. She slid in first before he sat right next to her, which made her happy. If he had sat on the other side of the table, he would have been too distant from her, who wanted to be in touching distance from him for as long as possible.
"What is this place?"
"It's a club for people who like to think of themselves as some type of artist. Sometimes they sing, sometimes they read poems or perform short plays." He nodded towards the bar. "The owner, Shelley, wanted to make a place for the dejects of society, where they can comfortably talk about their work with others like them without the harsh judgment of others. It's also a great place to relax."
The environment did seem kind of serene. The low lighting and slow song could put a person to sleep easily. Though, the last thing Harper wanted to do in the presence of Aiden was sleep.
"You can take your hood off now if you would like. No one should recognize you here."
Harper nodded, removing the black hood from her head before pulling her long braid from her shirt and resting it over her shoulder.
A barmaid approached their table and asked if they would like anything. Aiden ordered them some wine and a plate of cheese and crackers.
As she walked away, Harper turned her attention back to the stage, tuning in almost completely to the singer and her hypnotizing voice. Sighing, she leaned against Aiden, resting her head on his shoulder. His arm snaked around her, holding her close, as his free hand took hold of her right one, bringing it to his lips for a sweet kiss.
"So what do you usually do here?"
"I write, trade ideas with others, discuss recent events or simply enjoy the environment. It's almost like a gentlemen's club only without the snarky people and with a mixed of women that aren't simply looking to turn a quick buck with a bit of play between the sheets."
Their order arrived by the end of the song and they enjoyed small talk while sipping on their wine and feeding each other bites of the cheese and crackers. Harper was so focused on Aiden she didn't realize the singer changed until an upbeat tune began filling the space.
Aiden took one last sip of his glass of wine before standing. "Let's go dance," he said, holding out a hand to her.
Harper looked at the few couple enjoying a good jig in the open area in front of the stage. She hesitated to take Aiden's hand because she wasn't a dancer and she certainly never danced before like the others were doing.
"I don't know Aiden…"
Building up her courage, she allowed him to pull her from her seat. The moved through the throngs of tables to the dancefloor. Before Harper could let go of her courage, Aiden spun her around before locking an arm about her waist and moving them to the music. Harper gasped as he suddenly dipped her, giggling as he pulling her back up straight.
Aiden grinned. "Yeah. Woah."
Harper got more into the jerking movements, the absences of a skirt allowing her to shuffle her feet in a way she never had before. For someone who always dreaded dancing, she was certainly enjoying this one with Aiden. When they switch partners, she moved freely, letting herself be carried away.
It was like she was without worry. No fear of embarrassing her father. No fear of her husband temper. Certainly, no care for society's opinion of her. Just living in the moment and enjoying life.
She lost track of the number of people she danced with before she was twirled back into Aiden's arms. Just seconds after returning to him, the tune changed again, once again slow. Harper thought they would return to their table but Aiden simply pulled her closer and began to gently sway to the rhythm. It would certainly be scandalous if anyone they knew how close their bodies were pressed together in public but Harper was surprisingly unfazed. Maybe it was because of the dancing they already did or the fact they were just strangers among a group of strangers.
She looked into his eyes, taking in the love and affection shown there, sure her eyes reflected the same emotions. When he leaned down, she closed her eyes, accepting his kiss. It was chaste but sure. After he pulled away, she rested her head against his chest, listening to the beat of his heart as they moved together unconsciously.
Ethan arrived at the makeshift lab he made for Lord Davenport. Inside he found the man eater dead in its cage and Lord Davenport hovering over a microscope while jotting down a few notes.
"I hope you have some good news for me," he called out, getting the other man's attention.
Lord Davenport speared Ethan a quick glance before going back to his notes. "One moment."
Though impatient, Ethan decided to wait until Lord Davenport could speak to him. He went over to the dead man eater, viewing it curiously. What exactly caused Davenport to kill the beast? Did he get too close?
However, if the man accomplished what Ethan hoped for, he wouldn't need to travel the seas to get another live specimen. He certainly wasn't looking for another torturous adventure and he highly doubted his wife would enjoy it. Though, he did enjoy the idea of seeing her uncomfortable during the long journey.
Why he enjoyed picking on her, Ethan wasn't sure but she was a fun target for his boredom. It was tempting to go back on his deal with Lord Davenport just to keep her at his side but Ethan was no one to forgo honoring his word. Even if he wasn't the kindest human in the world, he believed in maintaining a certain pride which meant keeping one's word. Though, maybe he would bed her just once before giving her up. He just needed to stop getting so drunk otherwise it would never be possible.
"Lord Chambers," Davenport began, getting Ethan's attention. "I have finally discovered what causes a human to turn into…" He gestured towards the cage.
Ethan left the room, with Lord Davenport following after him, to sit at his desk. A few of his henchmen where in the warehouse but none paid mind to him and his companion.
"What have you found out?" He asked as Lord Davenport took a seat opposite of him.
"It's a virus. Similar to a disease, it affects the frontal lobe of the brain, impairing the judgment of humans. Though, with only one specimen, I can't be too sure of what I have theorized but I believe humans attack other humans when infected because they can only think of satisfying their basic needs. Which also relates to how they can move faster. Because they are no longer held back by the fears humans have or the body's built in mechanism, they have the ability to do the things you have described to me plus more. For example, they could jump from a building and even if they break a bone, they would still move because they don't comprehend the pain."
That was interesting. And very good. All this would come in handy for what Ethan had in mind.
Davenport pulled a small vial from his pocket and held it up for Ethan to see. "This holds the solution that will change any human into one of those creatures. Inject it into their blood stream, put it in their food or drink, even letting it have contact with a wound of any kind and they will lose their humanity."
Ethan couldn't contain his grin even if he wished to. He held out his hand for the vial. Lord Davenport reached out to give it to him but then hesitated. Ethan scowled at the man.
"Is there a problem?"
"You do plan to fulfill your part of the bargain, correct?"
Ethan held in the urge to rage at the man. He was a duke. The highest title in the land but the king. No one questioned dukes. No one questioned him.
"You question my honor, Lord Davenport," he stated, evenly. "I do not appreciate it."
That made the other man waver. Without further hesitation, he handed the vial over.
Ethan grinned wide as he looked at his small treasure. He wouldn't need more than he had. He only had to infect one person with it and it would be enough for his plan to be carried out.
"When will I get Harper?"
Ethan tore his eyes from the small vial to meet the other Lord's gaze. "After my plan is carried out," he lied through his teeth. Even if the other man survived what was to come, Ethan would put a bullet in his brain before handing over his wife.