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  1. And into John’s lap falls ... Susan Herbert sighed as she picked up a couple of flowers that somebody had plucked from an arrangement and left on the table. It wasn’t her job to put them back, but she had nothing better to do while she waited for her family to arrive. She would be sitting with them today. As she was tucking one bloom into place, she looked up at the exact moment that Lord Chichester strode into the chapel. Everything looked a bit brighter, as if he had brought the sunshine in with him. It was fitting, as he had asked to be represented by the sun in the poem she had promised to write for his exhibition. She had received his invitation and was looking forward to revealing her true identity. Would he be pleased when he found out that she was his Swan? Her heart plummeted to the pit of her stomach as she watched him walk up to a pretty young woman and present her with a corsage which he fastened around her wrist. Obviously, he had not been as impressed by her as she had been by him. In fact, he had most likely forgotten all about her and there would be no podium set next to the painting of her alter ego that he had promised to display at his art show. Maybe he had been so distracted by that young woman that he had never even painted it. Why am I so disappointed? We only met once and I was incognito. Oh, how silly I’ve been! Suddenly she felt the need for some fresh air. Still holding the flower, she turned around and immediately stumbled over her own two feet, landing in the lap of a man (John Palliser) that she had never seen before.
  2. Charles and Juliana “Oh have you?” One golden eyebrow rose slightly when he waggled his. “I’m sure there will be a few arousing events after Easter that will satisfy your cravings. Perhaps you will find something exquisite that you can sink your cock into.” Juliana’s full lips curved into a wicked grin. “I know how much you like getting into tight spots.” And speaking of arousing, their banter was just that, and always had been. She wished she could take him home instead of her three young guests. They sat demurely in the pew where she had left them. Their faces were covered by veils so nobody would recognize them. Because of their father’s disgrace, they were no longer welcome in court. The reason she had taken them in was because she knew firsthand what it was like to be an outcast. Her shame, though, had been of her own making. “Well, there are advantages to waiting, drawing out the inevitable until we can resist it no longer.” Juliana ran her tongue over her upper lip. It glistened in the light of the candles. Whenever she saw him, she had the irresistible urge to touch him, She hoped he enjoyed her teasing caress, a hint of things to come. Her eyes closed and she sighed in pleasure when he returned the favor by trailing his thumb over her inner wrist. Her entire hand tingled pleasantly. She frowned at the notion of some old and frumpy matron sitting with them. The possibility of being discovered, however, could make their forbidden entertainment more exciting. “Don’t worry. We shall be so discreet that nobody will suspect us of doing anything but enjoying the sermon. Just make sure that if you cry out, all you say is ‘Amen.’”
  3. What did Henrietta want to know of him? Everything! But if her father agreed to let them marry, they would have a lifetime to learn about one another. He probably expected that her first question would be about his family. Instead, she decided to surprise him. What she was truly interested in was what made him tick. She didn’t think that he was nearly as wicked as he made himself out to be. “Who do you most admire and why? It doesn’t have to be a person who is currently alive. It could be somebody who has been dead for centuries.”
  4. Cordelia, Lisa, and Margaretha Patience was not a virtue that Lisa possessed, though she understood that finding the right husband for Margaretha was not going to happen overnight. She was also busy writing articles for the next issue of the Gentleman Spectator, including one that lauded the Dutch girl’s arrival in London. That, coupled with her usual duties and the evenings spent with her husband, took up most of her time. “Late morning on the 13th is perfect.” She had four days to prepare Margaretha for the meeting. “I hope you will come to the Basildon residence. Our garden room is lovely and I shall have my cook prepare tea and refreshments for the three of us.”
  5. “Why did you ask if he collected daggers?” Mrs Brown asked. Her husband shot her another warning glare, but she ignored him. “Are you investigating the death of his wife?” There was no proof that the woman in the portrait was Lewin’s wife or that she had been murdered. But gossip of any kind was impossible for the housekeeper to resist. Mr Brown shook his head. “He comes in early some days and late on others. It might be better to catch him somewhere else. I’ve smelled perfume on his clothes before. He might visit a brothel. The hackney drivers could possibly tell you more. They bring him home every night.” In the corner, Sam tried to catch Charles’ eye. She had an idea. “He’s never home in the mornings,” Mr Brown continued, “but you would have to break into the house to search his study, maybe tie us up so it looks like a robbery. We can’t let you in the house or help you in any way. He will fire us and we won’t be able to get work anywhere else with poor references. I also don’t have the study key.”
  6. Cordelia, Lisa, and Margaretha Lisa referred to Margaretha as her ward because it was the clearest way to describe the relationship between them. They were not related by blood, but the Countess was responsible for her as long as she remained in England. Life in the Netherlands had been practically unbearable for the young Dutch lady and Lisa thought that she would fare far better here, especially with England allied with the Netherlands at the moment. She also saw her younger self in Margaretha. The two of them had grown close while Lisa had served Princess Mary in her new home, and she truly wished to help the girl. She and Louis had already discussed possible husbands for her but neither of them knew which eligible gentlemen would be amenable to a beautiful foreign wife. At Cordelia’s words, Lisa’s blue eyes spun to Margaretha. She did look quite embarrassed. It must be rather shocking to go straight from enjoying a sermon to having her attributes listed as a potential wife. Perhaps I should have told her my intentions beforehand. Lady Lucas seemed to know how to make the Dutch girl feel more at ease. Lady Basildon had not noticed that Margaretha’s fists had been clenched at her sides until she relaxed them. “Thank you, my lady.” Margaretha curtsied again. I must break her of that habit, Lisa thought. Her days of subservience are over. She also wasn’t certain what Lady Lucas was being thanked for. Being kind to her perhaps? The girl’s eyes lowered to the ground when Cordelia spoke of her accomplishments. Her humility had always been refreshing to Lisa. Her husband, sister-in-law, and cousin had no qualms about singing their own praises. Margaretha, too, looked toward her guardian. “You can choose whether to join us when we discuss your marriage prospects,” Lisa assured her. Knowing the redhead’s curiosity, she would want to be there. As for Cordelia being harmless, Margaretha curtsied yet again. “Yes, my lady.” The Countess’ gaze turned to Lady Lucas. “Do you have time to decide on a date and time now or is there something else you must attend to. I do not wish to keep you too long from your family.”
  7. Charles and Juliana Ahh, the pure wickedness in his smile! It sent the most delightful sensations shimmering down her spine. Juliana had missed him more than she would ever admit to him, and not just because she was looking forward to presenting him with the gifts she had bought for him during recess. The pleasure that they would lead to sent fire rushing through her veins. She laughed heartily at his rejoinder. A few people turned to look in their direction. If they hadn’t been at church, she would have flipped them off. “Even if he only considered the sins of the two of us, his sacrifice was not in vain.” Juliana grinned seductively. To his other comment, she added: “Great minds think alike.” Juliana basked beneath his gaze. “Why thank you, my lord. I am well, and I hope you have fared better. There are times I doubt my insanity for agreeing to let Danby’s daughters stay with me. Teenage girls are a handful.” Their antics often made her glad that her son had been taken away from her. Boys were said to be more trouble than girls. Her full lips turned down in a pout. “Because of them, I must cancel our meeting tonight. There are no inns open to send them to this weekend. Though neither you nor I mind and audience, I would hate to shock them too much. However, I have booked rooms for them Tuesday night. I would love you to join me then.” Juliana reached over and ran the long nails of one hand down his thigh, not even bothering to hide it. “In the meantime, sit with me in church tomorrow. We should be able to find ways to entertain ourselves during the service.”
  8. Henrietta fully expected Charles to tell her that he had been jesting. Yet he didn’t. Stunned beyond further words, she simply stared at him while he described the advantages of marrying each other. Yes, she definitely enjoyed his company and he seemed to feel the same about her. He was close to her in age, which was also a plus. Sometimes she had nightmares about being forced to wed a lecherous old codger who constantly leered at her. When he leaned forward, she unknowingly did the same and did not look away from his intense gaze. Eyes never lied. There was not even the tiniest hint of deceit in his gorgeous blue orb. Lord Chatham truly believed what he was saying. She blushed again at his compliments. It seemed as if he was the kind of gentleman she had been looking for all along … one who saw her as more than just a womb. Of course, every man wished for heirs and she wanted children too. The thought of kissing him was not repugnant and she wondered if his beard would tickle her chin if he did. Henrietta appreciated him stating outright that her family’s connections and influence was important to him. Most gentlemen pretended that they weren’t paying attention to her simply because her father was a wealthy and respected Duke who could do much to raise their own status in court. Charles admitted that he was interested in what her father could offer him, without making her seem like nothing but a means to getting into his good graces. Perhaps best of all, he would not try to force her into the role that society expected of her. To have a husband who would encourage her pursuit of knowledge and who was able to teach her much of what she didn’t know was like a dream come true. Their little philosophical discussion had shown her that they were well-matched in intelligence and that he did not mind her disagreeing with him. He actually seemed to enjoy it. No matter what he said, he wasn’t ugly. He was striking in a roguish sort of way. Looks had never mattered much to Henrietta anyway, and she tended to avoid those gentlemen who were too handsome, as they were usually so arrogant that they thought she should be honored just to be in the same room with them. By the way Charles laughed, Henrietta sensed that the usually confident Earl was a bit nervous. For some reason, she was endeared by that. Then he smiled and she found herself grinning back at him. “I am not opposed to the idea. I agree that our union would probably be happier than the marriages of most of my friends.” Her blush deepened again. “Perhaps until you speak to my father, we can continue to get to know each other better?”
  9. Oh, how lucky he is to know exactly who he is and to embrace it, instead of trying to become what everyone else thinks he should be. Most courtiers, including herself, tried to fit into the mold that society had created for them. Henrietta was supposed wish for nothing other than to be a wife and mother, and to be content with managing a household and throwing parties. She had to hide her intelligence and her thirst for knowledge. Improving one’s mind was seen as unseemly in a woman. No gentleman would want to marry her if he suspected how much she loved learning. And no man wanted a wife who was smarter than he was. She laughed when Lord Chatham called himself pompous. “You said it, not I.” Teasing him was starting to feel natural, which was both exciting and a bit disturbing. “Being proud of who you are is not a sin.” Perhaps being cruel and selfish was, but she thought he was either exaggerating his negative attributes. Maybe he saved his twisted tendencies for half-naked women in labyrinths. To her, he was kind and understanding. It was difficult to believe he could be any other way. Nobody else had made her feel as if she was deserving of compliments, that her opinions were valuable and her company desirable. Was the picture he painted of her who she really was, even if she couldn’t see it herself? It didn’t surprise Henrietta that Charles didn’t care what others thought of him. He didn’t wish to please other people; he only wanted to please himself. That, she supposed, was considered selfish, but it was also freeing. If only she could do the same. She felt that she cared too much about how she was seen. Lord Chatham didn’t have to answer to anyone else. She was under her father’s guardianship and had to make sure that she didn’t disgrace her family’s good name. When she was married, it was her husband’s honor that she would have to uphold. A woman was never truly free. She watched with interest as he leaned back and stretched. For some reason, he reminded her of a majestic lion, sleek and graceful. Henrietta was definitely curious as to why he was revealing so much about himself. Why should he care what she thought of him when he disregarded the opinions of everyone else? He wanted her to know what he was like because he wished the two of them to be friends. It was what she wanted as well. His smile was quite charming, unlike that feral grin he had given her a few moments earlier. His next sentence completely floored her, though the notion was not displeasing. Her hazel eyes widened, and her lips parted slightly. It took her a few seconds to find her voice. “You … you want to marry me?” she whispered.
  10. Juliana of Hesse-Eschwege approaches Chatham As soon as the service ended, the self-styled Swedish princess sought out her most ardent worshiper. Dressed in a gown of purple silk, the stately blonde glided gracefully up to Charles, a saucy smile turning up the corners of her lips. “Atoning for your sins, my lord?” Her eyes narrowed teasingly. “Or praying for more?”
  11. Cordelia and Lisa Lisa was well-known at court. She was certain that Lady Lucas already knew who she was. The older lady didn’t look surprised that she wished to speak with her. Maybe since she had a young girl in tow, she already knew what was coming. Matchmaking was already proving difficult. It must take special skills and patience that the blonde Countess didn't possess. Perhaps that will change in a couple of decades. Louis will probably be a Duke by then. She shared her husband’s lofty ambitions and knew that the Killington family was destined to ascend to an exalted position in the hierarchy of court. Margaretha would help them gain more influence if she married well. Straight to the point. Lisa liked that. She had never been good at mincing words. Eloquence was her husband's forte. By the way Lady Lucas appraised her ward, she did know why Lisa had approached her. Margaretha looked a bit uncomfortable under the woman’s gaze. Her face was nearly as red as her hair. Like Lisa herself, the Dutch girl was not fond of being the center of attention. “I hope you might be able to help me with finding a husband for my young ward. She has a fine dowry and royal blood runs through her veins. Princess Mary became fast friends with Margaretha shortly after we arrived in the Netherlands and she suggested that I take her back to England with me.”
  12. Lisa and Margaretha leaving Louis and Nicci and approaching Cordelia Lisa was glad that the service was finally over. She had arranged her voluminous blue skirt so that it rested against Louis’ leg and had occupied herself during the sermon by occasionally reaching over to briefly and playfully stroke his thigh. Church had always bored her, but it was a necessary inconvenience that had to be endured. Teasing her husband made the monotonous droning of the Bishop a bit more bearable. She also looked over at Margaretha every now and then. Her beautiful redheaded Dutch ward sat on her other side and seemed completely engrossed in the sermon, as if every one of the Bishop’s words was precious to her. During the second half of the service, she sang each hymn with enthusiasm. Both Louis and Nicolette might note that she had a lovely though untrained voice. Lisa knew that Nicolette did not like Margaretha, but would her attitude soften if she knew how pious the girl was? She had not been told about Nicci’s seduction of the King because she would have been shocked into speechlessness and it was none of her business anyway. With any luck, she would never find out. The pretty Countess laughed at Louis’ comment as he helped her up. Her skirts didn’t hinder her in standing, but her numb legs did. After he had assisted Nicci and Margaretha to their feet as well, she placed her hand lightly on Louis’ arm for balance. Her bum was numb as well. Perhaps her husband would help her with that problem later in the evening. Lisa smiled at Nicci’s rejoinder.. “I agree with our cousin, Louis, and anyway, who truly wishes to start anew?” Her blue gaze traveled around the chapel and lit upon Lady Lucas. Louis already knew of her plan to ask the known matchmaker to help find a husband for her ward. “If the two of you will excuse me, I wish to introduce Margaretha to somebody. I won’t be long.” Taking the girl’s hand, she led her over to Cordelia. “Good day, Lady Lucas. I have been hoping to make your acquaintance. I’m Lady Elisabeth Killington, the Countess of Basildon and this is my ward, Margaretha van Nassau-Zuylestein.”* The young girl curtsied. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady,” she said with a light Dutch accent. *This is not her official surname, as she is a bastard. It is what she prefers to call herself. Lisa's reasons for allowing it will become clear in time.
  13. Based on all the factors Lord Chatham had given, Henrietta understood why he and his lady friend had thought that they had complete privacy, not just from innocent girls but from anybody. “You should know, my lord, that one is never safe from discovery at court, no matter where one goes. There are a lot of Scots here. They like cold weather. You could have been interrupted by an entire group of them who wanted to drink together in seclusion. Or perhaps the King himself wanted some seclusion!" Why had she sought the labyrinth that night? “I wasn’t feeling very merry and I wanted to get away for awhile.” She omitted the fact that she felt awkward because ladies were supposed to ask gentlemen to dance and she was too shy to approach anyone. Lizzie had found her dance partners, but she had not wanted to impose on her sister too much. She had fled from the ball much like she fled from everything else that made her uncomfortable. Henrietta had almost run away from Lord Chatham at the bachelor auction too when Lizzie played a trick on her and left her alone with him. She was now glad that she hadn’t. Or was she? His grin, which she had found fetching, was now frightening. He looked as if he was about to devour her. She wanted to shrink back but forced herself not to. She should have been appalled that he had thought about seducing her, but for some reason, she was flattered that he had considered kissing her (which was all Henrietta knew about seduction).. It wouldn’t have worked. She would have slapped him so hard that he would have worn her handprint on his cheek for days, and her father would ruin him for attempting to dishonor his daughter. He might have been exiled from court forever. Henrietta looked into his eye. “Why do you want me to believe that you are twisted, cruel and selfish?” The tone in her voice was perplexed. “You sound almost proud. Is that what you want people to think of you?”
  14. Mrs Brown believed that the two officers would be discreet with the information she gave them. The one who questioned them looked only a bit older than her eldest son and the silent one who had stayed in the room with her before she was united with her husband was little more than a boy. They seemed to be nice young men, and if they were investigating her employer, they weren’t going to tell him what she said because then Lewin would know they were suspicious of him. What had he done, she wondered? As these men belonged to the King’s Life Guards, it must have something to do with the monarch. Was Lewin plotting against him? Maybe she and her husband should find jobs elsewhere so they wouldn’t be considered guilty by association. She would have to discuss it with her Gabe when they got home. “Daggers! Yes! I mean, no. If he collects them, he hides them well.” She looked to Gabe for confirmation, as he was their employer’s valet and had been in Lewin’s private chambers. The man shook his head. “But I have heard him use the word several times when talking to his dead wife. At first I thought maybe he had killed her with a dagger, but he doesn't sound angry. He sounds thoughtful, like he’s trying to work through a problem of some sort." The plump housekeeper stood up when Charles mentioned ghosts, and placed her hands on her hips again. “Now don’t you get cheeky with me, young man. I might not be a toff, but I’m not stupid either. Nor am I mad. Only children and lunatics believe in ghosts.”
  15. Aria

    Away & Here Notices

    Not everything in my life is good. I had nearly unbearable pain in my jaw. I didn't think it was a problem with my teeth but I went to the dentist just to rule it out. As it turned out, one of my teeth was so badly damaged that it had to be pulled. There was no other option. It was pulled a couple of hours ago. The numbness hasn't even worn off yet. Not sure how long I will be in too much pain to post, but hopefully not more than a day or two. Already the pain is less than it was.