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Your Stories Await Telling

Page 42; 24th December, early morn- Xmas 1677

Nicolette Vauquelin

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Somerset Mansion (Lord and Lady Basildon)

A spacious home made out of fashionable geometric shapes with details in sculpting, and the walls painted terracotta and white. The front lane was dotted with white gardenia's, blooming early. The entry was covered in vines with little white blooms and two hanging baskets with fresh spring flowers in different shades of pink.


The mansion was three stories high, with enough room to house guests and hold several events. Downstairs one would find the parlour, the study, the dining room, the library and of course the garden room filled with a multitude of ferns and a jasmine brush. In the back a large lawn and a teahouse that looked small and frivolous.


On the second floor there was a Master bedroom and a Ladies bedroom, both with a walk in closet. The walk in closet of the Ladies bedroom had recently been expanded. The third floor housed the guest rooms and the old nursery. Servants stayed in the attic.




Christmas Eve. Tonight she'd attend Lucas' show, the Opera with Sophia and Caroline also performing. But for now other thoughts were on her mind... the season was beginning, and there was much she wanted to achieve. Nicolette had dusted off her feminine artifices, and was intent to put them to work in earnest.


"Cousin?" She peeked around the door of the study, hoping she might find Louis here. There were plans to nail down, not of least was one that Lady O'Roarke had been encouraging of. After the barest pause at the doorway Nicolette swanned into the room... an out of place smudge of soot on her cheek.

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Although the Christmas season began in earnest on Christmas Day, the court would be alive on Christmas Eve with the closing hours before the holiday. After eating a robust breakfast, Louis was already in his study, finishing correspondence and arranging for bonuses to be paid his staff for the holidays. He was affixing his seal to the wax of the last note to his banker when Nicolette peeked inside.


With Lisa in the United Provinces, Nicolette was now mistress of the house. Louis needed to be free to consider the more important items on the agenda for the current court session.


"Come in cousin," he beckoned. A bottle of his favorite brandy was beside him. "I was just completing instructions for the payment of holiday bonuses to the staff at each of our estates." The staff in the household would be paid in person, as was the custom. "Can I offer you brandy?" He suspected that, this early in the morning, her tastes might lie in another direction.

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OOC: Edited first post to ass in the time stamp.



"Mrs Abernathy too?" Nicci asked as she approached, and bent to brush a kiss past his cheek, "she is my favorite." (of Louis staff). Her smile brightened at the talk of a drink "La, Brandy, so festive! Warmed with a hot poker too? Yes please."


Nicolette did not immediately move away from his desk, but lingered there a little, thinking about page 42.


"It is going to be a big season." she commented, her voice lowering some. "our own Christmas bonuses await the writing, wax and seal."

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"Of course," he assured her. He was generous with bonuses to Staff as their discretion was important. Layabouts and looselipped servants were quickly dismissed from service.


Brandy was provided as he leaned back in the comfortable leather chair to regard his beautiful cousin. Her beauty, wit and charm was about to be put to the test in the coming fortnight.


"We have been planning this for some time Nicci," he offered warmly as he motioned for her to come sit beside him, behind the desk, in the chair reserved for Lisa. "When the festivities are at an end," he whispered, "you shall be the King's new favorite and I shall be the new Lord Treasurer."


With a warm smile he asked "what are your plans for today?" It seemed fitting that he keep a close eye on her activities so that he could render advice whether asked or not. It was not just a polite query; but, the unveiling of a plan commonly shared.

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"Thank you." She was pleased for Mrs Abernathy, it just seemed right. Nicolette knew well enough what frugality felt like, and knew the sort of pleasure a bonus would bring. Perhaps Louis understood that too (even though wealthy) his Father had been a Puritan after all. Puritans; those who made a show of godliness through visibly going without, gloating their superiority through sufferance. No doubt that had meant some deprivations in Louis childhood. He likely knew that sometimes the littlest thing could mean a lot.


Like now perhaps? His invitation to join him on the other side of the desk. The lingering Nicci relaxed, though not taking Lisa's chair she instead perched on the desk's edge.


"Together we shall command heart and purse strings." potentially it was a very powerful position, she bit her lip at the thought, then added breath-ily, "the prospect is more intoxicating than brandy..." Brandy. The glass was remembered, and she thought to sip, then hold it poised against her cleavage. Inviting a look. Inviting his eyes. Though it was still the deed described on page 42 of the book that was her deeper intent. How had Heather managed it?!


The french belle wriggled her toes within her shoe. "I have another letter to the King, I thought to deliver it to Kingston by hand. I hope he has been passing them on..." finally she felt her shoe slipping free, and gave a light sigh, perhaps concealing the sound as it fell off. Her eyes remained upon Louis, while her heart beat quickened forcing a blush to her cheeks.

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It was true that a man who grew up without wealth was all the more cognizant of the good that might be accomplished with it. Not only had been raised a Puritan, but he had been alienated from the family's otherwise stingy purse. He had he been left to his own devices to find wealthy benefactors such as Lucinda Hawthorne.


Nicci seemed apprehensive about something, or so it seemed to Louis. Perhaps it was nerves about the upcoming season. There was a great deal of pressure upon her to succeed. It was no small feat to woo a king.


Thoughts of her own apprehension disappeared as he watched the placement of the glass upon her cleavage. If there was a droplet of moisture caused by it, and the droplet began a slow descent out of sight, it might be more than a man could bear. Was she toying with him? If so, he approved. Louis gave her a pleased smile.


"You shall have to remember that pose for the King," he chuckled. "It is most alluring." There was a satisfactory nod as she announced plans for another letter. "The success shall be in the receipt of a reply. This season shall be the best you shall have. The Queen shall be focused on her pregnancy, real or imagined. The King shall be feeling very merry this season and looking for alluring beauties such as yourself to help him celebrate. We shall need to keep rivals away by whatever surreptitious means we can. As long as Buckingham supports us, we shall have a great advantage." Louis would need to see after the other court pimps, to see what fresh game they sought to parade before the royal eye.

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He chuckled praise for the pose, she wondered if his puffed breath vented tension elsewhere? Yet to see masculinity in a state of arousal, she could only hope not.


"I am practicing all manner of poses that might please..." her eyes continued to hold his, eyebrow raising as she wondered where his imagination might take him. Loosing a laugh she took a deeper sip of the brandy, shifting a little, inexpertly, shifting her pose, a silk covered foot sliding up between his trousers, questing for a rest upon the bridge of his seat. Her heartbeat was now racing, and she did not dare to look away from his eyes at where her foot came to rest!


"Mmm... and His Majesty has a penchant for french ladies, his Maman was french yes? Perhaps one day I shall be he one to sing him a lullaby." she very much hoped so, "a lullaby about a new Lord Treasurer, and all of court will know which Great House is the rising star." Courtiers never backed losers, Danby's was a ship going down, rats would leap, they need to know where to leap to.


"Mm... rivals. Davina put herself in the contest, but really, she has no joie de vivre." Nicolette moved her foot a little, toes grazing his inner thigh. "She is not problem. Who else could there be?" Louis' was a face she doubted she'd ever tire of. His eyes dark and clever, his utterly charming visage of superiority in contrast to boyish tousled curls. Though it was not his good looks that was her focus at that moment...


Next next. How had Heather managed it?!


"Ahh, what of your rivals, others who wish the position. Do you know who they are?"

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Practicing poses was an excellent idea. Louis certainly approved. He believed himself a scholar in female anatomy and poses so who better to judge her demeanor?


As she placed her foot upon his chair, Louis fought the arousal that came unbidden. With Lisa gone the last few weeks, he had been suffering. He was a man with healthy appetites -- appetites only partially satisfied by his favorite darkie servant now back in residence. He had even considered going back to the George Inn in Chelsea to renew his relationship with the French sisters he had placed there. Instead, he had focused on rapier and pistol practice, as well as the work of his company and estates.


The way she held his gaze and sought to move her foot made it plain that she had seduction on her mind. He would be only too happy to satisfy their mutual needs, once the King had the first taste. It was important to Louis that the King be the one to deflower her. Being the cavalier that he was, the King would feel an added responsibility for debauching Basildon's cousin. Perhaps there might even be sort sort of ceremony or pledge of support to accompany the ritual? Portsmouth seemed to have succeeded in getting a pledge of support from the King because he had stuck with her even when it was in his interest to dump her.


"Davina Wellsley?" He hardly knew the lady. "Kings are known to prey on the flock of ladies in their wives' employ," Louis observed in an amused voice. They had the advantage of being around the royal couple during the evenings and nights. "All we need do is breathe word to a spy for the Queen that the King has his eye on her and the Queen shall have her watched carefully thereafter," the Earl chuckled.


"As for my own rivals ...," he paused as her foot seemed to go questing. "John Ernle is the primary competition. Perhaps a lullaby of scandal about him or his family shall put the man's ambitions to sleep. Yet, the poison must be very subtle or the King will know our hand is behind it. With luck, there shall be irregularities discovered at the bank and he shall be blamed for it. If not, I shall find something else blameworthy. Perhaps he is even a secret Catholic. That would ruin him." There were a plethora of other ideas as well. With a bit of creativity and confidence, who knew the limit of what could be accomplished?


Though speaking of serious topics, his eyes remained on her own, with but few glances to judge where her foot traveled. "Are you comfortable now, or might you like to sit on my lap?" he teased encouragingly.

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He did not scold her foot placement, well that was a relief, in fact he did not say anything of it. That was probably a good thing she supposed. They would both pretend nothing out of the usual was happening... Louis even managed to keep an even tone to his voice as he talked about Davina. Nicolette moved her foot a little more boldly against his thigh, and inching up a little further, her eyes round with he experiment. According to the writings of Heather and Isabeau this sort of thing drove a fellow to distraction. Was he distracted yet? And... "Do you know any who might be spy for the Queen?"


And then he chuckled again. Nicolette suspicion that chuckling somehow reduced raising ardor, gave her concern. Her eyes left his for a fleet moment, to check upon any progress in that region? Her foot did feel rather warm nested there, but what did that mean, if anything? La! Looking back to Louis, her lashes fluttered with inner confusion.


"A breaking scandal about Ernle would best come from some associate of his..." she spoke, regathering her bravery, finishing her drink, licking her lips. "Or, what if his life encounters a string of troubles. Or even pleasure. Distractions. Can be fatal to ambition."


Nicolette was trying not to be distracted herself at that moment, though her plan was not quite panning out, this was not to page 42s script. She pouted and looked at him most seriously. Or then again, was the plan truly failing? Perhaps her seduction of Louis was just taking an alternative path? "Mmm... yes that will be more comfortable." she gave a little smile and pushing herself off the desk slid to sit on his lap.


Wriggling to position she clung an arm around his neck (lest she in silks slid right off!), and... then looked to his face once more. "Ohh yes, this is much better." she breathed, looking right deep into his eyes with a great intensity growing of the moment.

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To Louis it seemed as though his cousin was planning a seduction. He could only assume that she was practicing the style she might employ with the King. He did not imagine that she truly wished to seduce him. As such, his ardor was controlled more easily.


As for the Queen's spies, the answer was easy enough. "Why a loose comment to another of the Queen's ladies might be sufficient; but, we would need to find one that is not friendly with the maid." It would seem an easy enough task for the Earl. There would be much merry making during the season and ample opportunities would be presented to place whispers in ears designed to reach the Queen's.


The flutter of eyelashes evoked an amused smile. Nicci was becoming more obvious.


As for Ernle, Louis had done some research. "He has a son who is something of a hero in the navy. It would be a shame if he too was implicated in the scandal about missing naval monies," he whispered conspiratorially as she moved towards his lap. "There is a scandal at the place of his father's employ and one at the son's. Coincidence?"


She looked into his eyes deeply and clung to his neck lest she fall. "A good pose with the King," he judged softly. "He shall enjoy such closeness I think. What shall you reply if he looks deeply into your eyes and asks your intentions?" In an act of roleplay, Louis gave her a penetrating gaze that he imagined the King might employ.

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"A rival perhaps? La, but everyone loves Davina." the only one Nicci knew to be odds with her was herself! Nicolette pouted at the thought. She let Louis see her pout for that matter. Pray he'd take care of this for her! "It would sound better from a gentleman, a gentleman's critique sounds prudent, a ladies sounds only catty." And she looked back to his eyes. Would he let her play this game with him?


As Louis ruminated upon Ernle plans, he spoke of a son. As was always the case, Nicci coud not help wondering son was daring & handsome? But instead she said, "Perhaps he is a really a coward, a greater shame than theft." Which might be true, it was something of a standard that office holders were light fingered with state money - but none ought be be duplicitous when it came to patriotism.


Oh but now Louis attention was upon her, so she discarded thoughts of politics. Here he adopted a role play that he was the English King, quite a serious version of the man Nicci had seen kicking up his heels in the park, laughing with his dogs running amok. She quite liked this serious version.


Wriggling to better position, she looked into Louis eyes, "My intentions are innocent..." she breathed, remembering again page 42 and the act that some Lord Everhart had said wasn't actually sex. She'd thought it must be good for beginners? Her hand fumbled down Louis jacket, and in a whisper she said, "There is a taste upon my tongue I do not know." Her cheeks begun to flush at what she'd just suggested. But then, perhaps her cousin did not know what she meant? Perhaps he thought she was talking about some english food? Mon Dieu?! Embarrassment!

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Nicolette noted that a gentleman might have greater success in assassinating Davina's reputation than a female rival. Louis found himself agreeing, and nodded appropriately. Yes, he could take care of that for her. For a man such as himself, it would be easy to poison the freedom of Mistress Wellsley. One careless remark could accomplish it.


As for Ernle's son, it would be a harder task. Cowardice was a thing difficult to prove. Graft was something easier to believe.


As for the roleplay, Nicci professed her innocence, which was a good move. The reference to the taste on her tongue invited further inquiry. It could put her in an awkward situation to not offer her assistance; but, that is why practicing was so important. "Go on," he encouraged, playing the role of the monarch. "Tell me more of this foreign taste." The key was to force her to carry the conversation with little assistance.

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If there was any key to it, Nicci did not have it. She'd a wealth of steamy reading on the subject, but next to no practical application.


Though verbally his words encouraged, physically she could see he was unmoved. La! What am I thinking? I am no seductress! While she might wish to be the feme-fatale that was Heather, she lacked the knack to incite desire in a gentlemen. And it did not really help that this was Louis, he'd already told her very clearly that he was not about to be seduced by her, though said so very nicely that she'd not even minded.


"Ah..." slipping from his lap she stood to her feet, and sighed, "mmm rhubarb probably?" She grinned, and crouched to retrieve her shoe. Fortunate really that she could recover so easily, and pretend she'd only been talking about food all along.

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All too quickly Nicci abandoned the game. Did she really think she could fool him so easily? He was not blind, daft and ignorant.


"Do you give up so easily Nicci? You were doing well. I was just making it hard upon you by making you carry the burden yourself. His Majesty is likely to be far easier than myself; but, a bit of practiced challenge is what you need. Better to be too prepared than not prepared enough," he counseled.


"Shall we try again, or do you need a spot of brandy first?" His manner was calm and his smile was encouraging. He supposed she needed more practice; but then, perhaps she was at her best when impromptu. He had seen her charm just about everyone she met almost effortlessly.

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"Cousin, I don't need to practice talking to a gentleman, I am not 15." Nicolette pointed out. As he well knew she was already competent at charming any man she met.


She dd not think him blind, daft and ignorant, and would have been upset to know that was what he thought she thought. She actually admired her cousin, and hoped that he might admire her. It had been a mistake to try this though. A small part of her was angry at Heather, for it had been upon her suggestion that Nicci thought to try Louis yet again. But, Louis was not interested -- that was not Heather's fault.


She did not think him daft or ignorant, but she did think him a cold fish.


Arising again, shoe in her hand , she shook her head to his offer of brandy. "It is the Christmas season, I am sure there is much cheer up at the palace I can share." Though it was not drinking she was talking about, but the libertine spirit.


Moving apart she rested a hand on Lisa's chair as she managed her foot back into her shoe. "I am intending to go to Buckingham mansion now. I shall let you know if I her good word from Kingston." Louis & Nicci's relationship would remain that of conspirators. Smoothing her skirts down again she gave a cheery smile, resisting her disappointed at herself.


Her first effort this season had failed, but that did not mean her seasons goal was doomed just yet. She'd tried at least, it was time to move on. She was not going to learn the arts of the bedroom standing here talking to her cousin - there was only 12 days in this season in which to learn all the arts required for a royal bedroom audition!

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Nicolette misunderstood her cousin completely. Perhaps that should not surprise him for an man of his ego, the handsome earl thought himself far more complicated than he was.


Nicolette had mentioned her virginity as an asset to the family. He had agreed readily, thinking it something that should not be spent frivolously. As such, when she suggested to him in the private moments of her shop that they should become lovers, he advised delay. While she saw rejection, he meant only the maintenance of her asset. For him to take it would be a frivolous endeavor. He could have her regularly thereafter. In fact, if she managed to win the bed of the King, it was his plan to help ensure that his cousin became pregnant as quickly as possible. There was no lack of attraction to his cousin. It was only the business calculations that accompanied her deflowering. Once deflowered, they could enjoy each other privately at her shop without anyone knowing.


Given this mindset, it was no surprise that he resisted her charm this morning. It had taken a great deal of control, especially in the absence of his wife's attentions. Yet, he could have all he wanted after the King had his way with her. What was another week of waiting if it yielded a lifetime of favor from the King as opposed to one season's favor?


The fact that Nicolette spoke her mind reminded him that he had not made his intentions clear. "I am sorry Nicci," he apologized sincerely, something he rarely did. "You are right of course; but, I am loathe to teach you much of the flesh today because we must maintain your virginity for the King. I would rather him treat you like a bride than a barmaid. If he takes something precious from you it will create a lifetime commitment, no matter the efforts to deny it," he tried to explain.


"I suppose that I could teach you everything short of that," he admitted, not realizing that she might be more attractive to the King with a mixture of experience and inexperience. "I assure you, I would not have hesitated a moment to lay my hands upon you today, or that day in your store, if I did not believe that your virginity was not an asset to be spent carefully."


It went without saying that he could not touch her when Lisa was around. He would seek to avoid hurt his wife needlessly with his dalliances. Of course, secret liaisons with Nicci at her shop would be something about which Lisa would never learn. As such, he could do it without fear of disappointing her.

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While they three, Louis Lisa and Nicolette, had discussed a great deal that night in Basildon, some topics had been in less detail than they warranted. Lisa was... somewhat more prudish (or so Nicci thought), so it was that Nicolette may have omitted certain details of her conversation with Francis.


But with Louis, she felt at liberty to be plainer spoken. As he expressed his thoughts of her virginity, she tipped her head. In light of those thoughts, it made sense that he behaved as he did. She had better explain the situation to him more fully.


"The English King does not want someone who knows nothing - Lord Kingston said this to me, and he would know." she gave a pause, there had been a brief time she'd hoped what Louis hoped. If the King of England deflowered her that would be an extraordinary coup. "We both know His Majesty is a Cavalier, to take a ladies virtue would bring obligation upon him, duty. Duty is not fun for him. This is not what a mistress gives a king. Also I am advised from many people, he does not like to teach."


"La. I know we said in May I should give this to someone, to advance the family's politics, but I did not succeed with Danby's son, and you gave me no other target in August." Target-less, she'd drifted about court, seeking an admirer, perchance to impress her cousin. There had been the Graf, and then the Earl, but all for naught really. "The time for that game is past. But here I am, still without a clue to pleasing a king in the bedroom."


“I did not even want you to ... do that today anyhow. I wanted to, do that other thing that is 'not really sex' anyhow. But anyhow, it does not matter. None of it matters if the King does not remember me."


"Now I must go, and find out if Lord Kingston has passed on the letters." She hoped the letters would be a reminder of her existence to the King. But she'd broken one of the terms of the agreement... yes she needed to speak to Francis.

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Her words made sense, though he did not have to like it. "Pause a moment Nicci," he urged. He was not done with the conversation yet.


In a rare moment, he felt like removing his mask so that his words might be more heartfelt. "Come, sit beside me. There is something I need to confess." He preferred his words to be whispers.


"I have tried to justify in my head spending your virginity for a familial gain." There was a pause as ge searched for the right words. "You note that our initial plans for Shaftesbury's son did not bear fruit. Nor did I push for another," he admitted. There was another pause as he tried to limit his bluntness.


"I told myself that I would be happy if you were in the arms of the right man. The ambitious part of me justified it as any business transaction. Yet, as I came to know you better, I became less interested in advancing that scheme." His eyes might appear sad for the first time that she might recall. Or, perhaps it was guilt. Did she realize what he was attempting to say yet? She was a clever gal.


"When I began to imagine a man, even a lord, with his ..." filthy "... hands on you, it made me want to kill the man even without having made his acquaintance." He was confessing an emotional bond that was more than fondness, Louis had always been a passionate man, quick to love and hate. He did both deeply, though he was capable of masking it.


"It was only when the King became a possibility could I begin again to reconcile myself to it I suppose. I do not know if it is our kinship or how ... attached I have become to you over the past year; but, I have a difficult time thinking of you going to the King like some painted lady after some blackguard has had his way with you." His hand clenched involuntarily as he thought of Kingston or another courtier debauching his dear cousin. It was a dilemma that was hard to explain.


"If you went to the King with innocence and he accepted and protected you, that would be one thing. I suppose I am saying that ... going to him as a .... it might be different in different situations." He did not complete the thoughts that would make him a hypocrite. He had bedded a number of maidens but he told himself tat he had been gentle and sought to do right by them later. It would be hard to convince anyone, even himself.


"The truth is Nicci," he blurted, "you are too precious to be treated with anything but the utmost dignity. I am certain that Kingston said what he did; but, following the King for six months does not make him the sole expert." He did not give voice to the thoughts that the King's pimps often availed themselves of the merchandise before bringing it before their master. Or, they could not imagine the possibility that the King might enjoy a bit of mischievous innocence now and then.


"Before you go and do something that cannot be undone, let us make sure that we listen to more than one voice. It should be a chorus before a decision is made. We should speak with Buckingham and Heather surely." Thoughts of approaching Ashburnham and even Baptist May appeared in his head.


Not as articulate as his usual self, Louis could only hope that Nicolette would understand what he had uttered so inartfully. The famous charmer had managed to charm her cousin and he was having second thoughts about a plan that would cast his cousin in anything but the best light. She had charmed him and he was too egotistical to admit it. He reached for her hand to give it an affectionate squeeze. "Do you understand what I am trying to say?"

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Confess? Louis request rung unusual, Nicolette looked back to him. Putting aside her own concern of the moment she was able to see he was genuinely troubled. Silently she moved to the seat, "What is it Cousin?" she asked softly.


She'd have been less surprised if he'd admitted he'd set Danby up, or had masterminded Monmouths expulsion from court. But the admissions he now spoke were... well so unexpected. In a way it explained everything - but also it threatened to ruin her, no both of their plans, for the future.


Yet for the moment she was moved - Louis was not a man to lower his guard easily. Close as they were she reached, sliding her hand over his... "This is why you did not want mmm, my experiment upon you, because it was a game no more? Let me tell you then, it is no 'chance' that it is you I first sought, when I wanted to begin. Even back in May. I do not know if you understood... but, I had hoped you might claim this thing for yourself. Yet I knew you a man of politics, that is why I said.... ah." she gave a little shrug. It was good to finally say this, she'd often wondered if he'd not realised what she'd actually hoped. "In my imagination, I had given this you long ago."


Or perhaps he had realised. Perhaps Louis was as much a cavalier as the king, and the figurative offering had formed a bond between them, perhaps that had been the beginning of his deeper feelings for her. Truth be told, Nicolette did not understand how he might feel depth for her. She felt very ordinary, if anything, less remarkable than others at court.


"Speak to the others if you must, most of all, this season, we must work together." she gave his hand a squeeze, then loosening her hold she straightened herself. "The thing I see, is that our situations are very similar. You must canvas for support from many quarters, the more who become invested in you, the better your case will be - and when you become Lord Treasurer those supporters shall be part of your fortifications, protecting you." she tipped her head, wondering if he could accept that point of view. If he could agree that she too ought plot the same course.


"I want to be with Kingston for the first." she made her own confession. "He is libertine yes, but he is also a cavalier - he will not discard me like a whore, and has a whisper in both Buckinghams and the Kings ears. Kingston can help both of our careers... so please." she gave a little smile, "I must beg you not to kill him afterwards."

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He might well have claimed to have toppled both Monmouth and Danby, if they were having a different type of conversation. There was no need to talk politics just yet.


She confessed her own thoughts about yielding to him. It was a confirmation of what he knew already; yet, he smiled as she spoke of her imagination. "In my imagination it was gladly received."


She was correct in assuming that her cousin had a cavalier spirit, even hidden behind a selfish and libertine exterior. There was a bond between them that was undeniable. "Yes, we must work together," Louis agreed readily. "I shall become Lord Treasurer and you shall become exalted at court."


She had chosen Kingston. It caused him to pause in contemplation. Truth be known, there were worse choices. He was a cousin to Buckingham and had become a gentleman to the King. The man was experienced enough that he might teach her in a way that would benefit her. If the man was also a cavalier, he would have a bond with her as well. There was a moment of thinking that Buckingham might be the better teacher. He would be more like the King in all things and, as such, would be a better proxy.


"Go to Kingston then," he acknowledged at last. With a wry smile he added "I shall not kill him unless he treats you poorly."

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Years ago there had been distant rumors that her cousin was an accomplished swordsman - though for herself she'd never seen him at the sport. She supposed that had been the idle of his youth, that had provided him with a reputation as a dangerous man to cross. Nowadays he wielded rank and connections to that same effect. He would dare cross your family." she replied quietly.


She certainly hoped it was true, just as much depended upon how Louis managed Buckingham politically.


Lingering a moment longer, she teetered upon a thought. He was utterly capable himself of course, there was very little he might directly need from her except her part in pleasing Buckingham's hand in matters. But she might help in a little with a suggestion of a sort that Louis did not naturally consider. A function. "Louis?" she spoke quietly, "Ought you host a gentlmen's supper and drinks one evening, for your men of importance, business is done with pleasure yes? Expensive cigars, brandy, and other gifts." She was certain he could afford it, and surely now was the time to throw money into his cause, a seduction in a different league.

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Nicolette's idea was a good one. He had not been thinking of hosting a function, but it made perfect sense given the holidays and what he hoped to accomplish.


"You are the lady of the house now. Let us think of themes." Last time there had been a pirate party in the rear of the house. "Please, nothing involving composers swinging in on ropes," he jested with a laugh. "It shall be your mission to insure the Kings attendance. We can choose whichever day he prefers. Perhaps everyone wears a holiday mask for fun and mystery. Masques offered the best opportunity for libertine playfulness. Perhaps that might even be the night that the King took Nicci to his bed.

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"You would have me attend as well?" Nicolette had been thinking of a different sort of evening, the sort that she imagined important men to attend. A supper where they could frown and nod over politics, and make the plans that set the world to rights.


"Mmm... it shall be a season of frivolity, do you not agree, you might be unique to have an evening themed for important matters. It might be a relief for such men, to not need talk inanely to ladies for one night at least." she gave a grin at that.


"I had been about to say I could stay at Lady Kendishall's that evening, or at Lady Ablmarle's for that matter - she owes me a bed for a night."

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They had been thinking of different parties. She was suggesting a stag affair among politicians. That was certainly possible; but then, the Woolsack served that function nicely. He supposed there might be an advantage to handpicking his invitees, including key Country Party leaders. He found himself rubbing his chin in thought.


"There is a place where gentlemen meet to discuss politics," he revealed to his cousin. Darlene had been quite excited about sneaking inside while in disguise. "If I were to sponsor a party, it would need something special to attract the attendance of the elite. The King will not wish to come and there are few others that would attract a large crowd." He began thinking of guest speakers. As was common with the young earl, a dozen ideas came to him.


"What about an evening of diplomacy?" he offered aloud. "I invite each ambassador to come and provide a 15 minute talk on their country and view of the Continent and New World. Thus, gentlemen will come because it is a rare opportunity to have the ambassadors face off against each other and we English gentlemen get to watch and participate." It might not excite a lady, but it could prove to be a rare treat, and make Basildon seem the center of international intrigue. There was a certain amount of selfish pride in that feeling.

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Nicolette was not convinced. "Perhaps there is a place to talk Politics, but this is for Your politics."


She believed their situations were similar, or at least, she thought he was playing the same game as she, only, different. Seeing to better understand, if not explain, she continued, "The King is swayed by his Gentlemen s opinions, and so these opinions need to be swayed into your favor. So when the announcement is made, all will say 'ah, of course! Mmm... this rival, is he popular, is he loved? Will he have the gentlemen's support before, and then after? It is the long game we are playing, yes? Not just to reach the goal, but to remain there a long time."


She thought of her own situation this way. She did not only need to outshine her rivals, but she needed to have the support of others to attain, and then retain her goal. Ultimately those supporters would benefit. For Nicci's part, if she became Mistress of the King, she'd be in a position to grant favors, and whisper messages to the King. For Louis part, the favors he'd give his supporters would be financial - contracts & tenders granted in their favor. She had thought a evening of expensive gifts would show his trickle-down intentions. Perhaps her idea was new to him, or perhaps he did not expect to hear such an idea from a woman's quarter, and so it might take a bit longer for him to appreciate what she'd actually meant.


Quietly she repeated her original suggestion. "...a gentlmen's supper and drinks, for men of importance... expensive cigars, brandy, and other gifts."


"What is your aim for a party?" she thought to ask him, before they went any further. "An evening of talks about other countries sound interesting, but what purpose does it serve? Let others host parties with no meaning but to entertain." Her lower lip jutted slightly, and eyebrow rose with pleasure of le game.

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In truth, he had not been expected such splendid political advice coming from a female. His wife was different, of course, but ladies mostly thought to entertain solely to remain popular. Ladies lives, other than motherhood, were mostly little more than popularity contests with other ladies. Men enjoyed contests for popularity as well, but could compete for power and profit as well.


A look of admiration, punctuated by a lazy smile, graced his face as he allowed Nicolette to see how pleased he was. This young woman, who considered herself nothing but an ordinary girl, was exceptional in many ways. She knew how to play le Game in a way beyond what her modest years and gender would have otherwise allowed.


Louis considered himself a master, of course, but had not used the tool she was suggesting. At first blush he had thought it a suggestion to impress his fellow lords. That was worth some expense surely; but, as she later noted, it has limits. One impresses so that one can persuade. Nicci was suggesting a dinner to do both at the same time. Louis had been otherwise content to do so on two occasions -- one as an event and the other in private follow up. Yet, he could see the appeal of trying her method. The downside was that the conversations in front of so many would be less likely to remain secret.


"A combination perhaps," he offered slowly. "I invite the ambassadors to dinner with the flower of the aristocracy and have them speak as dessert is served. They are then excused for the evening and the English lords enjoy coffee, cigars and brandy to debate what England should do in foreign affairs. Our involvement in foreign affairs revolve around what monies England can garner, so the conversation shall shift naturally to the state of England's finances. We shall bemoan what poor shape they are in presently ... how Lord Danby and Lord Ernle have failed the Kingdom, and the table shall be set for a discussion of the right candidate to replace the Lord Treasurer. I shall need the Lord Chancellor, the Duke of Somerset, Buckingham, Kingston, and even your Maldon to speak on my behalf at the key moment so that I can appear to modestly smile as the future seems so obvious," he laughed. It would not be as easy as he had spoken; but then, nothing worthwhile was earned easily.


"Nicci you are a marvel." He moved quickly to give her a kiss on her lips. He had been looking for an excuse and she had provided one. It was not a seductive kiss, but an affectionate one. "Do you approve?"

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It was something about the air she carried about her, a pervasive aura of innocence, that had many underestimate the girl (or even think she was younger than she actually was). It was an air she at times used to her benefit, it was a far rarer thing for her to allow another to see her inner jade. A buffed and honed thing burnished in the Court of Versailles, where while she'd not been a player, with watchful eyes shed learnt much.


In France she'd yearned (with a reverential level of dread) to be one of the players upon the golden stage, but she'd never dared to take the daring step. If she was ruined, her world would be lost, there was no place else she could go. But here in England, cheerful blustering England, the incorrect placement of digit upon a teacup was not near as important. There was a liberalness that encouraged daring, and step by step she embraced it - though those somewhat intense french philosophies were still at work within her mind. The steps she took were not random, however much she played a care free part in their taking, and even relishing the role.


The Belle Vauquelin's eyes dilated she saw his look of appreciation; had she not just disrobed for him, shown him her darker side. "The trick shall be to make sure the Ambassadors leave early, so your royalist associates may lower their guards." Ah, now that would be an evening. Played correctly it would be multiple foundations in his career. Louis could see that too, and laughed with all the glee of a natural schemer. Grinning at this sight of him, she was thrown by surprised when he pressed a kiss to her lips!


Ah, unprepared, she failed to seize the moment quick enough, so that he was already drawing away again as she arched towards his lips. Pucker abandoned, she was left blinking, then to laugh, "La, my imaginary lover, let us celebrate our plots with another drink. A toast." One day, one day she'd coax him to kiss her with true passion, but until then this heady alliance was great in itself. "To the blood in our veins that unites." she toasted their blood relation. How grateful she was that she'd traveled to England last spring, that he'd taken in the poor little French girl found on his doorstep.

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This was the moment that two visions united into one, a stronger product because of what each had contributed. That was the way it should be between collaborators and allies.


She liked the kiss. Louis could tell. There would be many more in the future, of that he was certain.


"Fear not, the Ambassadors will be long gone before things get truly interesting," he chuckled. She would be right in thinking that this dinner would make him eligible for more than the mere Lord Treasurer. He was already thinking of multiple positions -- Treasurer, Northern Secretary, and Lord of Trade. If he was not careful, he would become the most powerful person in England. A pity. The Earl showed his lovely co-conspirator a grin that disrobed his darker side too.


Two glasses full of brandy were conjured in his deft hands. "To our blood," he agreed. Her proposed toast was a suitable one. "The year 1678 shall be ours Nicci," he whispered as he drew the liquid to his lips slowly. All manner of things were meant within that verbal salute. Nothing and no one could stop the Earl of Basildon from his rise. Key allies were being added at the end of 1677 that all but assured the young earl that the kingdom lay at his feet.

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