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Anticipation; visiting Caroline 24th 2pm- Xmas 1677

Nicolette Vauquelin

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Nicolette was already adoring the winter season, the thing that made the grandest difference was that this season she had some lady friends. Oh she'd had friends that were ladies before, but those had been different, those 'friendships' had been more of an absence of female warfare, rather than truly seeing eye to eye. She'd never have thought that having lady friends would be so very satisfying.


Light of step, Nicolette bounced up the stairs to Lady Kendishall's house, and used the door knocker with gusto. (It seemed such a big house for such a little occupant, Nicolette wanted to make sure that she'd been heard.)


Was that the sound of Cello within? Was Caroline at her practice? As she waited she grasped her cloak to give it a good shake to remove the snow before it melted, though ready at a moment to turn a warm smile to the opening door.


"Mademoiselle Nicolette here to see Lady Kendishall, I believe she is expecting me." she said to the servant, already reaching to unclasp her cloak to place it in his care.

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There was one piece that Caroline had wanted to go over, yet again even on this, the very day of the opening performance of the big opera. It wasn't that she didn't know it, she had played all the numbers so many times she'd lost track since their first practice but still there was but one small part she lacked her usual absolute confidence that it sounded just right. She would settle for nothing less than perfection as would Master Cole. She also would never forgive herself if she let him down tonight. No, it was unthinkable. So there she was playing this just one more time, she silently told herself. She never even heard the sound of the front door knocker. But then that was why one had household servants.


"Yes, Madamoiselle, of course. If you would be so kind as to follow me," the servant informed Nicolette, cloak now in hand. The veteran servant led the short walk down a narrow hallway into a study. Caroline glanced up to see who was there and stopped midnote.


"Ahhh, my dearest Nicci! I had hoped you would brave the snow out there to come visit," she beamed and set her instrument and bow aside to then approach the other girl.


"You look well, better than well. You look splendid! Apparently the cold agrees with you," Caroline then hugged Nicci and kissed her on both cheeks in the French greeting.

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The servant was swift to attend to her cloak, Nicci barely had time to admire the entrance room before she was whisked off down the hall towards the sound of Lady Kendishall's music. What an efficient servant he was, Nicci almost skipped to keep up with him.


"Sweet Caroline!" Nicolette likewise gushed, hugs and kisses on cheeks were exchanged with bubbling laughter of seeing her again, "But do you think?" She stepped back and angled a little to show off her red satin breeches. She'd worn then for Francis benefit actually, "Its so much easier in the snow. Oh, you should get a pair too, though I must warn you the measurements the tailor takes are rather ... ah, daring!" she laughed. She'd been with young Arthur when she'd been measured (she had convinced the youngster to buy her a pair), and had shrieked when the tape-measure went there.


"Was that the Opera I heard you playing. You must be so excited, yes? Have you heard the whole thing? I think quite everyone is excited to finally hear it. And you have a party to come, and... oh isn't the beginning of a season the most wonderful thing. We have hearts to conquer and kisses to claim, we are going to have so much fun!" laughing she hugged Caroline again.

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Nicci stepped back then proudly displayed some nice red breeches.


"Is that satin? How nice!" Caroline approved then joined the other girl in laughter as she recounted her experience being measured for them, "Ah but not so daring you did not enjoy it I can tell."


Nicci asked about her playing.


"Yes, it is. I am so very excited, I did not even sleep well last night. Or mayhaps it was something I ate," Caroline grinned, "Oh of course I've heard the entire thing...many many times. And only yesterday we held the final dress rehearsal where we perform the opera in it's entirety as if it is the actual night. It went well...even Master Cole was....well, moderately satisfied."


"He is a most strict taskmaster but I do not blame the man. To put something out there to the public that is your own personal heart and soul then be judged upon it? The pressure must be overwhelming, I do feel for him. I am confident though, it will be well received."


Nicci of course brought up the party too, another subject dear to her heart.


"Yes, I am well along in organizing everything for it. I have engaged the services of a well respected chef to prepare the food, my liquid arsenal is well stocked for a long siege, and I've badgered the servants to clean this place up and down twice over," she assured the other French girl.


"Now I do not know about hearts being conquered but I would at the very least hope for a kiss or two!" she declared with a grin.

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Being satin, they were loosely cut, there was no stretch in such a fabric. With a nod Nicci agreed of enjoying it, "But not at the time, at the time I was.. well, a little shock. But afterwards, when I thought about it, well... yes I would do it again." Which might be how many first times went.


But to the more important topic, the show tonight, that Caroline had a part in. "I am not surprised." she nodded, "but you sounded just perfect from what I heard, it is nerves only, it is excitement." Nicci's eyes went a bit vacant when Caroline mentioned Lucas, they had been friends once, she did not know what their relationship was now, or, she suspected he was her enemy, but she did not want to believe that. After the smallest pause she said very soberly, "Well, he is the ultimate musician, if he is satisfied, even moderately, then you must be remarkable." The Lucas aspect of the conversation made Nicci uncomfortable.


"But, tell me what you shall wear? And shall you be taking the stage for a bow afterwards, like the players do, in a play? Shall I take roses to throw at you?" the thought of what had her grinning again.


To talk of the party, Nicci was impressed. One of the things she liked about Caroline was her proclivity to demolish a bottle of wine without a blink, a feat that Nicci herself was a rival. It was refreshing to find another lady who could handle her liquor, phooey upon those who tea-totaled! "Shall you have drinking games then?" she giggled, "la, but this reminds me of what we need to talk about. Tell me if there are any gentleman you want dibs upon. It would be a terrible thing if we came to tears or fought over one. Where is your guest list, let us check."

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"Oh I imagine you would do it again given that look on your face," Caroline teased.


The talk moved to the opera and though Caroline had some proper nervousness overall she shared Nicci's confidence all would turn out well. Nicci did mention Master Cole but perhaps she also misunderstood something, Caroline decided to correct that, "I did not mean he was moderately satisfied with my playing, I have not proven to be one of his ....problems, it was a certain violinist who has since been replaced and a few of the singers too, noble girls but nobility does not guarantee a good voice. He seemed quite satisfied with me."


And then she mentioned the party, something Nicci seemed as genuinely excited about as she did. That was one of the things Caroline liked about the other French girl, she seemed less jaded than some in court, full of enthusiasm.


"I have purchased a new dress for the opera, yes, which is understated in it's simplicity but I believe looks good on me. I could show it to you later and see if you agree? For the party, I thought to wear an older dress I brought from my estate, no one has seen me in it in London yet so it is as if it is new," she grinned.


"And yes, a drinking game! I like that idea. Do you have something specific in mind? You must teach me one. It seems I already know how to drink but know nothing about actual games of drinking. Yet another flaw in my spotty education," she laughed.


"Now as to the males on the guest list....well, there is Master Cole of course, Master O'Neill, that Irish poet though I will confess I have no real fondness for poems. He is handsome enough though and as long as I knew him. Now for nobles there is ....Lord Kingston, Francis was such a kind mentor of sorts to me when I first showed up at court, a most dear fellow. And then Lord Maldon, a sweet if very shy man. But you know him so you know what I mean. Oh and also Lord Dundarg, he of the races. I would think he would be the sort to enjoy a good party. I am hopeful Lord Melville will attend but I have not heard anything of the man for quite some time now. Mayhaps he is not in country?"

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"But will you?" Nicolette sobered to ask. Breeches were all very well, and said to the thing for daring ladies, but to be honest Nicci was not so cutting edge to want to sport a fashion all alone (she'd like to see other ladies wearing them too.)


The topic of Master Cole did not leave them quickly. Caroline needed to clarify what she'd meant about the level of the mans pleasure being unrelated to her own performance. "Ah, oh, mm yes I see." Nicci nodded and gave a little shrug, "Then you ought probably be very pleased, for he's rarely pleased with any lady, or, ah at least not with me." she should not have said those last words, but there it was. Said.


But to dresses, now that was a happier topic. "It sounds very english." Nicci commented of the understated dress, French styles on the other hand were opulent to an extreme, "...mmm, you were not tempted to try steal the show with something more... for the attention?" she then grinned, "yes you must show me later."


"No I do not know any drinking games" she laughed, pleased that Caroline like the idea, even if not sure how to apply it. "You can make up a game perhaps, perhaps..." and she paused to think, nibbling a nail as she did. "You could tell the gentlemen that whenever a lady says a certain word, they have to take a sip of their drink. And tell the ladies a different word - if the men say that word then they must sip. The game might be to guess what the secret words are - and then there could be a prize. Or, just use the word many times to make the other drink too much!" she laughed of the silly game. "You will think of a better game I am sure."


To the more serious matter, of gentlemen, the pretty visitor listened very seriously.


"Mmm...and have you favorites?" She did. But since it was Caroline's party she should have first picks.


She felt a bit worried, she had to admit, because initially it seemed as though Caroline was most interested in Lord Kingston.

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"Do what? Ohh, wear breeches? Well, I do not own any and frankly I am too busy with everything now to go shopping for any. But mayhaps someday," Caroline answered her, what with the opera and the party plus all the hoped for holiday celebrations such a thing would not be very high on her list.


When the discussion turned to Lucas, it seemed quite obvious Nicci felt she was not well thought of by the composer. Caroline tried to think of why.


"Is it because of all this possible war with France nonsense? I do not think that would be the case, he doesn't seem the type to care about politics or nationalities...just music. He knows I am of French descent afterall," Caroline pointed out, "But as long as I can play the cello as I do, I could well be from China for all he would care."


Nicci pronounced her dress English to which Caroline nodded, "Yes it is, plain as are the English." She giggled.


"Steal the show? Oh heavens no, I want the focus to be on the opera itself so that Master Cole is honored for his talent and even more important, hard work. For it is hard work, I assure you. Plus Lady Toledo is singing and I can hardly hold a candle to the likes of her when it comes to looks," she was not jealous, it was just so and she recognized it.


Caroline smiled as she listened to Nicci's idea for a drinking game but by the time she was done it already sounded too complicated for her, especially as they would be drinking which only clouded the mind further.


"I shall come up with something my dear," she promised, one more party detail to attend to but she did sincerely like the idea of drinking games.


After listening to the males invited to the party, Nicci pressed on for a favorite. Now that was a hard one but Caroline felt she had to give an answer.


"Well, being hostess I must try to be attentive to them all, do I not?" she started then smiled, "But if you must have a choice out of me...then I would pick Francis. I think we are both much more at ease with each other, John is ...well, it seems he is almost afraid of me at times? Mayhaps he is just shy though. Definitely reserved."

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Never to mind. Once it had been that Nicci felt like Caroline about breeches, but ambition had convinced her of the benefits. This was one french woman who'd was determined to do whatever it took to get what she wanted. "Cest la vie." she laughed lightly, not pursuing that topic any further.


"No, it is not that." Nicolette hesitated before going into more detail about what Lucas had told Buckingham about her. Taking a breath she then replied, "but clouded waters do not settle when stirred. It is best to leave the past to the past." She gave a small shrug and settled into one of the chairs.


Talk of dresses was far less controversial. "Well you are a gentle soul." and so Nicci realised Caroline was not so ambitious. With all of court attending the show, Mlle Vauquelin would have wanted a share of eyes upon her, and her power-player cousin Louis would have expected it. "You need not undermine the compliments to Lady Toledo and Master Cole. A Opera is hours, the audience eyes shall have a long time to look at everyone. Come, put some sparkly comb in your hair at least, yes? Then people can later ask, 'Who was that gentle lady with the sapphires in her hair?' It is never the right thing to dress neutrally at court." she gently coached her new friend of the things she'd learnt the hard way. 6 years at Versailles, overlooked.


Caroline agreed to come up with her own games, that was good. "But all the talk of drinking has made me very thirsty!" she rose a suggestive eyebrow to Caroline.


Oh no, her hunch proved correct! Caroline was fond of Francis first, but the second was a surprise. Nicci blinked. Digesting that. "Yes, he is very shy." (but bold enough to let Caroline call him by his first name apparently) "really they are almost opposites. Mm... but if they are you favorites, than I shall keep clear. Ah, but who might I flirt?" she wondered out aloud. "Lords Dundarg and Melville are not here this season. Perhaps the Poet then?" she had met James O'Neill once, although. That had been when he and the rest had pitted against her.


Best not think about that.


Lifting her chin she gave a smile, "We must invite more gentlemen, what about Lord Ranelagh, Lord Pembroke and his brother, Lord Churchill and of course the Duke of Buckingham. Oh, and you forgot to mention my cousin Lord Basildon. La, if you do not know them yet, then I shall introduce you, then you may invite them each personally." Chattering away happily, Nicci twirled her finger in her hair. "Oh, but you must not fall in love with Lord Ranelagh, promise. I am determined he will marry me one day, he just doesn't know yet."

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It seemed as if Nicci did not wish to discuss Master Cole any further, whatever had transpired between them it was ongoing and Caroline would respect her friend's feelings and not pursue it further. Besides, she truly liked both these people and did not wish to have to take sides, they were quite dissimilar people but each endearing in their own way. Caroline simply nodded and the topic was back to wardrobe and being noticed at the opera.


"A gentle soul? Some might voice an argument on that view," Caroline grinned, thinking of her deceased husband for one. Well, except the dead could not come back to press their point, unless one believed in ghosts. Caroline was undecided on such matters but even if they did exist, her simpering husband thus far had been too cowardly to face her.


"It's not that I don't wish to be noticed at all, of course not. But Master Cole chose me for a specific part - to play my cello and enhance his opera. And that is my primary goal. As for a comb in my hair....mayhaps I shall look in my drawer and see what I have but I assure you I do not have sapphires," she shrugged.


It was plain to tell Nicci was not an artist, a true lover of music but Caroline would never hold that against her. Most people were not. It was however a bond between her and Master Cole, one she had no wish to jeopardize.


Nicci now hinted at a drink.


"But of course! What a poor host I am and me with a big party coming up," Caroline nodded as she took a few steps, picked up a small bell and tinkled it.


It was unto further talk of men, specifically the male guest list. Nicci agreed with her opinion on John, well it was hardly little more than affirming a fact. She sensed a fondness for the man in her friend too. Most generously the girl promised her she would keep from being competition with these two choices of hers. Caroline was silently impressed. Nicci wanted someone to flirt with though.


"Oh it is too bad about Lords Dundarg and Melville. Melville in particular, a good man and not like I would think of a Scotsman."


Nicci thought she needed to invite more men. Reasonable but she did not even know some of those the other girl mentioned.


"Oh, I forgot the Duke of Buckingham, true. Perhaps Francis will bring him along? But I did indeed send an invitation to your dear cousin, Lord Basildon. Has he not mentioned it to you?"


Aha, it seemed the girl had her heart set on this Lord Ranelagh? Interesting. Caroline smiled.


"I give you my word of honor, the man is yours then, I have never even heard of him, no offense to him or you. I am still so new to court afterall," Caroline declared.


"But...if you want him, then he simply must be invited then. I shall write an invite up as soon as we are done here and send it off. Tell me all about him, is he handsome?" Caroline really did want to know.


Just then the servant entered the room and bowed, Your ladyship."


"Ah yes, I would like something to drink for my guest and myself. Bring a bottle of port."


The man immediately departed to comply.


"Good port whilst we discuss good men, how much fun!" Caroline giggled as she motioned for Nicci to seat herself.

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It was incomprehensible to Nicolette that anyone could think poorly of Caroline, "You are modest." she accused as her friend alleged differently, "why you would cross the street to put coin in a beggar's cup, you are he loveliest lady I have met."


Caroline went on to explain why she felt as she did about the showboat that was the opera, namely for it was not her showboat. While Nicolette was not entirely convinced, there was no changing another's nature (not until the other was ready to change anyhow), and so she accepted her stance. Still, Caroline did, in her own gentle way, decide to consider wearing a sparkly hair comb to set herself a little apart.


"No sapphires?" A penny dropped, and Nicolette realised that Caroline's circumstances were humble. "La...then some other thing." Nicci knew well enough the challenges that came with an empty jewelry box. "Clever use of a ribbon perhaps?" For the longest time Nicci had worn a single ribbon about her throat in lieu of a necklace. These days she wore a pair of Huguenot crosses, a gift from a gentleman friend.


"Just for the party though." she grinned of Francis and John, "but we shall share them with turns other times yes?" as though the men were their playthings, the girls conspired.


"Ooh yes Lord Dundarg is so fine." Nicolette went on to agree, pausing, then adding, "and he looks even better naked! Last summer, at the beach, I saw him skinny dipping." round eyes regarded Caroline, would she be shocked? Nicolette had been a little shocked herself at the time, though mostly she'd been awfully interested in the lean and muscular machine.


Nicolette came to settle in a chair. "I would send the Duke his own Invite, I think it would be beneath him to tag along with Lord Kingston, tagging along is not his way." Nicolette did not hesitate to advise Caroline, doing so with good intentions. "La, but I shall remind my cousin of the party. He is a little bit distracted at the moment, and did not tell me about your invite. He has important business for the season, but surely he shall need some fun also."


There had been a time when she'd wondered if Caroline fancied her cousin, Nicolette watched her now as she talked about Louis, trying to see if there was any more than casual interest.


Accepting the splash of Port, Nicci kicked off her boots and curled her feet under her as they informally talked. "I'd love to see Lord Ranelagh again." wistfully spoken, though as she thought about it it might not be so wise. "Oh Caroline, he is just gorgeous. He is silver tonged, and quick of wit, he is a tease and he is also recklessly forward. And. Utterly Libertine, I dare say he's slept with half of court. But he's so adorable, I don't even care." she gave a day dreamy sigh. "And did I mention that his house is right next to Chelsea Physic, I dare say that when he wakes in the morning he can smell the physics fragrant herbs... he invited me to his bath once. You cannot know how many times I have regretted that I did not go."


Drawing her eyes from the dancing flames, she looked towards her friend and gave a small shrug, "But the time is not right for us yet. I have a career to make first... he would never marry a poor french girl with no dowry. But he might marry a woman with Royal favor."


Taking a sip of the Port, the second sip seeming very smooth and more-ish, Nicci then asked her friend, "Why do you not want another marriage, was it truly terrible?"

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"You are simply overrating me, I try my best to have nothing to do with beggars," Caroline smiled as she waved her hand in dismissal of Nicci's compliments, "but I thank you for your rather high opinion of me."


"No sapphires...at least so far," Caroline fully admitted. She probably could buy something like that but it was now more the obstacle of no time to go shopping than monetary reasons, she was well enough off financially. At least her miserable husband hadn't been poor, thank the Lord.


On they went on a more entertaining subject for the both of them, the men who would hopefully making their appearance at her upcoming party. Francis and John were discussed first. The two young ladies easily came to an agreement on them it seemed.


"Yes, I shall not be greedy. Sharing seems only fair, my dear," Caroline nodded.


Then the servant returned with the bottle of port and two crystal glasses which he effortlessly filled then departed once it was apparent his employer had no further requests of him. Caroline waited until Nicci choose her glass then took the other, raising it to the other girl.


"To sharing men," she giggled then drank.


Nicci then revealed she had once witnessed Lord Dundarg completely naked, swimming and admitted he was a very delightful sight in all his natural splendor. Caroline was amused, imagining there was quite the story behind that occasion too should the other French girl wish to add to it. Nicci had moved on to other males though, first advising her to send an invitation to Buckingham herself and also promising to remind her cousin of the party. She also mentioned this Ranelagh fellow and was obviously smitten with the man the way she talked. So he was a libertine who slept around. Caroline believed Nicci of course but so far her own encounters with libertines were....more sedate than liberal in her inexperienced opinion. Did everyone sleep around but her, Caroline wondered glumly for just an instant. Was there something wrong with her, at least in mens' eyes?


"Ahh, well he sounds....fascinating, this Ranelagh but I have a question. Do you know anything about how he might feel toward you?" she felt she could be most forward with Nicci now that they knew each other.


Nicci's answer revealed she might be interested in marriage with the man. If that is what she really desired, Caroline hoped she would get her wish.


"I shall invite him then...to help you in your noble quest," she hastily promised.


Nicci suddenly asked her a fairly bold question also, though fair enough given the pair of them were having a frank discussion between friends. Caroline paused as she debated just how much she should tell the other girl.


"Oh, someday I believe I will want to get married again. But not yet....I mean I am but nineteen and find myself really living for the first time as it were...London and the court is such an adventure so far. I do not want to be tied down to a husband and possibly stuck back in some lonely boring manorhouse," Caroline began.


"Now as for my first marriage," she sighed then continued, "It was arranged of course by our fathers for their purposes. My husband did not like me at all from the very start and he made no effort whatsoever to ...well...be a husband. Nicci, if I tell you something, will you give me your word you will not spread this to anyone else?"

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"Well no, it is not your charity work that enamors me to you, " With a little laugh Nicci admitted, "it is... well," she tried to think what it was that set Caroline apart from ladies like Cordelia(who set Nicci on edge), and her eyes cleared as she realized exactly what it was. "You are not at all judgmental. That is very rare, dearest Caroline." And which was perhaps the first indicator of a Libertine spirit.


She laughed again happily, clinking glasses with the toast. "Shall we promise, if we ever become at odds of a gentleman, then we shall talk about it together, yes?" Nicci did not want to loose this friendship, and was certain that she'd rather bow out of a contest over a man in order to retain what she had with Caroline.


This free speaking friendship was very precious, there was nobody else she'd ever told about the day at the beach that she'd seen a bare Douglas. Or admitted quite how strong her crush on Ranelagh was - and it felt so good to admit these things to another woman, who would understand. More than that, help her to understand the situation herself. Caroline's leading question gave Nicci pause to think.


A sip of port was taken as she again thought, though eventually shook her head. "I do not know truely. He has been lovely company when I have met him, but he has never sought me out, written, or sent a message." lifting her eyes she gave a lop sided smile. "He is my dream, but I am not his." it saddened her a little to admit this, but it was better to know, better to admit truths to oneself. "But everyone is allowed to dream, yes?"


Another sip of port, and another step deeper into conversation. Intensely personal, intensely private, intensely real. Nodding, Nicolette replied, "You want to be yourself, or even discover yourself. You are free, you wish to fly." or so empathy with Caroline advised her.


It was good for Nicci to hear another woman's reasons to avoid marriage, Nicci had argued against the concept when Lisa proposed it, so was pleased to hear a further augment in the negative. Even though, in the end Nicci had seen the reason in securing a good match eventually, means for her to the later years.


Caroline's first marriage sounded... well disappointing really. Nicolette's expression shifted in empathy, and setting down her glass she reached and squeezed Caroline's hand. "I promise." softly said, she had a hunch of what awfulness Caroline wanted to admit, wanted to purge, "did... did he beat you?"

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Nicci declared her to be not at all judgmental and the other girl found that rare and very dear. Caroline nodded, "Merci. I try not to be. We all have our imperfections. And what are seen by some as defects may well be appraised by others as qualities."


Caroline was thinking of how shocking libertines were to many people yet how she herself coveted being included in that controversial grouping. Their glasses clinked as Nicci proposed they discuss any disagreements they might ever have over the common men in their lives. She liked that idea.


"Yes, I believe we should be able to solve any such foolishness if we just talk about it," she agreed.


Nicci's infatuation with this Ranelegh so far sounded one sided on her part but mayhaps Caroline inviting the man might give the pair of them a chance to actually have a long conversation and from there on , who knew what might come about?


"If he accepts my invite, do not fail to take advantage of his presence now, Nicci. Jump him and sink your claws into him," Caroline grinned but while not literal, she actually was mostly serious.


Speaking of serious, Nicci asked about Caroline's marriage and she felt secure enough in her friendship with Nicci to answer it with a large helping of truth. The other girl already knew it had been an unhappy and short marriage. Still, Caroline asked her to swear to keep what she heard to herself and Nicci pledged she would, now holding her hand in sympathy. Nicci was wrong though in her next assumption.


"Oh no, he did not hit me at all...for that would mean paying attention to me. It was almost if I was not even there for him...even when we were in the same room. And the first few conversations were painful ...almost forced. We disagreed on most things. I recall very well his first...and only promise to me 'leave me to my privacy and I promise I shall not bother you in any way'."


Caroline glanced then into Nicci's eyes to get a reading then continued, "I soon found out something...you see, my dear Nicci, my husband had eyes, and other parts of him, only for boys not women. He was perverse in his tastes. We never even ....consummated our marriage."


She tried not to be embarrassed, even ashamed but there it was. It was out now, she could not take that admission back.

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It was a lovely thought. The words held a ring of truth to them, as though deeper in her mind she already knew this, though she'd never heard the words articulated. Eyes softening, she felt an extra warmth towards Caroline for this discovery of her wisdom. "Hmm... and what of the things we judge ourselves of, in the secret of the heart?" she asked quietly.


This growing and precious friendship was then safeguarded with a toasted pledge - they would not let men come between then, but would talk. And they did love to talk! Ranelagh for instance. And Caroline had some advice.


Nodding energetically Nicolette agreed, "I would do everything I could, that when he awakes the next day, he does think of me this time." Still that was easier said than done, when Nicci's true belief in herself was not so great. She paused then, and perhaps her friend could see the uncertainty in her eyes. "Well, at least I shall try."


Deeper into serious topics, Nicolette soon discovered her glass was dry, and shifted to refill her own, and Caroline's. A difficult confession loomed. Nicolette knew it an honor that Caroline wanted to tell her something that was plainly painful to her, that she wished to confide in her like only a truest friend would. "Yes?" she softly encouraged.


She'd not expected that revelation though. "He was like the Duc Orléans!" Came her surprised hiss, shock then sympathy moved across her face. "And you... left neglected."


How awful that must have felt. It must have been like when Nicci's sweetheart had not appeared for their rendezvous where she'd promised to... ;except even worse. Looking to Caroline's face she recognized the emotion she there saw. Discarding her glass Nicolette moved without thought to hug Caroline, "it is not your fault, you are beautiful, you are lovely, he was just an, an..." she wanted to say the horrible-est words she could think of as she felt defensive anger for the man who had not given Caroline, darling Caroline, a second thought.


Drawing apart she expressed, "It must have been awful, to wait with fear of the wedding night, and then..." she halted, letting Caroline tell the rest of her tale. It was good to get these sort of things out, how long had she been holding it all in?

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"It is said that almost all people judge themselves the hardest of all, that sometimes proves quite unfair," Caroline came back with something she herself had heard and thought it most likely true.


The fellow Nicci was intrigued with was going to be invited and Nicci promised to do her very best to win him over.


"Yes, try your best and then fate decides, correct?" Caroline shrugged, at times a fatalist at heart.


Then came the discussion turned revelation by Caroline of her disastrous marriage to a man who was not merely indifferent to her but depraved in his real tastes. If Caroline was worried that Nicci would recoil from her at this admission, she need not have been. Instead the other girl set her glass down, met her own sad eyes tearing up now even if Caroline hadn't wanted that to happen, and hugged her. Caroline practically melted into the hug, very appreciative of the much needed sympathy, it was a secret she had borne alone all this time.


"Thank you, Nicci, thank you," she babbled in between sobs and sniffs until they parted and Nicci asked another question.


"No, there was no fear that wedding night, only shock and anger and wondering if I was ...well did not measure up to what he wanted in a woman. You see he told me that very night he had no intention of lying with me then, though I did not find out the details of why til later. He hugged one side of the bed, me ...I lay there staring up at the ceiling so confused. I had been taught you must consummate the marriage."


"At first I thought...or rather I convinced myself he was simply very shy but would build up to it. But no, nothing happened. I grew desperate and once I completely undressed and paraded thus before him one evening in the hopes of stirring him to action....you know what he said?" she paused before finishing, "Put some clothes on, you think yourself some London strumpet?"


"I was completely utterly humiliated," she sighed, she would never forget that night.

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Since they were soul bearing, sharing. "You judge yourself too?" Nicolette asked, knowing that she herself certainly did. "Mmm, like, sometimes I annoy myself, I hear what I say to others, and it seems too much...ahh...sugar?" she confessed. Caroline's pragmatic outlook was valued all the more by Nicci in contrast, her vision seemed so clear therein, and her words trustwothy.


Much of their conversation then fell into insignificance, as Caroline told her a secret that now threatened to undo her. Nicolette had never imagined she'd see the strong woman in tears, but into a mess Caroline now dissolved, Nicci's embrace all there was to support her. Holding her, her heart went out to her friend. "This is why you seem so strong, because you had to be." she whispered into Caroline ear. "That pig. That Ass. That horrible man." Nicolette coudn't even imagine how it must have felt to try seduce the man so desperately, so brazenly, then to be rejected. While nobody wished for pity, Nicolette felt very sorry for Caroline then, there were many sobs to follow, Nicci held her tight till the worst of them begun to ebb...


Stroking her hair she whispered softly, "Sweet heart Caroline, love is still to find you, take heart." she drew away enough to see the others face, and smoothed a stray of lock away from Carolines emotion ravaged face. "Soon your question shall be do you want just one or many lovers. London Strumpet, pah, is that even a bad thing?" she gave a little smile, hoping to cheer her, "I plan to be a Whitehall Strumpet, it is the very fashionable thing!" she held Caroline's gaze, then upon the strangest whim bent forwards and kissed Caroline on the lips, tentatively, determined, wanting to erase all the bad memories.

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"Of course I judge myself, often quite harshly," Caroline found that easy to admit to.


"Nothing wrong with sugar. I think you a very sweet person, Nicci. But not shallow, not at all," she complimented the other girl.


The next few minutes Caroline then confided in the other Frenchwoman as much as she dared about her sham of a marriage and her humiliation by her now deceased husband. Nicci embraced her gently and allowed her to sob a bit, it was a welcome release, both sad and relieving at the same time. Nicci also was full of insults for the man, not that Caroline minded in the least. She had called him far worse. Finally she was done with the tears, having calmed down and gotten it out of her. Nicci picked a lock of her hair out of Caroline's face and assured her she would someday find love. Caroline wasn't so certain.


"I know one can have many partners but do you really think you can have more than one lover? Unless you and I are using the word in a different light?" Caroline wondered then returned the smile, "Right now I would settle for even one lover."


Nicci rather happily declared her intention to be a Whitehall strumpet and then did something Caroline had no idea was coming. Nicci moved in close and kissed her right on the lips! Caroline did not resist but rather froze. It's not that she was repelled by Nicci's gesture, no, she was too fond of her for that. But it just wasn't what she had expected and she needed a moment to adjust. When the kiss broke up, she eyed the other girl.


"That was most kind of you but it is my luck that is my first kiss and it wasn't even a man who gave it to me. Please, dearest Nicci, tell me that was not done out of pity? I don't want you to pity me. I am strong, I have managed quite well since his demise and I am confident I will continue to do so. Especially with friends like you at my side," she took Nicci's hand in hers and gave it a light squeeze.

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Not shallow. Those words were such a relief, Nicolette did fret that people might think she was just another paper thin flatterer. She gave a grateful smile.


"La, I cannot know truly," she replied of that question, "perhaps it is different for everyone? My cousin, he loves his wife with great devotion. Me, I have not loved that way, but I have loved many. Mmm, though I too have never known ... ah... intimacy, but maybe soon. Perhaps it changes after that? Really, I hope not, for I am happy to love many and often." so she claimed, then smiled, "Like right now I am in love with perhaps a half dozen gentlmen! They are like flavours in a kitchen, this one daring, that one wise, this one so tender, and that one ambitious. There ware so many wonderful qualities gentlemen can have, with each one I feel a different sort, a special joy."


Perhaps Nicci was shallower than she wanted to admit, or perhaps she had a mental block, subconscious or deliberately built, that prevented her from truly falling in love. Or perhaps she'd just not met 'the one' yet.


"What sort of love do you wish for then, if not this?" when Caroline had in the past said she did not want to marry any time soon, Nicci had thought that it was for similar reasons that she had. That to choose just one, excluded all the rest.


Yet then in a moment of empathy, Nicolette did the peculiar, she kissed Caroline quite properly - it was done on a whim, without thinking, and as she broke apart with a smile -- she realised she'd stunned the other. She'd gifted Caroline concern, not happiness.


Her friend then spoke quickly, and clasped her hand so as not to offend. Still, Nicci gave a pout and repeated, "Not even a man?" It was not a compliment that was for certain. Still, she shrugged it off and smiled again, "It was not pity, dearest friend, I just... wanted to. La. I shall confess that over many years, there have been many kisses I have not given. I ws so busy caring for my reputation, but to what end? My time, it is running short now, I am 24 already, but I have barely lived. I am not saying no to myself any more." she tipped her head only fondness for Caroline in her eyes.

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Now Nicci surprised her with her stunning comment she too had yet to know intimacy. She had overestimated the girl then, what with all her talk of men and all the many ones she liked, loved, or was interested in. In a strange way that almost made Caroline feel better about herself then and her own frustrations although she truly did not want Nicci to be happy and fulfilled. She loved her enthusiasm too about it all.


"You make it sound almost like a banquet," Caroline smiled, her mood recovering from the temporary sadness. She just had to learn to get past it for good! If that was even possible though.


Nicci now asked about her views on love. Or at the least, the sort of love she was looking for. It was a good question, she paused as it was worthy of some thought before speaking.


"Well, I do not hope to be a widow all my life. I should desire a husband sometime...but not now. Or if it turns out my second husband and I do not love each other, at least he does not mistreat me. And then of course there might be children. I am torn on that part. I do like children ...sometimes but I am not certain I could ever be the mother my mother was to me."


"For now I would settle for a man willing to ....well, you know," she thought the rest of her unspoken remark quite obvious.


What happened next Caroline was totally not expecting, Nicci kissed her full on the lips. Though not horrified she was a bit stunned before replying. Apparently Nicci seemed almost slighted by her words, not what she had meant to convey.


"No, no, if any female was ever to kiss me such at that, I would have wanted it to be you," she assured the other girl, then gave her a quick hug hopefully giving further evidence she was not slighting her friend.


"That is the spirit, Nicci, I understand how you feel. Live your life as you want to while you can, I say," Caroline nodded agreement.


Caroline then blinked, "And you are 24? Why you do not look it, you look younger? I am 19."

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Caroline was briefly surprised of Nicci's own admission, that, along with the rest of Nicci's efforts, did seem to be lifting her mood. "It is a banquet." she laughed pleasure of the perfect simile, "with every dish to be enjoyed, we do not need to put only one thing only on our plate, and some simply admiring them is quite enough... or all we are able to do." Here she was thinking of gentlemen like the marvelous Lord Daventry, whom she adored, but who resisted giving her anything more than a fatherly kiss.


And so Nicci asked was sort of love she wished for, and Caroline spoke around the topic a little before finally admitting. It was understandable that she was so intent upon it, when she'd denial of the physical had been such a focus in her marriage, still, Nicci had a moment of understanding then, and thought of Lucas, who'd once advised her on the very same subject (just before their friendship broke up).


"Shall I tell you what a gentleman once told me... that perhaps it will not be all you imagine, that perhaps it will be a disappointment." she bit her lip. Remembering how she had felt when Lucas had told her that, and wondering if he'd actually meant what she now thought he meant. It was not the be all and end all. "And, another gentleman, today, told me that there is much more to it than being a good..." Nicci's cheeks pinked, "fuck." But Buckingham had said the word, so it must be fine enough to say (in private in least). "And another gentleman told me that the game of seduction is much before any of that."


"Mmm... but for all of that, if you just want it done, I think I know a gentlman who would jump of the chance. If you really want it over." she paused, then added of Caroline's other concerns, "and I have a herbal blend that ladies use to, stop babies."


A kiss/an emotional reaction/ and then an explanation, followed by a hug.


Nicci laughed it off, more so as Caroline turned about to encourage her with 'that's the spirit'. "Then be warned that I might kiss you again!" Nicolette warned poking out her tongue. While in fact she'd not want to shock Caroline again.


"You are kind to say, but yes, 24. Perhaps it is the help of the face cream that I make?" she chuckled, "In France I never married, my situation there was... not so good. Truly I wish I'd come to England years ago. My Cousin is a kind guardian, he has even said that if I ever convince Lord Ranelagh to marry me he will provide a dowry." Whoops, she'd not meant to slip back onto that topic. "But for now, you know my hope for the future is set upon the King. If I could gain that honor, it would not matter that I have nothing." It was scary to have just one plan, if if failed, there was no plan B. Her pitch of voice rose a little as her throat tightened, "The English King laughed of my jokes did I tell you? He seemed to enjoy my company, that day last summer." That had been months ago now, did he remember her?

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Nicci knew what she was talking about and even had some gentleman's advice she was once told. Perhaps the fellow was right? Mayhaps it would not be all she was certainly hoping it would be but she still wanted to at the very least find out so she could judge for herself. Caroline had to giggle a little at her use of the vulgar word, not that she herself minded the vulgarity.


"Nicci, my poor virgin ears," she grinned.


"Now as for that game of seduction, I should like to partake of that game. Win or lose, at least play it," Caroline used the analogy.


Nicci now claimed to know someone who would jump at a chance at this sort of thing which of course intrigued Caroline even as the other girl added she knew of a herbal blend to prevent unwanted pregnancies.


"Ah a good thing to know....wait, who is this fellow? He is not some vulgar filthy commoner who visits brothels is he?"


There were definitely limits to her willingness to submit, she did have her standards.


Caroline complimented the girl on her youthful looks, which Nicci modestly attributed to some skin crème.


"Nonsense, it is you...not something you slather over yourself," Caroline did not accept that.


And then Nicci made a huge revelation. She was aiming high, she was interested in the King? Caroline blinked in surprise.


"Goodness, Nicci, you are most ambitious. I had no idea. So at least you talked with him once? That's good, I suppose. And he was amused? Excellent!"


Honestly to her it seemed awfully slim grounds for such high hopes but she would never tell her friend that. Let her have her dreams. Caroline was thankful her own ambitions were much more practical or at least she hoped they were.

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Caroline's grin as she protested, only encouraged Nicci, "It is not your ears you should cover." she teased, "or, uncover, that is." she giggled too then, it being such an unlikely conversation, and them both being in similar predicament.


But simply lifting skits was not the game, they were not whores. It was the game of seduction they wanted to play. Nicci nodded, "It is not an easy thing to encourage a well bred gentleman to trying for an advantage from us, to seduce him away from his honor, for, la, it is not honorable to debauch a virgin." she gave a sigh and a knowing look to her friend.


"His name is John Churchill, not common, though I would not be surprised if he does visit brothels at all. He is very lovely though, extremely, he took me on a walk once, and we kissed. And... well his hands roamed, and I knew he wanted more. At the time I was.. I got a fright. I shooed him off. But. Well, he is a gentleman who is more... ah... indulgent of his desires, yes? And truly, he did talk very nicely. I think. He would be kind."


"Darling Caroline, thank you." Nicci squeezed her hand again then, the compliment of a youthful spirit was gratefully received, more so as Nicolette became vulnerable making an admission of her plans. She well knew her hopes were precarious, balanced atop so many interdependant factors; the alliance with Buckingham, Kingston, Basildon, but then there was Ernle, his success could disassemble the pact; all of that before she factored in the cat fights that the women of court would enter.


Nicolette drew a low breath, and as lowly exhaled.


"We must believe in ourselves darling." and she gave Caroline a smile. "Now. You said you would show me your dress? Come, I want to see!"

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"Uncover? Ohhh, I understand," Caroline laughed.


"Of course he would not know that I was a virgin, he would think me a merry widow," she also pointed out to Nicci's next assessment.


Caroline was curious and asked just who this fellow was. Nicci was quite willing to share about the man. John Churchill - well of course Caroline had heard of him though she had never met that particular lord. Nicci had apparently felt he moved too fast for her comfort though she did think he would be kind. Something about it though, Caroline did not wish to push it.


"Thank you for telling me about him. I will, of course, keep him in mind," she allowed.


The conversation moved on to Nicci's great ambition to be with, of all people, His Royal Majesty himself. Caroline could not be but supportive for she did like the girl but it seemed very much a case of overreaching. Still, she kept that to herself only giving encouragement.


Finally then Nicci asked about that dress Caroline had promised to show her earlier. Yes it was probably a good time to conclude what had been a most forthright discussion between friends. And Caroline fully realized that having been able to share her secret, well most of it, had been like lifting a burden off of her shoulders.


"Very well, let us go upstairs then and I will show it to you. Be honest in your opinion too for I do value it," Caroline set her now empty glass down and stood up.


ooc: What do you think? Wrap this one up?

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Nicolette bit back the comment, but then relented anyway and said it, "It is a surprising situation... a merry widow who has never, mmm, ahh, ...do you think you shall tell your gentlemen before he. Mmm. Uses his prick?" Nicci might have picked up a few less-than-poetic terms from Heathers book.


Caroline's reply upon John Churchill was lukewarm, Nicci looked at her intently a moment, trying to judge if it was only shyness? "I will try to introduce you to him, and you can be your own judge of his character. The only thing negative I can say of him, is that although after I scolded him, he did walk me home with further kind words, but he did not contact me again. But, perhaps I wounded his pride, I do not hold that against him. It was my fault." she confessed, "but too, do you see, it means he did not want anything more from me. He will not press for a marriage you do not want."


Then like a tap was turned, they were ready to move on to lighter subjects; dresses jewelry, and hair styles. Make no mistake Nicci had an opinion on them all, and delighted in sharing it with Caroline, who's opinions were just as well defined - till at long length it was time for her to leave.


Now back in the foyer, Nicolette reached to squeeze Caroline's hands to bid farewell. "Good luck tonight, dear friend, I hope you have a wondrous time. I will look for you afterwards, yes?" air kisses were given to cheeks.

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