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Foursies | 27th 4ish- Xmas 1677

Nicolette Vauquelin

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Nicolette had dallied with the idea of calling Lady Ablemarle at that most fashionable hour for visiting. It had been so very long now since they had spoken - whatever had happened with that strange man the Count? And of course, she liked to flirt with her husband, the Duke was elusive in the most intriguing of ways, Nicolette found the challenge irresistible!


However as the carriage turned down Piccadilly upon its way to Pall Mall, she caught sight of a house with drapes unfurled. Lady Gowran! Nicolette had not seen Diana at the ball, and had not realsied she was attending this season. Tugging the bell pull she summoned the city-carriage to a stop!


Pray that the lady of the house was in!


#38 - Residence of the Earl of Gowran

The residence is separated from the bustle of the street by a five foot tall brick wall. A carriage arch with ornate wrought-iron gates leads into the modest but elegant front garden. A gravel driveway forks towards a small stable with an attached carriage house. The facade of the two-story townhouse itself is plastered with lime, and the fashionable sash windows have been painted black for contrast. Above the massive walnut wood double door is a balcony with a wrought-iron balustrade, supported by four pillars, creating a small portico.


Rapping upon the door, Nicolette took pause as she waited to savor new fox fur coat - furs really did make all of the difference, and to think she had a white one at home also! Her gentlmen friends were so generous. Life, it was wondrous.


Her eyes were shining with joy of the season as she turned to the door-opening servant. "Is Lady Gowran in?" she passed her card, content to await the rote of card carrying to the Mistress of the House.

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The door was opened promptly by short, rotund sort of fellow with rosy cheeks and thinning crown of white hair. Taking the card, he nodded and showed Nicolette through the door, and into the parlor. Pausing at the door, he motioned for Nicolette to enter first.


"It'll be but a moment for me ta check if her ladyship is not occupied." The man paused at the door and his hand making a sweeping gesture into the room, her card still in hand. "Might I take your coat, Mistress Vauquelin?" He asked, eyeing the grand fur.

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Momentarily tempted to keep hold of her coat, Nicolette embarrassed it possessively before relinquishing the gorgeously deep piled garment with a sigh. "Do be careful of it." she watched her fur exit the room... then turned to see the entertaining space of lady Gowran.


It was charming in that uniquely English way, a room they would call a 'parlour', Lisa had one as well. I shall have one too one day. Nicolette's ultimate dream was still to marry Ranelagh for his mansion next to Chelsea Physic. Probably there was a Parlour sitting there idle waiting for her to decorate it, or possibly the outrageously charming man already had it brimming with beauties and tea-parties.


Nicolette settled, pondering tea parties, and wondering if she'd perhaps leave him to those and occupy herself somewhere else instead. Tea parties had a tendency to get a little manic, the last one she'd attended had been a horror.

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“Yes ma’m.” The man took the coat and left Nicolette to her own devices as he stored the coat and sent word to his mistress.


“Send in some of those strawberry and buttermilk biscuits if there are any left and some tea, Mary.” The words would have been perfectly clear if the sound of the door handle hadn’t clicked the same time as she’d spoken. Some sort of acknowledgement was made and Diana entered the parlour. Her gaze found Nicolette instantly and her smile widened.


“My, my! If it is not the Lady of Misrule, herself.” Diana teased her friend before sweeping into the room with her typical haughty grace. “I saw you at the ball and I must say… you looked quite at home being the belle of the ball!” She grinned and reached out to kiss her favorite Frenchie’s cheek. “I am glad you stopped by, how have you been?”


Motioning for Nicolette to sit where she pleased, as a petite little redhead with pixie features, clearly of Irish descent brought in the refreshments and tea and sat it on cart faded back out of the room and to parts unknown in the house leaving the two ladies to their privacy.

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"Did you think so?" Nicolette beamed that Diana had thought she looked just the part, being French Nicolette had a very keen sense of appearances.


"I am very well thank you." With warmth of seeing each other after such an absence, Nicolette moved to catch Lady Gowrans finger tips to give dual air kisses, and chuckled as Diana actually placed one upon her cheek. "La, but I've no need to ask after yourself, why you are simply blooming!" Could Diana be the exception to the rule, and be in a marriage that actually enhanced her happiness?!


"I am glad you do not mind my impromptu visit, I was just passing by and... well!" Nicci settled to a seat, "but my, how all our lives seem to be changing. Tell me then of Ireland? Did you summer with daisy chains in your hair, and braids fashioned all very Celtic, why whatever it is it seemed to raised the glint of sprite or nymph to your eyes Lady Gowran, and if I might say, you truly suit it!"


The trolley arrived, Nicolette barely paused, with that certain confidance that anything said within the rooms would not reach the streets. Besides, it was hardly scandalous conversation. "Black tea with honey please." the Frenchwoman asked.

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“Would I have said so if I’d not thought so?” Diana chuckled, it was moments like this that she could definitely see the family resemblance between the young french lady and Basildon. Both relished compliments.


“C'est merveilleux!” It was rare that Diana got to practice her French. “I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that I am blooming but things are quite well for me.” Her pinkened cheeks from her morning ride grew a shade rosier with the compliment.


With a wave of her hand, “No, of course I do not mind. You are always welcome here.” Tucking a strand of flaxen colored hair behind her ear she snuck a cheeky look at her friend as she asked about Ireland. Her lips twitched and gave a small shrug, “Ireland was…” Her lips twitched again giving away to a smile. “Ireland was quite a bit better then I had imagined, but I must say your idea of my summer sounds even better than it was. I think a white daisy chain would be quite flattering…”


The cart arrived and Diana waited until they were alone before she stepped over to the cart and started to pour the tea and added honey to it at the request of Nicolette.


“Biscuit? They are simply addictive, my husband’s cook is from Ireland and this is one of her personal recipes. They are made with strawberry preserves and buttermilk.” She passed the cup of tea to Nicolette and set the biscuits within grasp as she turned back and poured her own cup of tea adding some warm cream to hers and stirring as she turned back around and went to sit nearby.


“So, what have I missed while I was off playing Isolde and braiding daisy crowns?! How have you spent your time?” Diana asked cheekily.

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"But I did not mean blooming in that way." Nicolette added, "your figure is neat as a pin."


Settling, Nicolette rearranged her skirts so as not to crush, then tittered as Diana gushed of Ireland happily. "Next you shall surprise me and say you have learnt to milk cows and make cheese, are taking a basket making class, and swapping recipes with locals. Heavens, and I had ever thought you the most cosmopolitan of ladies!" she teased, appreciating that Diana was as surprised of her love of Ireland as anyone might have been.


"... mmm, but perhaps it is less Ireland, and more something else?Perhaps you'd be fond of love with Hades if that was where Lord Gowran's estate was!" Nicolette accused Diana of being in utterly smitten with her husband.


Fine porcelain and silverware clinked and clattered as they arranged their cups. "Thank you." Nicolette accepted a biscuit to nest next to her cup on the saucer. "And you can give me a copy of the recipe if I wish?" she endeavored to keep a straight face, but it did not last. "Pray, where is my fiend, what have you done with her?!"


"Me? Well... Lord Basildon has purchased an Apothecary in Friday Street, which has absorbed much of my attention. As you know, I adore the herbal arts. And I visited Lady ORoarke during the recess, then had Lady Kendishall to stay with us. It was all rather sociable, which was quite what I needed after the Seasons end had me a little upset."


Nicolette made a judgment call to bring up Davina. Or at least, was contemplating bringing up Davina. Lifting cup to her lips, she blew across the broody waters before taking a small sip with a raise of her eyebrow.

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“Just in what way did you mean?” Diana blinked a couple of times, and tried not to laugh as Nicolette complimented her on her figure. Diana already quite knew she’d not changed much in that form.


Of course she gushed about Ireland! What good would it do her to complain about it? It was what it was. The social event calendar was rather limited there and the people were on a whole an entirely different sort but then… Diana was not faint of heart. A bark of laughter escaped and she shook her pretty head.


“Hardly, Gowran estate was quite different than what I was expecting. I was almost positive that there would be sheep in my bedroom. It was quite a retreat, a bit of a haven from the world if you would.” Diana admitted and added. “Oh, there is only one way to do away with you skepticism! You must visit.” Her grin widened at the thought, liking it even more. “Yes, I am quite set upon it now, there is not getting away from it.”


Pursing her lips, Diana gave a cheeky shrug of her shoulders. “Perhaps, you are right… I wouldn’t care where Lord Gowran’s estate was… But you have seen him haven’t you?” Diana snickered a little, “La! The man can fill out a pair of breeches.” She wagged her brows at her friend and laughed as she teased. “So… if you’ve not noticed my husband’s spectacular backside… who’s backside has caught your eye?” The French beauty hadn’t married yet and she had Basildon in her corner… had she wanted to be married, Diana didn’t doubt for a moment she’d have been married.


“Not a chance at getting a copy of that recipe.” Diana said with mock solidarity. “I… don’t even have a copy of the recipe.” She sighed and took a sip of her tea as Nicolette caught her up with what was the latest news. Her cup paused half way back into the saucer as Diana stared at Nicolette for a long moment as if she’d grown a second nose.


“Lord Basildon purchased an Apothecary?” That was news to her. Not news that he’d was venturing out but she’d not really pictured him owning an apothecary shop. Nicolette’s acquaintance with Lady O’Roarke and Lady Kendishall only furthered her idea that her little friend was not serious about marriage. They weren’t exactly the sort of ladies a woman worried about her reputation might encourage a deeper relationship with, they were both widows - their standards were different. She didn’t linger to long on that, instead she was more curious about how the season had ended.


“Sounds like I missed something a bit more than simply Lord Basildon buying an Apothecary.” She murmured. “See… this is why not you should not marry a pretty in a pair of breeches and be swept off to Ireland. What happen at the end of last season?”

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"That you are not aglow with child." Nicolette clarified with a smile.


"Visit Ireland?" Nicolette was surprised with the invitation. It would involve another voyage on the sea, and while it was her mother and not Nicci that was petrified of ocean travel, Nicolette too did not entertain it lightly. And. Where was the ambition in spending time in Ireland, she'd put so much effort into her goals, heading off to Ireland would be like giving up.


"It is so lovely of you to offer, but I have so much on, I have a future to make. You have a your future settled now, and might do simply as you please, but I do not have that leisure. I must attend to my interests, lest they all be lost." Diana knew how things were surely. Would understand.


Filling out a pair of breeches? Her eyes widened as she misunderstood, than thank heavens, before she said anything, Diana expended on that thought. "Actually, I have not noticed his posterior." the french miss said, feeling rather uncertain of the conversations direction. It was a bit more grown up than she was usually privy to. But then it came out, that Diana was prepping her for her own revelation. Relaxing with a laugh Nicolette replied, "Why would I ever settle upon just one? I admire so very many gentlmen, why I think I am a collector of love affairs, even if nothing ever comes of them most. Every gentleman has something to adore about them, when you look. Why, I am even in love with the most reckless rogue, whom happens to have an address that I adore - and eyes that twinkle so when he teases."


Nicolette had not actually wanted the recipe, but then found it amusing as Diana explained the possibility impossible. “My, so you and she both are very attached to these ratios of strawberry preserves and buttermilk?" she rose eyebrow repressing a grin.


"Well. It was during the King's walk in the gardens, I managed my way into the Royal group and was flirting wildly with him. My, it is such a joy to make a King laugh and crow! Yet barely had I begun my sport, when Lady Davina rushed into the group in that busy body way of hers. Taking advantage of my having warmed the royal humors, she became swept up into a game of royal chase - in which I and she by default, played part of nymph, and he the part of hunter. And the prize for the hunter woudl be kisses."


She gave a pause - it was probably a mistake to say this to Davina's cousin.


"Naturally, I allowed myself to be caught first - while she had darted off into actual hiding." Nicci rolled her eyes in the memory of how triumphant she'd briefly felt, only to be outsmarted by the other woman's cunning. "But then, the moment His Majesty was going to claim his reward there was screaming. I was dropped like a hot cake, as his Majesty ran to her protection. As all of court there that day, ran past me to save Mistress Wellesley.


"Yes, so, it was very embarrassing." Nicci hated to think of it even now, months after. She decided not to tell Diana the rest of it, that Lord maldon had later revealed.


"La, but did you see at the Ball? Oh I hope Mistress Wellesley saw. I at last claimed my kiss from the King." it had been a triumph to Nicci, even if it had been a bit lost amongst so much mistletoe and kissing all about.


"Mmm... but you must have a tale to tell also. Why did you disappear - I truly missed you?!"

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Nicolette’s clarification produced a wider, teasing smile from the countess.


It did bruise Diana’s ego a little that Nicolette turned down her offer to visit Ireland. She’d misjudged the French miss. Perhaps, she was not the adventurer that Diana had first thought she’d been. At the same time, Diana understood that her friend’s prospects were extremely limited in a place as isolated as Ireland. There wasn’t much else for her to say other than to nod her head. “Well, the offer still stands should you ever wish to visit. You’ve but to let me know and we’ll arrange a grand time for you.”


Oh, but it was fun to surprise her friend! Diana fought the urge to laugh as Nicolette’s eyes widened. Lifting her tea innocently to her lips she took another sip and smiled over her cup. It was the best answer Nicolette could have said. If she’d answered differently Diana isn’t entirely sure just how she’d have reacted.


Raising a skeptical brow at her friend as she admitted she saw no point in settling with just one, spoke of collecting love affairs like some sort of romantic poet. Diana quite preferred quality to quantity when it came to love. It wasn’t that she expected fidelity or anything so nonsensical as the romantic ideas but there was something positively thrilling, something secure in being married to John. That security was something she’d lacked in her life, it was something that kept her grounded.


As Nicolette mentioned a gentleman who was reckless with twinkling eyes, Diana set her cup down and curiously watched her friend. “My, my… that does sound like an attractive combination.” Who was the mysterious man with twinkling eyes?


The conversation drifted towards last season’s end and Diana listened quietly. It hadn’t it taken much for Diana to figure out it was the King who the French miss was stuck on. Her lips turned down just a little as Nicolette continued. Davina was sweeping the King into games? My, my but he was getting around. Lady Toledo performing for just him. Mistress Vauquelin taken with his twinkling eyes. And now Lady Davina sweeping him off for games.


Had court altered her cousin so greatly. Lord Langdon. The King. Whom else was her cousin engaging in flirtations with?


Her frown deepened the more she considered it, every now and then throwing her companion a concerned glance. “There is nothing to be embarrassed of. My cousin is just full of surprises.” She murmured, a twinge of disapproval in her tone. Her tone softened and she continued, “But I must warn you, she isn’t the only one to be full of surprises I suspect… especially where men with reckless natures and twinkling eyes are concerned.”


She’d not seen the the kiss between the King and Nicolette, she had been…otherwise occupied herself. A flush of heat flooded her at the thoughts of her Christmas celebration at the ball. Jolting back to her senses after a few seconds she smiled and looked down at her cup that she’d reached out for without thinking again.


“I… One of my stockings must have loosened while I was dancing and I stepped out to right it before I caused some sort of incident.” Her lips twitched as she stared down at her tea - that was her story and she was sticking to it.

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Nicolette would have loved to gad off, discover new gardens, collect more cuttings - but her life was upon a knife edge. There was no stability of a place for her in England, though Louis had always been so kind, she was still just a house guest.


"Yes, a very attractive combination." Nicolette grinned, and then blinked as it occurred to her, "Why Lord Gowan probably knows him, for he too has an Irish estate." she resisted telling Diana the mans name just yet. Besides, she had many gentlmen who she adored to spend time with. Flirting, trying to make them want to kiss her, not that many did, but it was the sport of the game she enjoyed.


And then she told Diana about 'The Incident of the Kings Walk', as she'd come to think of it. Diana was appropriately dismayed, though for different reasons that Nicci. "Surprises, well that is true. I had no idea she was capable of such cleverness. When we'd spoken previously she acted like butter would not melt in her mouth." Davina had acted like a proper lady, and the lectures she gave Nicci were all high and mighty.


"Not the only one?" Nicolette voiced concern as Diana hinted at knowing something more about surprises. Knitting her fingers with worry, she leaned forwards in her seat to hear.


Upon the other thing, Diana had not seen the kiss with the King either. Nicolette gave a sigh, "I don't think anyone saw it actually." It was a bit disappointing that what had seemed like a high point, had gone by completely ignored by her peers. But Nicci was jaded enough to know that was simply the way of things, she could hardly expect anyones congratulations, and Diana was loyal to Davina after all. Still, she knew it had happened, and that counted for something.

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If Diana were completely honest, she knew all too well the sort of knife edge that Nicolette was balanced on. It had been the exact same knife that she’d balanced upon under Norfolk’s roof. She missed Henry being so nearby and Isabel’s frequent visits but that feeling of uncertainty and knowing that one wrong doing and you could be tossed out - those were things Diana knew all too well.


“Mmm… He sounds like the sort who would get along quite well with Lord Gowran.” She muttered in amusement with a soft shake of her head.


“Ha!” Diana laughed. “That was your first mistake, underestimating her cleverness.” Tucking a tendril behind her ear she leaned back into her chair and got comfortable. “I wish I could say that her behavior surprise me. She is clever…” She sighed, “I suspect she is getting a little nervous. It seems all the eligible men are getting married right and left. Lord Ogle just married, that is quite a blow for the single ladies of court. The King is a well known matchmaker, garnering his admiration and favor would be advantageous to her.” Had that not been how she’s gotten her husband?


Nicolette wouldn’t find any disagreement from Diana on Davina’s too cool to melt butter in her mouth attitude. She’d always thought Davina was a goodie two shoes… only after her marriage had things seem to thaw a little between the two. It was still quite up in the air how that would play out though.


She cleared her throat a little and shifted uncomfortably as she broke her idea to Nicolette. With a solemn nod of her head, “Well… that was how I understood it. When I asked the lady about it of course she denied it said it was not what she’d meant… what else was she too do though? One moment she was all but telling me that her husband didn’t take her seriously and then the next she was telling me that she thought the King appreciated her husband even more for allowing her to entertain the King with her talents. She suggested that the King enjoying them immensely would be the key to open all the right doors for Spain.” Arching her eyebrows a little, “Not to mention she made quite a point of saying that not everyone he wished to impress belonged to the proper circles… and that some of the most powerful courtiers were libertines.”


Diana bit her bottom lip anxiously, “Hardly a few moments later she wished for an introduction to some of the more polite society. What was I to do? I introduced her to my sister-in-law, Duchess of Ormonde… I am quite certain that Her Grace was rather reluctant but… at least I think I can explain myself to her over this and be at least somewhat forgiven.”


Lifting her tea to her lips as Nicolette sighed and seemed disappointed that Diana hadn’t seen the kiss. “Do not despair… if he is who you have your heart set upon for this season’s flirtation… keep in mind his not as young as he once was and you must be able to offer him something he can not find anywhere else.” One of the things she’d learned in her experience in dealing with the King, she decided to share. “Ma cherie, do not be so quick to throw away the allure of mystery with him. Feed the line out slowly let him have his fun and wicked ways of rescuing other ladies. Be patient, persistent, and most importantly be unique.”

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"I speak of Lord Ranelagh," Nicci finally admitted. He was her biggest crush really, the one she'd daydreamed she might ultimately marry. Fantasies were free.


With wince of her friends cry, Nicolette nodded her head. "I thought she was naive, her facade is very good." Yes shed been duped, even by Davina's claims of friendship. Though perhaps that explained part of why she'd become so upset that day at Sophia's - perhaps on some deeper level she'd realised Davina was feeding her lines.


"Is Lord Ogle married now?" which perhaps showed how little attention Nicci was paying to the marriage game. "who to?" but that was interesting if that game was fundamental to Davina. "So you think she might want the King to make her a match?" curious "Why would he do that?" What hold did Davina have over the King? Who knew. But Davina did seem to manage to get what she wanted.


It was becoming a most enlightening discussion, and then Diana begun upon the other 'surprising' woman. Nicolette listened, trying to piece together enough to figure out of whom she was speaking. Eye then flaring as she figured it out.


"Well, these two are best of friends." Nicolette had been invited to a tea with both of them present, and they had been very tight then. "Both with designs on the King?" Nicolette's spirits further sunk. "well who doesn't." she was feeling more the fool for thinking her goal was important. Really, every woman (and her husband in some cases) want to get between CR's sheets.


"Choices need to be made, libertine or proper, one society shall not embrace the others. It really surprises me how much the new Queen tolerates, I had thought her the sterner sort."


Nicci's emotions were simply too readable to Diana, who was keen enough to realise that Nicolette was yet another with royal aspirations. The Frenchwoman gave a nod at the advice, though for all of it she was feeling too embarrassed to say much more just then. "You hardly know how patient I have been, since last season summer I have written him anonymous love letters. The trouble is that the entertainment is far to effective, and he has no interest in discovering who the writer of those letters is. He'd forgotten the day of the walk in the park and unclaimed prize until I reminded him, I was entirely unmemorable." she gave a sigh. It really was hopeless, she had nothing unique to offer the King, what had she even been thinking.


"Ah, excuse me, but may I use the powder room." she found a need of a moment to herself, to try regather her composure.

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“Lord Ranelagh. Hmm... , I don’t think I’ve met him yet? I’d wager though that Lord Gowran knows him.” Diana tapped her chin with her index finger in thought then shrugged it off as something to pick John’s brain about later.


Her gaze softened to Nicolette, “It is always the ones you think you do not have to worry about that you have to worry about.” Diana’s lips thinned and she glanced away. How well she knew this…


“Mmm… or is it engaged? Heaven’s! I can’t keep track?” She frowned, “I wish Lord Arundel would find a wife… or at least he’d find some sort of distraction from our family.” She slumped a little in her chair. “I am not entirely sure I want to done the matron cap of playing matchmaker yet either.” At the question, of why would the King make the match her eyebrows rose a little curiously at the French miss.


“La! But he is one of court’s most notorious matchmakers…” Diana chuckled. “Why, it was him that arranged for the marriage to Lord Gowran.” She eyed her companion for a moment longer then sighed, “I believe he finds it a big game… either way he wins. If the pair end up making themselves miserable it is entertaining… and if the pair are happy well… then he can crow about how marvelous of a matchmaker he is. In the right sort of mood it would not take much to gain an influential husband from him.”


At the mention of Lady Toledo’s conversation and the change in Nicolette’s demeanor, Diana found herself growing quiet as she studied the lady. So it was the King that her friend wished to engage the attentions of… Diana didn’t suppose that was any great surprise. She’d have been lying if the thought had not crossed her mind at some time or another.


Things sort of poured of her friend and Diana simply listened and nodded her head occasionally. Shifting uncomfortably she wasn’t sure how to help in this matter.


Ah, excuse me but may I use the powder room…


Diana paused, “How many notes have you wrote to him?” Standing up, Diana fished in her pocket for her handkerchief and offered it to her friend in case it was needed. “I had thought the Queen would be sterner too, but believe she finds it easier just to look the other way.” Setting her tea down on the trolley, her hands fell to her hips. “I did not think the sort to be so concerned about whether or not if he forgot you.” She looked down at Nicolette. “He is but a man. Flesh and blood… if he won’t notice you trying to catch his attention… don’t try to catch it. Catch everyone else’s… Perhaps be the one that everyone wants, but no one can have…”


“Come. I’ll show you to the powder room. Give your cheeks a pinch and then we can plan your court domination if you would like my help, if not… I’ll show you my new puppy I was gifted… and you will not help but feeling better.” Truth was, Diana was bored, she needed something to keep her busy.

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"La, well I can tell you he is so fine," Nicolette sighed dreamily.


Though of Davina, it seemed like Diana thought her cousin needed a lesson - although perhaps that was only Nicci's viewpoint that shadowed her understanding. "Well... it could get interesting. There is a little contest you see." Nicolette at first hinted at, and then as Diana mentioned how the King loved to matchmake, Nicolette found herself expanding. "Matchmake indeed, the King is choosing a subject for a game of love in which she plays a part."


But the King had been matchmaker for Diana? "I did not know this! He is very good at this sport." Nicolette wagged finger at her friend and laughed, before sobering of the deeper ramifications. "Then that will be why he would not choose his contestant in our game lightly. He means to play a serious contest." her eyes widened.


All in all, it was one of Niccis better schemes. Aside from it being a royal game, this should in the least keep Davina from bothering her quite so much. And if the possible match was a profitable one, she might even be off Nicci's back for good.


Yet even as she was mentally congratulating herself, a seam on her sack of plots unraveled.


"None that he knows, I use a nomdeplume." Nicolette replied, holding back the upset, Diana was not very forthcoming with the bathroom! Nicci needed to cry in the worst way. But Diana wanted to tell her to ignore the King and wait for him to notice her. Flirt with others, to make him jealous. That was more of a risk than Nicci was prepared to take, she had crossed the point of no return on this, there was no back up plan.


Nicci swallowed, and then swept into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Bursting into tears even as she slid the bolt.


What if the King chose some other woman instead of her, and everything she'd been trying was for naught. Nicci wept, fearing she'd ruined her life. Well, she had ruined her life definately, she was just praying that Buckingham was right, and the King might scoop her up. If he chose her, then she might become somebody, If he did not, then. What?


It was a horrible guest that stayed in a room weeping for so many minutes, before trying to tidy herself up again to be right for company. But the tears were better out than in.


It was done now. There was no turning back. Forwards was the only way to go, and she had to give the King no other option but to become besotted with her. There was no room for failure.


Patting her face with a cool wet towel, she schooled her breathing, steady steady. Believe.


Till finally Nicolette exited the room, and went in search of her patient hostess.


"I am sorry for that. La, I need to take a tonic, these mood swings are terrible."

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  • 5 weeks later...

“Why of course the King is choosing a subject for a game of love… and of course he is manipulating it so that she has a part in his game of love.” Diana sighed, “The King is a man. All men play at manipulation of that particular game. We… simply have to be better manipulators. Not only must we outsmart the fish, but we must outsmart the other fishermen.”


Her lips spread a little as her friend wagged a finger at Diana and she shrugged cheekily.


“I don’t care how I got my husband. I am not the most patient of creatures and I had just about all I could stomach of being the ‘poor’ little Howard cousin.” Her cupid's bow shaped lips tightened, the corners tucking downwards slightly. “At some point a girl has to stand up and take matters into her own hands. If there is something she wants… why not grab it if it’s out there to be had?” Raising a challenging eyebrow at Nicolette. “But yes, the King quite likes his little games… but those two funny little bumps on your chest make you better at his games… along with you other charming attributes.”


Giving a noncommittal shrug, “I can’t say for sure what he is playing at but I would not doubt that he is playing quite a little game…”


It wasn’t Diana’s intention to put Nicci more upon the spot, but the King was the sort to want something all the more for the lack of commodity of it. Things that could come easy held little value to people who could have anything. The King could have anything.


Taking a deep breath, she watched her guest flee to the safety of somewhere private. Sweet Heavens, Diana! Don’t you have any humanity?! What kind of hostess are you? Placing her head in her palms she inhaled deeply. Counted to one hundred and straightened up, moving she rang the velvet cord that brought the maid in.


“Please go find some of my husband’s best whiskey.” The maid’s eyes widened slightly then she bustled off looking for the the drink.


The whiskey and glasses were brought in and set down on the cart with the tea before the maid quickly disappeared again. Diana stood up and was pouring the glasses slowly as Nicolette found her way back to the room.


“Do not apologize… you are among a friend… Despite that, I do seem to lack the talent to say the right things.” Diana murmured, holding out a two fingered glass of some of Ireland’s best whiskey. Pouring her own glass, she lifted the amber liquid to her lips and took a sip. “As your friend, forgive me for being so bold but I think I can be of help if you wish to be more than a simple memory to the King.” Her grey eyes lit up a little as she looked to Nicci. The whiskey had given them a mischievous twinkle. Tapping her lip with her index finger, she lost herself in thought for a moment then smiled a purely devilish smile. “First step is making you the belle of court… “ She paused dramatically, “Are you game, Frenchie?”

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The ladies shared an understanding - it was a tad cynical perhaps, but vastly satisfying, far better than the naive illusions of younger girls. Those girlish dreams that were eventually dashed to the rocks. Their understanding granted them a knowing that was necessary if one was to truly play the game of court.


"There is no shame in it, rather, kudos." Nicolette was surprised with her deeper insight upon Diana's impromptu denial. "Better that then fritter away your youth fussing about a stream of suitors, and managing to capture the devotion of not one of them. Better stake your claim, and own something to wrestle your best interests upon."


Though Nicci had been the poor cousin for ever, which did not bother her, since she'd always managed to get what she truly wanted anyhow. Her own poverty was more of a net that discarded frivolous impulses. Nicolette's motivation to 'own something' came from a different source.




In a moments privacy Nicolette managed to get a hold of her emotions once more. What she had done thus far in England, was more than she'd ever done. She risked, and worried some that the prize would not be hers. Second or third place was not going to be good enough. It was quite a bit of stress for the French lass to bear.


Dabbing a little powder to her face, she licked and then bit her lips to resume a brightness. Tug up your gloves Nicci, all shall be fine. Louis in the background of her life did help her much in such instances, if everything went just horridly wrong, he'd work something out. He was not a man that fell to the bottom of the heap, and would allow no less for his relatives.




So that when she exited, she was a picture of gentility again, even if a little pinker about the eyes. Quieter initially. And grateful of the drink.


"Accept no blame Diana - it was the mere excitement of the season that crept over me. Lord knows how I would ever cope if I were with child, I have emotion enough in excess as it is!" she laughed of that, and then brow crumpled, "Not that I would ever allow such a state. There is certain benefits to the knowledge that I have accrued after all." she referred to her herbal blends.


Hers was to laugh of Diana's calling her Frenchie, and tilting her chin replied, "What makes you think I aren't Courts Belle already?! I have no need of tuition regarding gentlemen." Nicolette did have quite a sway over the male sex, her charm was considerable over the male sex - and she had a certain plot forwards in that regard that was untouchable by another. In fact, it might be detrimental to Diana's own advancements if she were to meddle in Buckingham’s plans.


"It is only with women that viewed poorly. Tell me how you might help me with them, and I shall be grateful." Her class clinked against Diana's and a hearty sip of the whiskey was taken.


Nicolette was making efforts to garner some influential female friends, she had a bath date with Nell on the following morning. Though couldn't yet say if Nell did not secretly hope she drowned! Ha, but that unknown was all part of the game that Nicci wanted to play.

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Cynicism was the byproduct of not growing up in a sheltered castle, it was something acquired when you were forced to advance upon your own rather than to be taken under the wings of society. Nicolette and Diana were not ladies of fortune. Not yet anyway.


She couldn’t have agreed more. Those ladies who fluttered fickley from suitor to suitor were wasting their time and that was something Diana could not abide. She bobbed her head in a soft motion in agreement.


Perhaps it was different for Diana. The label of poor little cousin ate away at her. But then, perhaps it would eat away at Nicolette too if she were related to Davina and always in comparison to her. Diana might have had beauty but she’d lacked the subtle wit, the compliant nature. That was all something for another discussion though.


The excitement of the season? That was the excuse she was going to use? Diana had been about to tease her about her such delicacies when she mentioned being with child for the second time that afternoon and she faltered for a moment. Offering a smile, “The knowledge you’ve accrued? Do you know your way around herbs well?” Diana had an interest but had yet not found time for that yet among everything else.


Studying Nicolette, Diana tried to keep her puckish features from falling into a deep laughter. Clinking her glass with Nicolette.


“Well, if I suspected you were the Court’s Belle, I would not any more. Gentlemen only make up half of the population at court.” Looking down at her glass, she debated on taking another drink then decided against it and sat it down still looking at it. “Play them the same you way you that play the men. Only realize that you are no longer the fishermen with them but the bait.” With an easy step she moved to the fireplace and dropped her hands to commandeer some of the heat.


“Ladies are drawn to gentlemen.” Diana glanced at her friend. “Pick several key ladies at each function with with you hope to gain their attention, find out their weaknesses… like ladies who have a weakness for gentlemen who flatter. Make a point to introduce them to gentlemen with a weakness for over flattering… then take a step backwards. With in no time… the ladies shall be flocking towards you because you draw the gentlemen and the ladies are drawn to the gentlemen.” Diana shrugged, “Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war… or at least… if I were interested in improving the views of the fairer sex at court that is how I would start.”

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"Further, I've the discretion of dispensing whatever I want from the Golden Pestle, my apothecary shop." Had she neglected to tell Diana about the shop? Surprising, for it had been all Nicci could think about for the first part of last season. Ah! How it had tried her patience as Louis danced around the purchase getting the best deal possible. "Do you have a need?"


But Diana was married, and surely had no desire to avoid children. Women who could provide heirs within wedlock were prized jewels at court.


Diana's roguish baiting and jibes were like triangles within circles to Nicolette's mind, but she liked it, for the familiarity with which the other spoke. "Then I must prove your retraction of opinion wrong!" the Frenchwoman quipped back. Knowing her words lacked the sharpness of Diana's own, but having made an attempt any how.


"La, but that is the truth of it. Men are the easy ones, it is far harder to stop women from filling your shoes with lead." which was to say the women of courts murmurings could thwart an Belle of Courts buoyancy.


"The bait?' Nicolette did not understand, and looked to the other for clarification. And clarify was just what Lady Gowran did.


A slow smile crept across her lips... "Diana, you are truly a mastermind." Nicolette loved how her friend was thinking, "and I get the feeling that this is but one trick in a compendium of ploys you hold in hand."

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“Ah! No, but it is always good to know I have a friend with the command of such a forminable arsenal.” The corners of her lips rose in a puckish smirk. “You never know when it might pay to give a crafty husband a stomach ache.” She bit her bottom lip and gentle affirmative nod of her head. “Perhaps one of these days you’d accept a pupil. I’ve been rather fascinated with herbery but I’ve not the faintest idea where to begin. Can you recommend any books?”


“Do! I insist!” The French miss’ quip made her chuckle and eagerly added. “Prove me quite wrong. There is nothing I adore more than being proven wrong.” People were all together too predictable most of the time in Diana’s mind. There seemed to be only a handful of basic motives that inspired actions from people.


“Mmm… women are easy too but the same tactics that you collect the men admirers will not work with ladies. You simply need to figure out what someone wants and how badly do they want it. If you can answer those questions nothing shall stop you. It might take a while but it’s a great deal like playing chess and moving pieces around a board until you’ve what they wanted.” Diana shrugged. “Lesser ladies play with lead… it’s the ones you least expect that will sink you… Ladies like my cousin.”


As Diana explained how she’d go about collecting the femme populations admiration she watched her friend curious as things became clearer. Returning the slow smile briefly before she picked up her glass of whiskey and raised it slightly in a silent toast to her friend. Batting her lashes coyly with an ingenious smirk, “Why I haven’t a clue what you are talking about…” She sniggered and took another sip of the warm amber liquid.

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Nicolette smile dropped. "I cannot indulge you that, no vile medicine shall ever come from me." she was dismayed that the thought had slid from Diana's lips so easily. There was little that upset Nicolette more than people accusing her of poisoning others, but she now learnt what was worse, someone expecting her to be able to teach them how to do so!


"My lady, I am wounded that you think my character to be so lacking of honor."


She addressed the subject plainly, expecting an apology. This was no laughing matter. Nicolette would not tolerate people talking like this about her. Not after Maldon had told her about the horrible things said about her at the walk in the park. Not ever.


As for books, Nicolette would not give someone with ill intentions any recommendations. Just imagine if it got out that she'd recommended a book for poisoning a husband. She might as well pack her bags and go back to France now!


So dramatic was the subject, that any other talk had to halt. Naturally they could pick it up again, if this current situation was rectified.

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