A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter One

England, a few weeks earlier

Alexandra Hamilton-Burke cut the stem of another rose and added it to her basket. She perused her floral loot with a satisfied smile. Each bloom was perfect, no spots or tears, and the colour was uniform. They would look beautiful in the vase above the mantel.

She tucked the shears into the basket, under the roses, and strolled leisurely toward the house, filling her lungs with the heady aromas of spring. The scent of her freshly cut roses mixed with that of the wildflowers blooming behind the low garden wall, the grass still smelled freshly of last night’s rain...She loved spring in the countryside.

She loved countryside, period. No matter the season.

Here, on her brother’s estate, she was free of the judgemental eyes of the court, of the sneers and whispers accompanying her every step of the way, of snickers and comments exchanged behind flimsy drapes and discreetly lifted palms, of gleeful explanations of her true origin to the few people at court that didn’t know her yet.

In the countryside, she was free to do as she pleased, knowing no one would judge her. The servants and peasants on the extensive grounds, loved both her brother and her. They’ve known both of them since they were children, they all helped raise the two of them in one form or the other. They’d helped teach them how to ride, how to shoot, how to fence. They taught them how to swim, how to survive with whatever Nature gave them. Taught them how to distinguish different roots and herbs, how to make potions and pomades, how to dress scrapes and wounds.

The countryside was her home, and she knew that despite his obligations and duties at court, her brother felt the same. She knew Robert was always looking forward to coming home, to spend a few weeks—if King James could spare him—unwinding in the peaceful quietness of the countryside.

Alexandra grinned. He was probably itching to get home from France by now, fairly quivering with the need to board a ship and leave, diplomatic mission be damned.

He’d tried to convince her to go with him to Paris, painting her a picture of how beautiful that city was, how opulent the palace, offering all kinds of incentives for her to join him. He’d introduce her at court where no one knew the truth...Who knew, she could even meet a fine gentleman there, fall in love, get married, and settle down in the French countryside.

She’s laughed in his face and sent him on his way. She loved the English countryside just fine, and had no intention of getting to know the French one. And she loathed their own court enough not to be visiting another one. Thank you very much.

Alexandra shook her head as if to shake the unwanted and unwelcome thought out of her mind. The court had no place in her head right now. She was home, she was happy, her brother would be coming back soon. Only happy thoughts were needed at this time.

At the entrance to the kitchen, she stopped over, picked up the brush, and cleaned her boots. It wouldn’t do leaving muddy footprints all over the house. She swiped her feet on the threshold for good measure, and entered the warm kitchen where her mouth promptly watered.

She looked cautiously around, but the kitchen appeared deserted. With a mischievous grin, she tiptoed toward the wooden table where a cloth-covered tin tray stood, beckoning her closer. She lifted the cloth and peeked underneath it, and saliva once again filled her mouth.

Sugar cakes. Her favourite.

She licked her lips and was about to snatch one, when Cook bustled in and harrumphed. Alexandra jumped away from the table like a scalded cat, schooling her features into a, hopefully convincing, sheepish expression.

Cook, naturally, wasn’t fooled. “Those are for later, my lady.”

Alexandra grinned. “I was just making sure they were baked properly, tis all.”

Cook nodded, her eyes twinkling. “I’m sure ye were, my lady. But there’s no need for that. I can guarantee, they are.”

Alexandra cocked her head. “Are you certain.”

“Quite, my lady.” Cook frowned as she ran her eyes from Alexandra’s head to her toes. And back. “Now, why don’t you go upstairs and change into something appropriate for a lady?”

Alexandra rolled her eyes. Although they all accepted her the way she was, and loved her dearly, that never prevented them from at least trying to make her accept the norms society has imposed on women for centuries. How she dressed was one of them. She preferred to wear men’s clothing in the countryside. She felt freer with no tight bodices cutting off her air supply, or miles and miles of petticoats and cumbersome skirts and gowns to impede her movements. She had enough of those at court, she preferred shirts, sleeves, and boots when she was home.

But that never prevented anyone, her brother included, when he was in one of his moods, from bothering her with their views on what she wore. There was cajoling, sniffing, an occasional snit or two, emotional blackmail, and, when everything else failed, bargaining.

Alexandra loved bargaining. Especially when there was cake in a not so distant future.

She grinned again. “What do I get, if I put on a gown?” What do I get if I willingly submit to slow strangulation?

Cook put her hands on her hips, her eyes narrowing. She knew very well where this was headed, and Alexandra knew, she was already regretting having said anything.

“A sugar cake after you come down dressed in that new gown your brother ordered for you,” she grumbled grudgingly.

Alexandra lifted three fingers. “Three. It’s a new gown, it’s bound to be even more constricting than the rest.” She nodded. “Three sugar cakes.”

“Lady Alex!”

Alexandra shrugged and hefted her basket of roses. “Fine. Breeches it is.”

Cook hung her head on a moan. “Two.”

Alexandra’s ears perked. “Excuse me?”

“Two sugar cakes,” Cook repeated with a glare. “Nothing more.”

“Agreed.”


Alexandra was still chuckling at the Cook’s defeated expression when she was sitting in a plush chair facing the hearth in the main parlour, munching on her two sugar cakes, feeling uncomfortably restricted in the pale green gown her brother had ordered because it “complimented her eyes”, when there was a knock on the parlour door.

“A message, my lady,” Penny, Cook’s daughter, said, offering a missive.

Alexandra frowned. By the looks of it, the message had been on quite a journey. The parchment was simply folded in half without a seal, it was wrinkled, muddy, and its edges torn. She brushed the crumbs off her hands, took the message and unfolded it.

She trembled at the sight of her brother’s handwriting. Then the words registered, and she felt her heart stutter. She read them again, then looked once more at the parchment. By the wear and tear it looked weeks old. Was there still hope left? Was he still alive? What should she do? Who can she turn to?

She jumped to her feet, grabbing Penny by her upper arms. “Go fetch Black, Spencer, Taylor, and the Smithy. Tell them to come to the kitchen. Go!”

As Penny ran, Alexandra curled her fingers into a fist. She could hear the crushing of the parchment, but it didn’t matter. She knew what was written on it.

Her brother’s plea.

La Rochelle.

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