A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Fourteen

It must run in the family, Anne mused as she watched the four musketeers from the corner of her eye. Her son was merely following his father’s example. The look on Aramis’ face said it all. The expression in his eyes was that of longing as he watched the woman he loved hold his son in her arms.

The look made Anne happy. Because after all this time, after all the liaisons and dalliances...Aramis has finally fallen in love. Although they’ve conceived a child together, she didn’t love him. He was her friend, she’d turned to him for help in her greatest moment of need, but she didn’t love him the way a woman loved a man. Fully and wholeheartedly, forsaking everything else. She didn’t love him the way he needed to be loved. The way she suspected the young woman beside her did, if her utter unwillingness to look even in the most general direction of the four musketeers were any indication. There were two reasons a woman refused to look at a man. Either she despised him with all her heart, or she knew even the briefest of glances might betray her feelings.

It was no mystery to Anne that Aramis and Lady Alexandra have met before. She’d met her before. As a young man, a musketeer-in-training that had been assigned to the tutelage of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan a few months ago. Anne had recognized her right away, the eyes were a dead giveaway. And she’d recognized her as the woman that had stolen Aramis’ heart by simply glancing at her friend’s face as he saw her enter the audience chamber.

Anne wasn’t privy to the real reason the girl had decided to pose as a man and join the musketeers, but thanks to her insistence and badgering, she was rather privy to what had been ailing Aramis ever since his return from Gascony. He’d returned a changed man, broody and taciturn whenever he didn’t snarl at his companions, his eyes stormy and grief-laden, so she’d been adamant in discovering what had happened. Asking Athos, Porthos, and d’Artagnan didn’t help, although she had no doubt Athos knew more than he let on, so she’d decided to ask Aramis directly. It hadn’t worked. Not at first, not for a long time, but then, one day, he’d told the story, or the gist of it, to his son, while they’d both pretended she wasn’t there, listening avidly. He’d seemed lighter afterward, freer, as if a bit of the burden weighting him down had lifted. She’d been glad he’d confided in her, but at a loss as to how to help him.

She still was. The fact the woman Aramis has fallen in love with was in Paris, utterly charming her infant son, didn’t matter. The fact that the said woman appeared to return at least a bit of Aramis’ feelings, didn’t matter. She was English, he was French, and until the peace treaty was signed, if it ever would be, their countries weren’t on friendly grounds. She was a duke’s sister, he was a musketeer. And no matter Anne’s influence, there wasn’t a thing she could do to bridge that gap between them. No matter how she wanted to, she’d be unable to ensure her friend’s happiness, and her heart bled for him.

It has always given him a peculiar kind of feeling, watching a woman with a child in her arms. Men claimed seeing a woman with a child made them want to procreate, spill their seed as God had intended them to. Aramis had never felt like that. Watching a woman hold a child, made him feel part of something greater, like beholding something special, sacred even. But now, watching Alexandra cuddle his child, the boy obviously adoring her on the spot, Aramis finally knew what all those men had been talking about. He wanted to give her a child, he wanted her to bear his child. He wanted her to be his. He’s never felt such possessiveness before in his life. Or such a longing. Pity, she obviously didn’t feel the same. She hadn’t looked at him once.

“Tell me about yourself, Lady Alexandra,” Anne enquired and Aramis decided to eavesdrop shamelessly. He wasn’t the only one, his three friends also took a few steps closer to the gazebo. And they said women were the curious ones.

“What does your majesty want to know?” came the quiet reply, the voice like a caress down his spine.

“Do you have a husband?”

Aramis frowned. What sort of a question was that? The Queen had never been that direct before. Except with him when she’d asked him about what was wrong with him of late.

Alexandra was obviously as surprised. “No, your majesty.”

She wasn’t attached. He’d though she was Buckingham’s lover or wife, but he’d been wrong. She was the man’s sister. And now it turned out she wasn’t attached either. Was she—? He remembered her arching her back on a silent scream, the tears in the corner of her eyes, the fleeting expression of pain on her face. God, she’d been a virgin. And he’d taken her like a hungry animal. While she truly deserved romance and tender seduction. A bed, rose petals, candlelight...She had deserved better. She still did.

“The ring?” Queen Anne nodded toward Alexandra’s right hand where a ring rested on her middle finger. The same ring he’d seen dangling from a chain, nestled between her breasts, that night. “A sign of betrothal?”

“You’re rather curious about my marital status,” Alexandra snapped, then quickly shook her head. “I apologize, your majesty.”

The Queen merely laughed. “No need to apologize, I know I’m curious. Now, about the ring. It has a special significance, I take it.”

Alexandra sighed, obviously not eager to talk, yet even less eager to annoy the Queen of France. “It was a gift from my father. For my fourteenth birthday. He died of a fever a few months later.”

“I’m sorry,” the Queen murmured. “I shouldn’t have pried.”

No, you shouldn’t have, Aramis thought. She shouldn’t have pushed when it had been obvious Alexandra didn’t want to talk about. Despite the time that had passed, the pain was still obviously there, making him wish he could hold her.

Alexandra merely shrugged, and smiled slightly at Marguerite as the woman came back to fetch the Dauphin. A desperate wail pierced the sky, as she tried to give him to the nurse, and Aramis fought a grin. His son certainly knew what he was doing. He wanted to stay in Alexandra’s arms, and he was willing to do anything to accomplish his goal. Anne tried to take him, console him, but he would have none of it, he merely screamed louder. Until he was once again tucked firmly in the crook of Alexandra’s elbow, staring adoringly up at her. Smart boy.

“He’s quite manipulative, isn’t he,” Alexandra said, her voice a little louder. “I wonder who he’s taking after.”

“Speaking of which, who do you have to thank for your striking appearance, Lady Alexandra? Mother or father?” the Queen enquired.

Aramis’ soft chuckle at Alexandra’s cheeky remark died, and he frowned at her reaction to the Queen’s question. She’d gone pale, her eyes hardened, and she visibly stiffened. The Dauphin made a sound of protest, and she relaxed her hold.

“Both.” The reply was clipped and delivered in a curt tone, conveying a concise message that no further enquiries were welcome. Or would be answered.

Queen Anne looked as puzzled as he felt. As all four of them felt, judging by his friends’ shared glances. She and the Duke of Buckingham were complete opposites. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with fair skin, blue eyes, and dirty blond hair, while she was petite, with black hair, pale green eyes, and dusky skin. The cut of the bodice and short sleeves of her gown revealed what he’d thought was a tan was the real colour of her skin. So if she’d taken after both her parents, who had her brother taken after?

“There are some relations that go beyond blood,” a low voice sounded from behind the bend in the garden path, then the Duke of Buckingham strolled into view. “Sometimes even stronger than those bound by blood.”

He might’ve appeared at ease, merely a man taking a leisure walk through the garden, but his expression told a different story. His eyes were hard, the corners of his lips pinched, colour riding high on his cheeks. He must’ve heard the last of the conversation and he wasn’t pleased with it.

“Lord Buckingham.” The Queen’s smile was too bright, she knew she’d gone too far. “Please, join us.”

He shook his head. “I’ll have to decline, your majesty. I’ve come to fetch my sister,” he explained, emphasizing the last two words. “I promised to show her Paris when I was done with my duties for the day.”

As if relieved, Alexandra stood, smoothly transferring the Dauphin into his mother’s arms, quelling his protests with one single look. She curtsied, thanked the Queen for her company, and placed her hand on her brother’s wrist. While Buckingham nodded at the four of them, his eyes conveying the message the nod was more than a mere greeting, she kept her eyes firmly on the ground in front of her.

Until she walked by him. As if hearing an unuttered plea, her gaze brushed his and Aramis’ heart slammed against his rib cage. He had one answer. Now, onto the rest of the questions.

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