A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Eighteen

She’d left Paris the next morning, spending the next few days on the outskirts of Rouen, visiting the Reynaud estate. Spending her time with Christine and Sebastien’s children, galloping along the fields with them, sparring with the eldest son, under strict supervision by Sebastien, of course...It had all kept her from thinking about that last conversation with Aramis. Her brother had known something was wrong when she’d suddenly decided to visit their cousin, but he hadn’t pried. He’d merely frowned, kissed her on the forehead, told her to be careful, and sent her on her way. Christine had also known something was amiss, but she hadn’t been as reluctant to talk about it as Robert had been. Unfortunately for her, she hadn’t been able to pry anything out of Alexandra, so very used to keep things close to her chest. For her private things were to be kept private, no matter the closeness of familial ties.

Yet the few days of respite were over, and she’d had nothing better to do on her way back to Paris, but to think about that last conversation with Aramis. She was still congratulating herself for having kept her dignity almost entirely intact. She’d asked rather legitimate questions, she’d tried to reason, and when she’d failed, she’d held her head high. She hadn’t demanded anything, she hadn’t thrown a tantrum, and in the end she’d refrained from hitting him, or worse, throwing him out of the window. She was rather proud of herself. She wasn’t even that heartbroken, she’d known the outcome before she’d proposed to stay in France. With him. She’d known the outcome and hence hadn’t argued. She’d known it would’ve been futile to argue, he didn’t love her. He might desire her, but passion and desire faded. Sooner or later he would’ve tired of her and she’d truly be heartbroken then. In a way, he’d done her a favour, really.

Yet she didn’t regret trying to reason with him. And she didn’t regret telling him she loved him. To her, love was a special kind of emotion. It was very rare in her opinion, so it needed to be shared, it needed to be shown, and needed to be proclaimed aloud. Why should she hide something so pure? Why should she keep silent? She wasn’t ashamed of love, she wasn’t ashamed of feeling love, and she wasn’t ashamed of loving Aramis. She might not have gotten her man, but she felt more complete by loving him. As if something has been missing inside of her until she’d realized she was in love, as if a last piece of her heart had fallen into place. She knew love now. Love for a parent, love for a brother, love for a friend. And now love for a man.

It felt good. It felt right.

She’d only escaped to Rouen to keep her distance, to not be more of nuisance to him than she’d already had been. Not because she was embarrassed, but because she refused to look at him and see that pinched expression on his face. He’d looked as if she’d hurt him by confessing her love to him, and she knew he hadn’t wanted to hurt her with his rejection. So she’d decided to leave, wait for her brother to join her in Rouen, after the treaty was signed, for them to sail to England from Le Havre.

However, one little summons from the Queen of France had thrown a wrench into her well-thought plan. Robert had informed their royal hosts that she’d left ahead of him, visiting with their cousins, but the Queen had obviously refused to accept the excuse, and demanded her presence at the royal ball that same evening. It wouldn’t do to refuse a royal decree, not if she wanted her brother to succeed in fulfilling his diplomatic mission. So she’d packed her belongings once more and set back to Paris. She only hoped not to embarrass her brother with her choice of wardrobe. The best gown she’d brought with her was an emerald creation with a simple cut and modest bodice which would fit at a royal ball as well as she fit among the simpering pale ladies at the court of England. The latest fashion was all about ruffles, decorations, and plunging necklines which all made her appear even shorter and somewhat stout. She looked much better in simple, unadorned gowns with modest bodices that elongated her figure, preferring to play with colour instead of design. Every single gown she owned, which weren’t many, since she refused to spend her brother’s money on frivolities, was in a hue that fit her colouring to perfection. From deep jewelled tones to pale pastels, everything accentuated her eyes and tawny skin. That was her one touch of vanity.

Her brother’s expression, when he helped her alight from the carriage, caused a frisson of alarm to unfold in her breast. He looked part concerned and part angry, with anger waging a winning campaign on the concern.

“What is it?” she asked, a thousand possible answers playing inside her head. He failed in securing the King’s signature on the treaty, her sudden absence has caused a rift that might prevent the treaty from being signed, someone had been abducted—again, someone had been injured, someone had died.

“No one died,” he snapped as if reading her mind. “No one’s been abducted either, and the negotiations are complete.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“I’ll tell you inside,” he replied, ushering her into the palace. “Come on.”

She had no other choice but to run beside him to compensate for his quick, longer stride. Sometimes she wished her legs were longer so she wouldn’t have any trouble keeping up with people.

Once inside their suite, he turned to Meg, who’d been dashing behind them, at least Alexandra hadn’t been the only one to perspire while keeping up with her brother. “She needs to be dazzling tonight. Can I count on you?”

“Yes, my lord,” the girl said, and quickly disappeared into Alexandra’s bedroom. Probably to begin her preparations. God only knew what those were.

“Why do I need to be dazzling tonight, Robert?” Alexandra asked suspiciously. “You’re not planning to marry me to some French nobleman, are you? Because I won’t do it. We’ve made a pact, you and I, remember. We’ll only marry for love. I won’t marry someone just to secure a damn treaty.”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Have I ever tried to marry you off?”

He had a point. “No.”

“At your age other women had already borne a least two children, yet you’re still unattached.” He leaned down until they were eye to eye. “And you’ll remain that way,” he added. “You might not want to, but it’s not all in your hands, is it?”

He knew. Of course, he knew. And of course, he didn’t judge. “No, it’s not.”

“He’s an idiot.”

She smiled. “I know.”

“I might have to challenge him, though. For defiling my sister.”

“Utterly consenting sister.” He groaned, and she cleared her throat. “Moving on. Why do I have to be dazzling tonight if you’re not marrying me off, and the only man I might want to be dazzling for doesn’t want me?”

“The idea of a duel is getting more and more appealing.”


“King James had been informed of tonight’s ball and decided to send some of his advisers to participate. A show of support for the treaty, if you will.”

Alexandra shuddered. More than advisers the people surrounding their King were a bunch of idiots leeching off the goodwill of their monarch who was too blind and too stupid to see them for who they really were. “Who?”

As Robert rattled off the few names, she sighed. Pearls, the lot of them. Then she heard the name Cumberland, and cursed softly.

“He’s brought his Duchess with him as well,” he finished sourly.

Cumberland. The court’s biggest gossip. And his wife was no better. Feeling her heart in her throat, she looked at her brother. “I can’t go.”

He sighed. “You have to.”

“It’ll ruin everything. They’ll ruin everything.” She looked up at him pleadingly. “Everything you’ve worked for, everything you’ve accomplished will be for naught.”

“It’s a peace treaty, Alex. The negotiations are complete, all we need is a signature.”

She shook her head. “You are the face of this treaty. You’re the one whose credibility and integrity had brought all of this to fruition. It takes but a whisper, you know that. And they will whisper. Until it becomes a roar.”

“It won’t matter?”

“Won’t it?” she laughed. “You’ve been the darling of the court until they’ve gotten wind of just where I come from. Now they merely tolerate you because you’re useful to King James. And you’re only useful, because of your connections.”

He grabbed her shoulders and kissed her forehead. “This is France, Alex.”

“And whatever language is spoken, gossip is still gossip.”

He sighed. “No matter what, you have to come to the ball. The Queen wishes it, and despite the fact she obviously likes you, I don’t dare defy her.”

“She’ll wish she didn’t know me before the first dance,” she murmured.

She’d been wrong. It hadn’t taken as long as to get to the first dance. The whispers started as soon as she appeared in the gilded ballroom. They followed her as she made her way toward the royal couple, spreading among the crowd as the wind in the tree tops. As she reached the royal dais, she met her brother’s eyes, mouthed an “I’m sorry”, and curtsied, keeping her eyes downcast.

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