Virginia henley unmask.., p.19
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       Virginia Henley - Unmasked, p.19

           Virginia Henley
 
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  "That's because you were born under the sign of Aries. You enjoy being the leader who must be in con­trol of everything."

  He gazed down at her. "No, it is because I am a man, who does not enjoy a woman riding roughshod over his decisions."

  She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him playfully. "I am a sore trial. Even my father does not envy you the taming of me."

  "I relish the task. Bending you to my Arian will brings me endless pleasure." He branded her with de­manding kisses until she clung to him. "Next time, don't flout my wishes in public."

  The newlyweds' passion for each other soon doused the sparks that could have ignited into a blaz­ing argument. The mating dance of domination and submission slaked all their needs.

  Velvet quickly became a favorite of the Court. The Countess of Eglinton was beautiful, vivacious and stylish. These were not the qualities, however, that made her stand out at the Royal Stuart Court. Most courtiers were promiscuous, following in the footsteps of an amoral, pleasure-loving king, but Velvet Montgomery was the exception.

  Men were drawn to her by the undercurrent of eroticism that surrounded her. This stemmed from the sense that she was a female who was owned by her hus­band. She was a fully grown woman to whom only her husband had access. They imagined that she became a sexual being only in private with her overwhelmingly masculine husband and she therefore represented an irresistible challenge.

  The Duke of Ormonde arrived and brought with him the Portuguese ambassador, Francisco de Mello, who came offering Charles the hand of the King of Portugal's daughter.

  Serious negotiations began immediately. The King of England pushed relentlessly for everything he could get and in early July, Mello sailed home with the offer of a contract. Catherine of Braganza could be­come Charles Stuart's queen in return for trading privileges with Portugal's colonies and a dowry of a third of a million pounds in cash.

  All summer the King of England applied himself diligently. The multitude of tasks that he accomplished would have felled a less energetic man, but Charles was capable of intense concentration and hard work.

  He charged the regicides with treason and brought them to trial, then passed an Act of Indemnity to par­don lesser figures who had sided with the Parliamen­tarians. He rewarded those who had helped restore him to the throne. He decommissioned and disbanded the Roundhead army, but kept his promise to pay their wage arrears. He set to work building a strong navy. Charles knew that shipping was the vital key to a na­tion's wealth.

  Though he did not shy from duty, at the same time, it could not be denied that Charles Stuart enjoyed his pleasures and indulged them constantly. The king was easygoing and his good nature endeared him to every­one.

  Velvet, along with many other Court ladies, was watching a tennis match between James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, and the king. "His Majesty usually wins, but your father is a worthy opponent, Mary. I hope you are enjoying your stay at Court."

  Mary Butler, only fifteen, was in awe of the elegant countess who had befriended her. "Lady Montgomery, your hair is so beautiful. I wish I could have curls like yours."

  "You must call me Velvet and you can have curls like mine. Come and visit me, and my woman, Emma, and I will show you how easy it is to fashion them. I know your father was on a mission to find a bride for His Majesty. Has he succeeded, Mary?"

  Mary blushed. "Father would never discuss the king's affairs with me, my lady."

  Velvet laughed at her choice of words. It hadn't taken her long to realize that Charles was having an af­fair with Barbara Palmer, especially since that lady flaunted her intimate relationship with the monarch. "And rightly so, Mary. Everyone's engaged in a guess­ing game, but we'll simply have to wait and see." Vel­vet smiled a secret smile. I'll ask him!

  When the tennis match was over and the opponents had won two games apiece, Velvet fell in beside Charles as he made his way back to the palace, and his gentlemen in attendance fell back to give them privacy.

  "Good afternoon, my beauty, did you enjoy watch­ing the match?"

  "Indeed. His Grace of Ormonde is a worthy chal­lenger."

  "Does Montgomery play? I warrant he'd make a great opponent."

  "Certainly he plays. He's very good at games," she teased. "Whether tennis is one of them, I have no idea."

  "Spoken like a besotted bride."

  "Speaking of brides, Sire, wouldn't you like me to consult my astrology books and give you a personality sketch of a certain lady who shall remain nameless?"

  "Velvet, you are curious as a monkey!" He consid­ered her offer. "Give me time to bathe and change. Then bring your astrology books and we'll have a chat."

  * * *

  An hour later, when Velvet knocked on the door to the king's private apartments, she was ushered inside by a Gentleman of the Bedchamber who led her through to an inner room. The king sat at a desk piled with documents; his spaniels lay at his feet.

  Charles rose immediately and the dogs came for­ward to sniff her skirts. "Velvet, do make yourself comfortable."

  "I'm disturbing you, Sire."

  "That's a good thing. My work is never done."

  She found a comfortable chair and the dogs plopped at her feet. Charles went back to his desk. "I'm signing warrants that grant noble titles to those who served my cause. Edward Montagu, head of the Admiralty, is to be Earl of Sandwich."

  "He will escort your bride to England on one of his ships."

  "They are my ships." His eyes filled with amuse­ment. "You are tenacious as a terrier. Do you believe in astrology?"

  "I do, Sire. I told you years ago that it was written in your stars that you would become king and you be­lieved me! If you will give me the lady's birthday, I will tell you her personality traits."

  He frowned. "I know the year—now, let's see." He consulted a small notebook on his desk. "November twenty-fifth."

  Velvet's eyes sparkled. "She's a Sagittarian, like me!"

  Charles threw up his hands in mock alarm. "Heaven help me! Precocious, bold, tenacious, and cu­rious as a monkey—"

  "Oh, no, Sire. Those are the qualities of a December Sagittarian. Those born in late November have a sweet nature. They are usually timid and straitlaced, with no hint of a naughty streak. They are forgiving, adore an­imals, hate confrontation and would never deliber­ately cause another distress."

  "You make her sound like a saint. How could she be happy with a sinner like me?"

  "She would be happy, Sire. All Sagittarians love deeply."

  "Velvet, you are manipulating me, revealing quali­ties you think will appeal, and concealing negative traits."

  She dimpled, and then confessed, "All born under the sign of the Archer are stubborn, blunt, and have ec­centric opinions."

  "Such as believing in astrology," he teased. "Give me a personality sketch for someone born in early No­vember."

  "Scorpions are ambitious, demanding and danger­ous because of intense feelings of passion or hatred. They have few morals and a fierce determination, and cannot help stinging with their venomous barbs. They love to intimidate and cause turbulence."

  Charles thought of Barbara. "Perhaps there is some­thing to this astrology business after all."

  The pair became engrossed in the subject and Velvet provided Charles with personality sketches of his sib­lings.

  "My mother is an extremely dominant woman. When she realized that I couldn't be bullied, she fo­cused on my youngest brother. I've always had a soft spot for Henry and been very protective of him. She tried her damnedest to convert him to Catholicism and when I forbade it and removed him from her influ­ence, she vowed never to speak to him again. She's so vindictive, she still hasn't spoken to him."

  They moved on to Charles's best friend, Bucking­ham, who was an Aquarian. As they laughed and talked they forgot about time and the dinner hour passed without notice. Finally, it was Prodgers, a mas­ter of discretion, who interrupted the tete-a-tete and reminded His Majesty that the hour grew late.

>   Greysteel came off duty and changed from his uni­form. He thought nothing of Velvet's absence until the dinner hour approached. Since they always dined to­gether, either in the privacy of their chambers or in Whitehall's Presence Chamber, he began to wonder -.-.•here she was and questioned Emma.

  "I saw her when she returned from watching His Majesty play tennis. She left again but didn't say -.vhere she was going."

  Greysteel waited another thirty minutes, then went along to ask Thomas if he'd seen her. When the answer was no, he assumed she had joined some friends and they would likely be waiting for him to dine with them downstairs. He walked briskly from the west wing and as he passed the staircase that led to the Royal Apartments, the guard on duty saluted him.

  He saluted back. "Has His Majesty gone down to dine yet?"

  The young guardsman flushed. "No, Captain." He opened his mouth, shut it again and looked away.

  "Is something amiss, Fenton?"

  "No, Captain Montgomery." His flush deepened. His Majesty is entertaining a lady."

  "You must be more discreet about the king's private affairs, Fenton, or you'll find yourself moved to out­side duty."

  "Yes, Captain," he replied awkwardly.

  At that moment, Velvet swept down the private staircase. Her face lit up at the sight of her husband. "Greysteel! How did you know where to find me? We lost all track of time. The king invited me to sup with him, but I thanked him with all my heart and excused myself. I knew you would be waiting for me."

  Greysteel quickly glanced at Fenton and it took all his control to maintain a calm facade. He wanted to say something that would obliterate any suspicion of his wife's impropriety, but knew anything he said would fuel the fire. He clamped his tongue between his teeth and took Velvet's hand. He knew he must crush his own suspicions before he crushed her fin­gers.

  After dinner the chamber was cleared for dancing. Velvet loved to dance and Greysteel always accompa­nied her. His dominant presence kept the Court wolves from stepping over the line. He watched her dance with George Digby, Earl of Bristol, who was a good-looking man, but considered safe because he was fifty. Greysteel started across the room to rescue her when Charles and Buckingham arrived.

  The music stopped and Greysteel watched as they engaged his wife in conversation. The charming, fash­ionable Buckingham was holding forth in his usual dazzling way as Charles and Velvet stood enthralled, hanging on to the charismatic Aquarian's every word. Suddenly they looked at each other and began to laugh. Charles doubled over and tears ran down Vel­vet's face.

  As Greysteel joined them, Buckingham looked at him and smoothed his elegant, pointed beard. "They share some devilishly amusing secret to which you and I are not privy."

  "Never fear—I shall beat it out of her." Mont­gomery wasn't sure he was jesting.

  Chapter 18

  “I beguiled the king into revealing the name of the princess he is considering for his bride."

  "Beguiled?" Greysteel had not yet joined Velvet in bed.

  She ignored the dangerous edge in his voice. "She is Catherine of Braganza, the King of Portugal's daugh­ter. Since we are the same age and both Sagittarians we are sure to become friends. I'd like to be one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting."

  "These things do not happen overnight. We may not be at Court by the time Charles takes a wife." He saw that she wasn't really listening. Her beautiful head was filled with plans. Some of his jealousy dissi­pated. Perhaps Velvet's infatuation with Charles will end once Queen Catherine comes to Court.

  Greysteel got into bed and pulled her into his arms. He had a driving need to brand her as his woman and obliterate Charles from her heart.

  Barbara waited until Charles was sated. He had not yet withdrawn after spilling his seed but lay content and sleepy, enjoying the feel of her generous body pressed against his.

  "I have a secret I must tell you, Charles."

  Though he smiled, his eyes remained closed.

  "We are having a baby."

  He opened his eyes and saw that she was watching his reaction from beneath half-closed lids. "Don't be afraid, darling."

  "Why should I be afraid?" she demanded. "I'm proud to be carrying the king's child!"

  "Softly, Barbara. You are a married lady. There'll be no scandal unless you shout it from the rooftops."

  She climbed off him and knelt on the bed. "What i you mean? That everyone will assume Palmer is the rather? I haven't slept with him since we met. Don't you dare deny this child!"

  His voice became low and soothing. "Of course I won't deny it—to you. If we know, what does it mat­ter what others think? It is far better to be discreet in these matters."

  Her eyes narrowed; her voice became shrill. "Far better for you! So, it's true! You are negotiating for a roreign bride and don't want them to know you have fathered a royal bastard!"

  Charles sat up and swung his feet to the floor, •veary of her tumultuous arguing. "Barbara, you know I must marry."

  "You'll cast me aside for a sallow-faced foreigner in--tead of marrying me!" She burst into passionate tears.

  He hung on to his temper and gathered her in his arms. "You know that's impossible, darling; you forget you have a husband. Come. Dry your tears. I swear on my life I won't abandon you."

  She sniffed and dried her face. "You promised me a title, but it's a long time coming. Anyone would think Chancellor Hyde rules this kingdom! A title is para­mount now. The mother of your son must belong to the nobility. Tis the only way I'll be able to hold up my head."

  The following week a gala entertainment was held in the Presence Chamber to celebrate the birthday of Henry, Duke of Gloucester. Montgomery gifted the king's youngest brother with a sword. Velvet, remem­bering how heartlessly his own mother treated him, stood on tiptoe to give Henry a birthday kiss, then pre­sented him with an astrology scroll. It listed in glow­ing detail the admirable qualities of one born under the sign of Cancer the Crab, such as his warmth, humor and ability to put others at ease. She had delib­erately left out the moody sensitivity and tendency to withdraw into his shell at the least hint of censure. "Many happy returns of the day, Your Highness."

  "Lady Montgomery, since I am twenty, does that not call for twenty kisses? Sorry, Greysteel, I didn't mean you to hear that. I will be most happy to settle for a dance, my lady."

  "It will give me the greatest pleasure in the world, Your Highness." She gave him her hand and he led her onto the floor.

  When the gavotte was over, Gloucester returned her to Montgomery, who partnered her in a courante, her favorite dance. After that, she left him to his own de­vices. She knew he preferred talking with the men to dancing with the ladies.

  Velvet greeted Barbara. "You are absolutely glowing tonight. Isn't it exciting that the theatres are open­ing again? I've never seen a play, but I'm certainly looking forward to it."

  Barbara was wearing her new diamond necklace to help hold up her head. "When His Majesty granted a patent to Killigrew to form the King's Players, he stip­ulated that henceforth only women be allowed to play women's roles."

  "Charles considers actresses such harmless de­lights." Buckingham deliberately pricked Barbara with his barb.

  She jabbed him with her fan in retaliation. "Velvet, have you met my dear friend Lady Arlington? Her husband, Henry Bennet, has just been named secretary of state."

  As the two ladies exchanged pleasantries, Barbara smiled at Buckingham and wafted her fan toward a liveried footman. "Would you be a darling, George, and get me a glass of that new champagne wine? I'm told it's excellent for settling a belly that's in a delicate condition." She smiled archly at Lady Arlington, knowing she would spread the word to the Court.

  Velvet opened her fan and lowered her lashes. If Barbara is having a child, who is the father?

  "Good evening, Lady Montgomery. Your gown is so pretty."

  Velvet turned to see Mary Butler, and introduced the Duke of Ormonde's young daughter to Barbara. From the tail of her eye V
elvet saw Lord Cav ap­proaching and she stiffened.

  He ignored Velvet and bowed before Mary Butler. "May I partner you in the dance, Lady Mary?"

  She blushed. "It would be my pleasure, Lord Cavendish."

  "Hell and furies," Velvet muttered as he led the girl away.

  "Your kinsman is exceedingly handsome," Barbara drawled.

  "He's dissolute!" Velvet hissed.

  "Really? Lucky Lady Mary."

  "She's only fifteen," Velvet protested.

  Barbara sipped her champagne. "Lucky Lord Cav."

  When the dance was over, Velvet approached Will Cavendish and voiced her disapproval. "Mary Butler is an innocent maiden."

  "I wouldn't be interested otherwise," he declared.

  "I won't allow you to corrupt her."

  "My intentions are honorable. She is a duke's daughter."

  "Marriage?" Velvet gasped, imagining how utterly miserable young Mary's life would become, married to this lecherous lout.

  His cold blue eyes glittered with malice. "You wed for rank and property. Don't begrudge me, you two-faced little bitch."

  Velvet was outraged at his accusation. "I shall have a word with her father about you."

  "If I see you speak to the Duke of Ormonde, I shall spread it about the Court that you shared my bed. If you utter one word against me, I will make you rue the day," he threatened.

  As she watched him saunter away, fury and frustra­tion made her tremble. Her first instinct was to go to her husband. Greysteel would protect her against all threats from any source. With a sinking heart, she realized she couldn't tell him, lest he believe the lies. Then Greysteel might kill the lout. Her glance swept the chamber until she located her husband. He was con­versing with none other than the Duke of Ormonde and Velvet knew if she joined them, the vindictive swine would retaliate.

  During the next hour, Cavendish partnered Mary Butler three times and Velvet's apprehension for the young girl mounted. She accepted a glass of cham­pagne and sipped it to quell her fears and frustration. By the time she drained the glass, her courage had re­turned. I'll be damned if I'll allow Lord Bloody Cav to thwart me!

 
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