Virginia henley unmask.., p.27
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       Virginia Henley - Unmasked, p.27

           Virginia Henley
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  "I shall relieve you of your problem immediately." He lifted the crate with hands that wanted to smash it to smithereens.

  Montgomery unlocked the chamber that used to be­long to Emma, carried the painting inside and then locked the door. Before he even removed his coat or his sword, he opened the crate, lifted out the portrait and stood it against the wall.

  Without doubt it was one of the loveliest, most provocative paintings he had ever seen. Velvet's flaw­less, porcelain flesh looked as if it would be warm and alive to the touch. Her red gold hair looked as if it would curl possessively about his fingers if he brushed them across the shining waves.

  An explosive combination of fury and jealousy rose up in him. "The little bitch!" His fists clenched. "That unfaithful, wanton little bitch!"

  Chapter 25

  The door flew open with such force it crashed against the wall.

  "Greysteel!" Velvet, who had been sitting to put on her shoes, jumped up from the chair. Her pulse began to race at the sight of him. "I'm happy you're back. I missed you so much."

  She saw his clenched fists and his thunderous brow. She sensed that something had upset him, but could not wait to share her joyous news. “I’m going to have a baby."

  His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Who's the fa­ther?"

  His words pierced her heart like three steel-tipped arrows. She staggered a little and, to steady herself, quickly placed her hand on the back of the chair. Her other hand went to her belly to protect her babe. Then her chin went up defiantly, and her eyes glittered emerald green.

  "Charles, of course! What woman wouldn't want the king to be the father of her child?"

  Montgomery stood staring at her. Raw pain tore through his gut, and he fought the violence that rose up in his brain. His fists clenched tighter in an effort to control himself and his gorge rose with contempt. "Prodgers gave me your wanton portrait—it's in Emma's chamber."

  He's seen the naked painting! "You don't understand."

  His lips curled back and bared his teeth like a snarling wolf. "No, you don't understand. I am no complaisant Roger Palmer. The marriage is over, Lizzy. It's finished!"

  Velvet stared at the door for a full minute after he left. She felt nauseated and, as if she were in a trance, walked over to the small refectory table to pour some ginger wine. Suddenly she picked up the decanter and hurled it at the door. It shattered into crystal shards and the wine splashed the ceiling.

  "I hate you, Greysteel Montgomery!"

  An hour later, Emma opened the door and as she entered, broken glass crunched beneath the soles of her shoes. "What on earth is that?" She hurried to light the candles and saw Velvet in the big chair. "Why are you sitting in the dark?"

  "I... I was ... contemplating."

  "Are you unwell, my love? Did you drop a glass?"

  "No, I deliberately threw the bloody thing!" Actu­ally, she had not been contemplating. She had been sit­ting, thinking nothing, feeling nothing, with every sense numbed. Now she came out of her trance. "Come with me, Emma."

  A mystified Emma followed Velvet down the corri­dor to the private chamber she used to occupy. The door was locked, but Emma had a key.

  Velvet saw the crate immediately. "Help me carry this." The two women each lifted an end and took it to the Montgomerys’ apartment. "Thank you, Emma." She sat down in the chair, knowing she should be im­mensely relieved that the naked Venus was back in her possession, yet the thought that went through her mind was, What does it matter now?

  As Emma carefully picked up the glass shards, Vel­vet sat deep in thought. He said Prodgers gave him the portrait. That swine Cavendish must have asked Prodgers to give it to Charles. Because I wouldn't give in to his black­mail and let him have Roehampton, the whoreson carried out his threat.

  "Did you know that Princess Mary and her ladies have arrived? Have you seen Lord Montgomery yet?"

  "Yes, I've seen the jealous bastard. Why do you think I hurled the bloody decanter? He thinks Charles is the father of my baby!"

  ""Who on earth would tell him such a wicked lie?"

  "I did!"

  Emma stared, aghast. "Perhaps you should lie down, my love."

  "You think I've gone mad, when in reality I'm mad as hell!"

  "Who are you mad at?"

  "Men! I hate every last one of them," she vowed.

  "Now, I know you don't hate King Charles. In fact, you should feel sorry for His Majesty. The servants tell me Princess Mary is demanding and thankless."

  "He's a man. I'll be damned if I'll waste pity on the male of the species. All men are created evil!"

  "You are angry at your husband," Emma guessed.

  "No, I'm not. I'm completely indifferent toward him. My marriage is over. I'm finished with Mont­gomery forever."

  Emma did not dare contradict her when she was in this mood. "Did you have any supper, my love?"

  "I don't remember."

  "I'll go down and get you a tray."

  "Please, just fetch me some more ginger wine, Emma. It truly does settle my nausea. I was wicked to waste it."

  I don't need Greysteel Montgomery. I don't need any husband, she thought as she sat alone. It isn't a tragedy that the marriage is over. It's merely a provocation I shall overcome, like an oyster takes an irritating grain of sand and makes it into a pearl. Her inner voice mocked her. Things are so simple when they are theoretical.

  Velvet moved over to the couch and laid her head against a pillow as she watched the flames in the fire. An old superstition said that when the flames burned blue, the Devil was present. Old Nick is here tonight.

  When Emma returned, bringing fruit and biscuits along with the ginger wine, she found Velvet asleep. She decided against disturbing her, believing sleep would do her a world of good. Emma quietly retired to the daybed in the dressing room.

  Just before midnight, Velvet awoke. She was disori­ented for a moment before she realized where she was. Then the episode with her husband came full-blown into her consciousness.

  "I hate you, Greysteel Montgomery!" she hissed aloud.

  She sat up and looked at the dying embers of the fire. Not only did she feel lonely; she felt completely alone. Her hand slipped to her belly. We are not alone. The angels will watch over us. Velvet felt strangely com­pelled to go down to the chapel and say a prayer for her baby. She thought of the angel statue that resembled her mother and knew she must seek her out.

  She closed her chamber door quietly and shivered. The hallway was cold, but she had decided to forgo getting a cloak because it would have disturbed Emma. With quiet, slow, but determined steps, Velvet made her way through the labyrinth of Whitehall to the Queen's Chapel.

  The corridor outside the chapel was shrouded in darkness and Velvet hurried inside toward the lights that were always kept burning. A couple, standing at the altar with the same Anglican priest who had sol­emnized her marriage, jumped apart guiltily.

  "Who is she?" the lady at the altar cried.

  Velvet knew immediately that the couple were being wed in a midnight ceremony. Moreover she rec­ognized the bridegroom as James Stuart, the king's brother.

  "It is Lady Montgomery, a friend," James told his bride.

  "I... I am so sorry.... I didn't mean to intrude." She clearly saw that the bride was enceinte. Her preg­nancy looked to be as far along as Barbara's. Christian had told her that Anne Hyde, the chancellor's daugh­ter, was in love with James.

  A tall, dark man stepped from the shadows and she saw that it was King Charles. "Come to me, Velvet," he said quietly. He waited until she stood beside him, then signaled the priest to continue. When the mar­riage was solemnized, Charles said, "We will act as witnesses to make it legal and binding."

  Velvet put her signature beside that of Charles Stu­art and curtsied deeply to Anne, the new Duchess of York.

  The newlyweds departed quickly and quietly and the priest disappeared. Charles towered above her, looking down with melancholy eyes. "It must be kept secret for a li
ttle while. When it leaks out, as it in­evitably will, we will say that they were secretly wed in Breda, last November, for obvious reasons. My dearest Velvet, I trust we may rely upon your discre­tion?"

  "You may, Your Majesty," she pledged. She raised her eyes to the angel. Please, watch over my babe and keep him safe.

  Charles led her from the chapel and along the corri­dor that took them from the ancient wing. The king spoke to one of his Royal Guards who stood duty. "If you would escort Lady Montgomery to her chambers, we would deeply appreciate it." Charles swept off his hat and bowed. "Good night, my dear."

  At her door, she thanked the guard and wondered fleetingly if he would tell Montgomery that she had been with Charles at one in the morning. What does it matter? The damage has been done.

  Velvet undressed quietly in the dark and slipped into bed. She couldn't get the picture of Anne Hyde's face out of her mind. The young woman, who was her own age, had been pale as death. For five months she must have been racked with fear and anxiety. How frighten­ing it must be to find you are carrying a child when you are unwed. Velvet pictured the young woman trying to hide her pregnancy beneath loose garments and flow­ing capes. She felt infinitely sorry for Anne. She doubted that James Stuart would make a good hus­band, for all he was a royal prince. It was, neverthe­less, a blessing that he had married the lady; otherwise the scandal for the chancellor's daughter would be horrendous.

  The following morning Velvet awoke when Emma drew back the curtains in her bedchamber. "I fell asleep on the couch," Velvet said.

  "Yes. I didn't disturb you. I knew if you awoke later, you would go to bed. I brought fruit and biscuits for you."

  "Thank you so much." Velvet was relieved that Emma had no idea she had left her chambers last night. She was the keeper of a royal secret and she had vowed to keep her mouth shut.

  She sipped her ginger wine, nibbled on the biscuits and enjoyed a pear and some plums. When she was certain her tummy would behave itself, she took her bath and dressed.

  Midday, Thomas knocked on the door and she in­vited him in.

  "If it is convenient, my lady, I must get his lord­ship's garments and personal articles from your apart­ment. Lord Montgomery has asked me to pack all his belongings."

  "It is perfectly convenient, Thomas. How soon does he plan to leave Whitehall?"

  Thomas gave her an odd look as if she should know these things better than he. "Tomorrow, I believe, ma'am."

  "Montgomery has asked His Majesty for leave. Have you any idea how long he plans to be away?"

  Thomas cleared his throat. "Well, I believe he will travel first to Roehampton. Then he and Mr. Burke are to take delivery of some horses at Newmarket and take them to Bolsover Castle. After that, his lordship intends to go home to Worksop, Nottingham, and then visit all his other northern properties. He mentioned returning for the coronation."

  "But that's not until April!" I'll be ready to have my baby!

  "No, ma'am... I mean, yes, ma'am."

  Let him go and good riddance. "You'll find his things in the dressing room, Thomas." I hate you, Greysteel Montgomery!

  That night, Velvet took pains to look her best for Princess Mary's reception. She had never met the king's eldest sister, but from all the accounts she'd heard, she didn't expect to become friends with her. On the other hand, Velvet decided she would speak to Anne and let her know the bride had an ally.

  "Mary holds her royal nose high so she won't have to breathe the same air as the rest of us," Barbara com­mented to Velvet. "The bitch snubbed me. Seems that the rank of countess is beneath her. I shall have to ask Charles to make me a duchess!"

  Buckingham looked his cousin directly in the eye. "Even the wicked get worse than they deserve in this world."

  "Talking about yourself again, George?" Barbara smiled smugly. "That Anne Hyde is as plain as a pikestaff and her figure is rather lumpy to boot," Bar­bara said spitefully. It was common knowledge that she hated the chancellor, Edward Hyde, who made no secret of his total and complete disapproval of her.

  "She is a clever young lady, Barbara; do not under­estimate her," Buckingham advised. "Quite witty too, a rare talent that attracts the male of the species."

  "I'm an expert on what attracts the male of the species, George—I'd say it's more tit than wit!"

  Velvet laughed. "I wonder if my friend Christian Cavendish is here tonight. Have either of you seen the dowager countess?"

  "Probably run off with Montgomery," Buckingham drawled. "Both seem to be missing tonight."

  "Christian is too shrewd to saddle herself with a man," Velvet declared blithely.

  "He's only been back a day and already there ap­pears to be trouble in paradise," Buckingham de­clared.

  "Never taunt a mother-to-be, George," Barbara warned. "Every one of us has the unpredictable tem­per of a tigress. I'm off to separate the siblings—I be­lieve Charles has kissed Mary's arse quite long enough."

  Velvet watched the pair as they approached the king and his sister. They were ever a team. Bucking­ham would occupy Mary so that Barbara could mo­nopolize Charles.

  Velvet made her way to Mary's maids of honor and smiled warmly at Anne Hyde.

  "Good evening, Lady Montgomery. I believe it was your husband who gave us safe escort from Dover. I wanted to thank him, but I don't see him here tonight."

  She saw that Anne still looked pale and the haunted look she'd had last night had not yet vanished. Anne gave Velvet an anxious glance that seemed to plead for her friendship. "Please call me Velvet. My husband cannot be here, but I welcome you and hope you will be happy here in London."

  Anne murmured, "I feel rather faint, but I don't want anyone to notice."

  "Here, take my fan. I just found out that I'm having a baby, and I fainted right here in the Presence Cham­ber not long ago. Shall we go and find some seats?"

  Anne tucked her arm through Velvet's and the two ladies strolled over to some gilt chairs. Before Anne had a chance to sit, she drew in a quick gasp of air as if she was in pain. She looked down in horror as bright spots of red appeared on the folds of her blue gown. "I must go upstairs—please help me?"

  Velvet immediately shielded her from those close by and led her newfound friend to the door. She put her arm about Anne as they ascended the stairs and then hurried to the bride's chamber. She helped Anne onto the bed and raised her feet by propping pillows beneath them.

  Anne clutched Velvet's hand. "You mustn't tell any­one."

  "You need help. I must get the doctor." She went out into the hallway where royal maids were moving in and out of the chambers that accommodated Mary and her ladies.

  One of the chambermaids approached her. "Is that another lady who has fallen ill with fever?"

  "Another?" Velvet asked sharply.

  "Lady Beatrice is delirious. The doctor is attending her."

  “Dr. Fraser is here?" Velvet's heart raced with hope.

  "Yes, my lady. He's in this chamber with Lady Beatrice."

  Velvet tapped on the door but didn't wait for an in­vitation. She opened it and hurried into the room. The doctor was washing his hands, while his nursing as­sistant tried to give the patient a fever potion.

  "Lady Montgomery, what is amiss?"

  "Dr. Fraser, you are needed immediately. Please fol­low me."

  "Ods blood, don't tell me it's more fever!"

  Velvet shook her head and put her finger to her lips. "Come." After they entered Anne's room, she carefully shut the door.

  Dr. Fraser immediately surmised what was happen­ing. "Help me to undress her." Between them, they re­moved most of Anne's garments. "Mistress Hyde, Anne, my dear, are you in pain?"

  "I had one tearing pain, but that's all—it has passed."

  "You have lost blood, but your contractions have stopped." He glanced at Velvet with guarded specula­tion.

  "It's all right, Dr. Fraser. I know."

  "There is only a slight chance that we can save the child." He asked carefully,
"Am I right in my assump­tion that you are unwed, my lady?"

  "Certainly not," Velvet blurted. "Anne is the Princess of Wales. She and James were secretly wed in Breda last November."

  Dr. Fraser blanched. James was heir to the throne, which made Anne's child next in line. "You must re­main in bed with your legs and feet elevated. I will give you a sleeping aid because rest is the only thing that may avert a miscarriage. I will arrange for a nurse to sit with you tonight and instruct her to call me im­mediately if aught untoward happens. Lady Mont­gomery, will you stay until the nurse comes?"

  "Of course, Doctor."

  When he left, Velvet moved to the bed. "Are you comfortable?"

  "The sleeping draft tasted horrible, but other than that I have little discomfort."

  Velvet squeezed Anne's hand and found it chapped and red. "Tomorrow I will bring you some cream that will heal your skin. Would you like me to tell your husband?"

  Anne looked horrified at the suggestion. "No, please, no. Oh, God, I hope we can keep all this from my father."

  Velvet pictured the straitlaced and honorable Chan­cellor Hyde and shuddered. All his moral tenets would be compromised by the foolish actions of his daughter. By the time the nurse arrived, Anne had drifted into a light sleep and Velvet left. She returned to the Presence Chamber and found that Princess Mary was again monopolizing Charles, telling him in minute detail about the excruciating pain of the mi­graine headache that kept returning.

  Barbara had taken herself off to the supper room, but Buckingham had not yet deserted the king. Velvet placed her hand on George's arm and gave him a speaking look.

  Intuitive as always, Buckingham addressed Mary. "I do believe that Henry Jermyn has a remedy for migraine." He offered Mary his arm. "Shall we consult him?"

  Jermyn, for the sake of discretion, was keeping his distance from the royal lady.

  Velvet stood on tiptoe and whispered to Charles, "Sire, the bride is in danger of grave misfortune."

  His brows came together in an anxious frown. "What?"

  She shook her head and placed a finger to her lips. She watched him leave and felt sorry for him. I shall go up to bed; otherwise I will be the one explaining to Barbara why Charles deserted her.

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