Ladies in Waiting

Free Ladies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan

Book: Ladies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Laura L. Sullivan
not in public, or quite so loudly. But it sounds well on your tongue. In private, please call me Charles.”
    She only nodded, thinking she would almost certainly never see him after this day, unless she joined the gawking crowds at the public dinners. It’s the most I could be to him anyway, she thought, I or any other woman. One of many.
    “And you will stay. I order you to stay. Come, help me feel like a king again. Let there be one person who obeys me.” He took her chin in his hand.
    This is foolishness, she told herself. What, desire a man not only married but with a stable of mistresses? Love the king?
    She astonished herself at the word, barely whispered inside her. It is not love, she told herself plainly. It is the natural fealty one feels for one’s monarch, coupled, no doubt, with that animal lust which is as evident in humans as in beasts. The bitch in heat claws the door of her kennel from the inside just as fiercely as the dog from the outside. There is nothing odd in a girl of marriageable age admiring a virile man. He is intelligent and charming, looks well enough, understands sciences natural and physical.
    He reminded Zabby of her father.
    She clung to that. Yes, I miss my father, and Charles is the closest surrogate. I enjoy his company, no more. I am fond of him, she told herself. I do not love him. Love is a question of logic as much as passion, and no equation can ever prove that I love Charles.
    A small, delighted part of her taunted, If you do not love him, then there’s no harm in staying.
    “I cannot stay,” she insisted. “I came to England to study with my godmother. I plan to assist her in her natural examination, improve upon the clarity of lenses, increase my alchemical knowledge . . .”
    Charles grinned. A gambling man, he always knew when he had won long before his opponents. He understood how to trap her now.
    “If you stay, you may have free access to my elaboratory. No one else has that privilege, not even Buckingham. You should see my collection at Whitehall. Lenses much finer than these, blown beakers, every chemical on the sphere, tumors and grotesques preserved in spirits, fresh criminal cadavers to dissect.”
    How could Zabby resist such an offer? She tried, and failed. For the elaboratory, she told herself. And for Beth and Eliza. Certainly not for Charles.
    “I’ll only stay if you tell the queen the truth. I can’t serve her if she believes me to be your mistress. I won’t.” She stubbornly lifted the chin Charles still held in his hand.
    “Very well, if you’ll do one little thing for me in return.”
    “Of course. Anything.”
    “Swear it first.”
    “You are my king. I must obey.”
    He laughed. “Only now you realize it?” He leaned a fraction closer and she drew a breath, half afraid, half eager to know what he might command her. For if indeed it was a kingly command, she’d certainly be justified in yielding.
    “Convince my wife to allow Lady Castlemaine to serve as a lady of the bedchamber.”
    She did her best to refuse. It was a deal with the devil, but when the devil was a charming King Charles, she couldn’t resist. Charles in turn agreed to tell Catherine the truth immediately, and even said that Zabby could tell Beth and Eliza what really happened in those weeks in Dover.
    “Are you certain you can trust to their discretion? How well do you know them?”
    “Not well, though I trust them. We shared a bed for the night.”
    He chuckled. “Quite well, then. When a woman shares my bed for an hour she rises believing she knows me perfectly.
    “And you’ll keep this, won’t you, sweetheart?” he asked, fumbling in her skirts to slip the seashell back in the pocket that hung against her legs. “Just a little lover’s gift.” He laughed and strode out before she could throw herself either into his arms or out the window. She thought, wildly, that those were her only two choices. Love the king, Zabby? You are mad.
    Instead she bent her head

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