It had begun innocently enough with something falling from Skerrett’s waistband as she shuffle around with an armful of Victoria’s gowns. Victoria had knelt down to pick the object up, fully intending to give it back to her maid, but she was distracted by the cheerful paper lace and doves and hearts. She thought of how charming it was and how very much she would like to receive one.
There was the slight matter of how to go about getting one. The suitor was obvious, her Lord Consort, but he had never given her a Valentine before. She wondered why not? She had never gotten one from anyone in fact. The Valentine’s Day she had spent with Albert was just a few days after her honeymoon.
“Have you seen Maggie throw?”
She tilted her head. “Throw?”
Melbourne shucked off his slippers as he came in her bed. “Yes, throw.”
“Lord M, she’s not yet a year old. How can she throw?”
“She can throw. She ought to be playing cricket.”
Victoria giggled as she curled up against her husband.
“Hmm?” He was nearly asleep already.
“I thought it might be diverting to exchange Valentines.” She looked up at him. “What do you think?”
“If it is all the same to you, I would rather not.”
“Bad memories. I do not believe I need to say more.”
Caro. She struck again from beyond the grave.
“Of course not.” She hovered over her husband to kiss him. “I am sorry to have mentioned it.”
The footman entered with a tray of Valentines. Claire squealed with excitement.
Matthew rolled his eyes at his sister. “Are you quite done?”
She grabbed them from the tray. “Don’t be so grouchy, Matthew. It only comes once a year.” She paused. “There isn’t anything for you.”
“Ought there be?”
Claire frowned. “You did send the Princess Royal something?”
“Of course I did. I’m not an idiot.”
“What did you send her?”
“What sort of card?”
“The kind you buy.”
He caught the footman trying to hold his expression and pretended not to notice.
“You gave her a card you bought? In a shop?,” Claire demanded.
“What sort of card was I supposed to give her?”
“A note, a poem...” she stammered. “You could have at least hired someone to make something!”
“You think I ought to have hired someone to make a Valentine?!”
“She’s only the third most senior royal in the world, Matthew and you went and gave her a card from a shop!” Claire shook her head. “What gift did you give with it?”
Matthew could hear the butler sigh.
“Chocolates?! You gave her chocolates?!”
“What was I supposed to give? The Kohlinoor?”
“No, you idiot, she already has access to the Kohlinoor, giving her a box of chocolates is not likely to impress her!”
“You are being ridiculous. Victoria will not care if my card came from a shop and if I gave her a box of chocolates.”
“I think I shall write the Montroses and see if I can come to Scotland this summer.”
“They withdrew that invitation because of the wedding.”
“I think you will find that there is not going to be a wedding, Matthew.”
“Ma’am, if you would just-” they heard the second footman stammer.
The door blew open. Victoria stalked in. The footman and butler quickly bowed as Matthew and Claire tripped over their chairs to rise.
“Your Royal Highness-”
“Is this from a shop?”
Matthew saw that it was in fact his Valentine from a shop.
“You know, I do like to consider myself rather egalitarian, I am quite aware that I will never be one of the people, but I try not to look down upon the common man or common woman or common things, but I absolutely must draw the line at a Valentine from a shop! And the chocolates!”
“There were coconut.”
“I despise coconut.”
She thrust the Valentine back at him. “You have twenty-four hours to rectify this.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” She turned to leave. “I shall show myself out.”
Matthew looked back at Claire.
She shook her head. “You idiot.”
“Do you have plans?,” Victoria asked Nancy as they pedaled on their exercise bikes, gym club music blasting around them.
Nancy looked at her forlorn. “He has to work.”
“He gets to stand there while other people have a Valentine’s Day.” She pedaled. “How about you? What’s your bloke got planned?”
“Excuse you, my man.”
“Excuse me,” Nancy said playfully. “Didn’t realize there was a difference.”
“There is a huge difference between Will Lamb and every other male on Earth. Gorgeous. Kind. Sex god.”
Nancy scoffed. “I doubt that.”
“I don’t. He made me come six times the other night.”
Nancy choked on her water. “Six times?!”
“His mouth, his hands, you know what they say about a man with big hands.”
“I can bet you’re going to tell me.”
“Everything you think and better.”
“So, what’s he got planned?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you’re sure he’s got plans?”
“Of course he’s got plans.” Victoria’s mobile went off. She grinned and picked it up. “Hello. I was just talking to Nancy about you.”
“I couldn’t imagine.”
“What time are you coming over?”
“I thought seven. Gussie’s with Emily.”
“That was nice of her.”
“Well, to give up her Valentine’s Day to sit with Gussie.”
There was a long pause.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“You haven’t told me what I ought to wear.”
“Is it posh where we’re going? Or ordinary? Scuba diving kit? What?”
“It’s a surprise.”
She gawked. “You aren’t going to give me one teeny little hint?”
“I’ll let you know.”
Victoria hung up with Will and looked back at Nancy.
“He doesn’t have plans,” Nancy declared.
“Will Lamb has plans, Nancy.”
“How’s your bird?”
David rolled his eyes at his uncle. “Don’t call her that.”
Jamie tilted his head. He had been a teenager when David was born and was consequently far more accessible than either of his parents, particularly when he left Zimbabwe for schooling. “Sorry, what is it the Melbournes like? Rooks? How’s your rook?”
He took a sip of his water.
“What’s the female of rook? Rookette?”
“Are you quite finished?”
“You know, your auntie went to ASDA last week and bought every bloody magazine with your face on it.” He turned to the window and flipped off the awaiting paparazzi.
“What are you bloody doing?”
“If it’s obscene they can’t use the picture. I’d take my dick out, but I don’t want to get up.”
“Yeah. Just don’t you do it, you’re about to be a prince of the empire. I’m just the weird Scottish uncle.”
“All of my uncles are Scottish.”
“Yeah, but I’m the weird one. Then there’s the pasty one, the closeted one and the racist one. Are you inviting your uncle Gordon?”
“Which one’s he?”
Jamie smiled back at David.
He glanced over to see a leggy blonde heading towards him.
Before he could stop anything, she was giving him a too long kiss on the cheek as cameras flashed.
“How are you, David, darling?”
“Fine. How are you?”
“Oh, the same. I’ve just gotten back from Mumbai Fashion Week. Positively mad. I just wanted to let you know I’ve forgiven you.”
“For dumping me for the most eligible woman in the world.”
“We were broken up a month before.”
Marianne sighed. “Of course we were.”
She walked off.
“We were broken up!,” he called after her. He looked back at Jamie. “We were broken up.”
“Sure you were, lover boy.”
“You don’t think...” He paused. “Victoria won’t believe it.”
“Right because all of the Victorias were known for their even, non-jealous tempers.”
“I hope I am not being too impertinent, ma’am...”
Victoria looked up at Emma. They were in her drawing room with the baby doing some embroidery.
“You seem quite vexed.”
She shook her head. “It is a trifle.”
“Yet it distracts you,” said Emma.
Victoria released Maggie to the floor. Harriet joined the princess on the rug.
“It was silly,” said Victoria. “My maid dropped her Valentine and I thought how much I would like one.”
Harriet smiled as she played with the princess. “That is no trouble, surely?”
“Yes, I believe Lord Melbourne would easily comply,” said Emma.
“That is just it. He refused. He blamed bad memories, bad wife, more like...”
She huffed and then realized her ladies were exchanging glances.
“Lady Caroline, obviously,” said Victoria. “I wonder that a wife could have been so wretched. He is such a good husband and such a devoted papa. Surely that ought to have afforded him her respect if nothing else?”
“What did he say that Caro had done?,” said Emma.
“I could not bear to ask.” She now tilted her head at Emma. “It must have had to do with Valentine’s Day. You would know better than I surely.”
“No, ma’am, I cannot say that I do.”
Victoria turned to Harriet.
“That does not mean anything, ma’am,” Harriet tried to reassure. “Lady Caroline did so many things I am certain Lord Melbourne does not want to list them all, if only because he knows how it distresses you.”
“Yes. Of course,” said Victoria.
Victoria waited at her flat, practicing walking in her stupidly tight red dress and ridiculously high heels. There was a knock at the door and she opened it to find Will with an arm of carrier bags and a potted orchid.
“Victoria...” He paused. “You look...”
“Are we staying in?”
He looked back down at the carrier bags. “Yes. I hope you don’t mind too terribly. I hate restaurants on Valentine’s Day. Too crowded.”
“Are you cooking?” Victoria was staggered. “No man has ever cooked for me.”
She pointed at the orchid. “Is that for me?”
“Yes. I thought it was better than something that was going to die in two days’ time.”
Victoria smiled as she took it. “An orchid and dinner?”
She helped him inside with the bags as they went to the kitchen.
“Uh, sorry, you got dressed up.”
“What? Don’t be.”
“No, you were obviously expecting to go somewhere.”
“No, I....” She grinned as she grabbed his hands. “I am thrilled we are not going anywhere.”
“Are you now?”
“Yes,” she said as she began pulling him towards the bedroom. “Because that means we can go straight back to my bed.”
Victoria pulled him back to the bedroom, walking him back onto the mattress. Her lips smashed over his as she started grinding against him. She could hardly wait, ditching her shoes and hating herself for wearing tights. The entire time she took to roll the things off left Will free to get completely naked.
Completely bared, she came back on top of him. She loved every time they had made love, including with his hand over her mouth in his office, but this was how it was meant to be. Will and Victoria, flesh to flesh. He turned her on her back, burying himself and pulling back out. They finished, arms clinging to one another as they always seemed to. There was some desperation she had not yet been able to put her finger on.
“I should cook,” he said softly.
“No, not yet.” She dotted kisses along his neck. “Stay here.”
David labored over the Valentine’s dinner in his flat, waiting for Victoria.
The instance that he opened the door it was immediately as if a shadow were cast over the flat. Victoria stood cross-armed in a red dress.
She entered, bodyguard following behind.
"I won't be a moment, ma'am," said Francatelli.
"You look lovely."
"Am I an idiot?," she asked suddenly.
"In the time we have known each other, did I give you reason to believe that I am an idiot?"
"No, of course not."
"Then perhaps it was something about my public persona? Something I had no part of that made you think I must be an idiot? When one's mother is a model and her father is a dilettante, it does generally give the wrong perception, particularly when one's life's work consist of attending balls and cutting ribbons..."
David shook his head. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Perhaps Marianne Davies does."
"Why are we talking about Marianne Davies?”
“Because I can read!” She sighed. “I really wish I had gotten a magazine for dramatic effect.”
“You’re mad because my ex-girlfriend said God knows what to a tabloid?”
“She said I was the other woman!”
“We had broken up!”
The bodyguard returned.
“Francatelli, I’m leaving.”
“Did you seriously come over here just so you could leave in a dramatic fashion?”
“How nice for you.”
Victoria left, slamming the door. Her bodyguard sheepishly reopened it to follow.
She ought to have left it alone.
But she had never left anything alone.
“What are we doing?,” Gina asked loudly.
Victoria had dragged both children along, eager for some excuse to go rifling through her husband’s things. She had been caught so quickly the last time and surely this afternoon she would not be?
She put Maggie on the floor.
“Mama is looking for something.”
“I do not know...” She looked back from the desk to Gina. “But should anyone enter we only followed Maggie.”
Victoria took a seat at the desk. Her husband was so devoted to his family he hardly used this room, preferring to do business or read in the parlor or the nursery. She easily spotted the wine colored notebooks where he kept his daily accounts of Gina and Maggie. The little portraits of each of his children on the desk.
She sighed. Her husband was devoted to no one else.
“Oh, Gina, I-” She paused, realizing her daughter had presented her with another journal. She opened it carefully, it was her husband’s nearly illegible hand. This was worse than usual. The pages seemed furious somehow. “Gina, where did you find this?”
Gina pointed at a night table, the drawer having fallen on the ground and the contents spilled out on the rug.
“Did you do that?”
“Good girl.” Victoria turned back to the desk and flipped through the journal.
Love is not love which alters when alteration finds...
Ha! It is an ever changing mark, that looks on tempests and is shaken, the star at which I bark, thy worth known, my height taken...
Love is time’s fool in which thine compass I come, My love alters not within his brief hours at which I find her in his arms... but bears me out to my doom...
Victoria looked up. Her husband was standing before her, red-faced. His eyes bore into the journal.
“Where did you find that?”
“I...” Victoria looked back at the mess. “Gina! Naughty girl!”
Gina frowned at her. Melbourne turned on his heel and left the room.
“William!” She jumped out of the chair and followed him down the hall. “William! Stop!”
“Who was she?” She walked closer. “I swear I am not jealous. I only wish to know who it was that broke your heart.”
This was funny to him for some reason she could not fathom.
“You wish to know who broke my heart?”
“Where were you four years ago today?”
“I can recall it clearly, can you?”
Victoria searched her memory. Four years ago? A lifetime! No Maggie, no Gina, not even to mention-
It was the tenth.
Albert. She had married Albert four years ago today.
It was her. She had broken Lord M’s heart.
“Do you suppose anything Caro or anyone else could have managed to wound me as well as that did?”
“You...” She stammered. “You never said anything!”
“I was not supposed to say anything, my duty was to hold the Sword of State while you married another man.”
“I asked you to marry me! And you just talked of Elizabeth and Leicester and rooks! How do you even know they mate for life?! They all look alike! And what does any of this have to do with Valentine’s Day?”
He laughed mirthlessly.
“Because the Friday after your wedding was Valentine’s Day and while you were on your honeymoon, I was getting quite drunk at Brocket Hall writing very bad poetry.” He took the journal back. “So perhaps you will pardon me if I do not wish to celebrate yours and Albert’s wedding, your holiday, your... not to mention making a spectacle of my affection for you on the week of your wedding anniversary.”
She shook her head. “Lord M, I-”
“Actually...” He put the journal back in her hands. “There. You wanted a Valentine.”
He stalked out.
“Well, the answer’s obvious,” said Jamie.
David looked at his uncle. He had offered to stop over on his way back to Edinburgh and the tabloids were just getting ahold of the story that there was trouble with the royal engagement.
“You’re an idiot,” he finished.
He rolled his eyes.
“It’s not your fault. Your father was simultaneously screwing the maid and trying to deny her civil rights. He didn’t understand women. How could he help you? He didn’t understand people, actually. I’ll never understand how he felt safe among a staff that he tried to keep as second class subjects... though he did seem to get food poisoning a lot....”
“The house staff weren’t poisoning him.”
“I’m not saying poison, but I know if I were them and I had sneezed on something he was going to eat, I wouldn’t bother making another one.”
David sighed. “You were telling me what an idiot I am.”
“You see, you don’t understand your rookette.”
“Could we stop trying to make rookette a thing?,” he groaned.
“Her dad died when she was eight, mum when she was ten, her gran hasn’t shown emotion since before the war when I believe she chuckled politely...”
“Is this going somewhere?”
“You really think she has it in her to take another heartache for your arse?”
“Self-preservation is a powerful thing. All love ends in tragedy she’s just trying to stop it.” He took a sip of his tea. “A very cautious rookette.”
Victoria awoke to the smell of food wafting from the kitchen. She was along in bed and couldn’t help but smile. She got up, using Will’s discarded shirt as a nightgown and went to join him.
“Prawn curry? I don’t think there’s ever been a prawn in this flat or any flat I’ve ever had, really...”
“Have a seat.”
Victoria sat down at her little kitchen table, her new orchid made a centerpiece. Will quickly joined her, placing a plate before her.
“Bon appetit,” he said.
“I ought to take a picture, seriously, no man has ever cooked for me. Well, I did date one bloke who came close, but I’ll never consider haggis a proper food, really-”
“It’s a lie.”
Victoria frowned. “The prawn curry’s a lie?”
“It’s all a lie.” He motioned. “I make the prawn curry with a sauce from a jar, we’re not at a restaurant because I didn’t make a reservation, this orchid was the last flower in Waitrose’s and I...” He sighed. “I didn’t even realize it was Valentine’s Day until we spoke earlier.”
Victoria considered this. “Why would you tell me that?”
“Because I’m not who you think I am. I am irreparably screwed up. I asked Emily to take Gussie for a night or two because I was just... exhausted and that made me feel like rubbish, but disappointing you made me feel like rubbish and I had to decide which rubbish I was going to be...” He shook his head. “Here we are. This is the rubbish I have decided to be.”
She put her fork down. “What do you mean you were exhausted?”
“I mean I couldn’t get out of bed.”
“Why couldn’t you get out of bed?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” she said tightly.
“I missed Allison. I missed Allison and everything just seems so... heavy and it makes me tired.”
Victoria considered this. “Isn’t there some sort of help-”
“Pharmaceuticals? Yes, I had a brilliant idea and chucked those.”
“You chucked them?”
He looked up at the ceiling. “Well, it usually seems like a good idea...”
Victoria stood slowly and moved her chair over next to Will’s. He frowned at her as she moved her plate. She took a seat and started eating.
“What are you doing?,” he asked.
“Eating the prawn curry. It’s delicious, I don’t care if it did come from a jar. I’m also formulating a plan.”
Victoria nodded. “We’re going to bed after this. Really bed. Like sleeping and then first thing, we are calling your GP and telling him about your brilliant idea to chuck your prescription, which, really, Will, would you chuck Gussie’s medicine if he thought you ought to?”
Will looked down. “No.”
“That’s right. Because you’re a good dad and you ought to take at least as good care of yourself as you do of him. If you don’t take care of yourself, who is going to look after him? Your ex-wife with the boyfriend with the books that have been banned in most of Asia? I highly doubt it. But, no need to worry.”
“I’m here. Will, I have waited a very long time to meet you and I am not about to give you up...” She smiled. “Will, you did this on a day where you were rubbish according to you. I can only imagine what you can do on a good day.”
“The Earl of Charlbury-” the equerry announced.
“You are insane!,” Matthew shouted as the man shut the door.
Victoria looked up from her magazine. William from behind his newspaper.
“Your Royal Highness,” said Matthew.
“Oh, please don’t stop on my account,” said William.
“I am insane?,” asked Victoria.
“Yes, I didn’t even want to buy a stupid Valentine-”
“From a shop.”
“Which I went to myself and bought because you are my fiancée and it was Valentine’s Day and how was I to know you hate coconut?”
“Because she’s constantly mentioning it,” said William.
Victoria motioned at her brother. “Thank you. It’s the texture.”
“Honestly, you didn’t even get flowers?,” asked William. “I bought a dozen bouquets and I’m not actually dating any of the women.”
“Fine. Valentine’s Day is off,” said Victoria. She reopened the magazine.
“What?,” asked Matthew.
“We needn’t ever celebrate it again if you’re going to go through it halfway. I just wanted to make my position clear. A unique celebration worthy of me or none at all.” She shrugged. “Though I was hoping you might come up with something, but we see how that’s played out.”
Matthew shook his head. “I was right from the beginning. You are insane and I for one am not going to stand here-”
He turned to leave walking straight into the wall, falling back. An oak panel fell off, a canvas behind it.
William tsked. “You took it too far, old chap. You did almost manage to leave with some dignity.”
“Matthew!” Victoria leapt up, walking over to him. “Are you alright? Did you hurt yourself?”
“What is that?”
William stood as the three looked at the canvas that had fallen out.
“It must have been some sort of secret compartment,” said Victoria.
“For someone’s naughty nude portrait...” said William, tilting his head. “Who is that?”
“She looks jolly familiar,” said Matthew.
“Oh, good God!” Victoria covered her mouth.
“What?,” asked Matthew.
“It’s great-grandmama,” she gasped.
William turned back. “Oh, God, it is.”
“This was Lord M’s room,” Victoria whispered.
“You suppose he can hear us?,” William whispered back.
“So, Lord Melbourne had a nude portrait of his wife hidden in his wall?,” asked Matthew.
“Well, that’s certainly the look of the thing...” said William.
Melbourne carried on up the stairs.
“You needn’t have summoned me back,” he said. “I had business at Brocket Hall.”
“Well, I needed you here,” said Victoria. “This way.”
He followed her back to his rooms.
“What have you found now? Perhaps my Eton diaries might make interesting reading...”
Victoria turned around. “William, it was very wrong of me to intrude in your room.”
“I knew what my marriage to Albert cost me, in the end, but I never did consider what you might have felt and for that I am sorry.”
He sighed. “I don’t want you to be sorry, I didn’t want to discuss it in the first place.”
“I know. You were trying to spare my feelings.” She took a breath. “I did read your poetry.”
He sighed. “Good God, I wish you hadn’t.”
“They way you wrote about me, still tormenting you, possessing you...” She quoted. “’I rage against the trials of love, I curse the fading of the light, though she’s already flown so far beyond my reach, she’s never out of sight.’”
She looked up at him expectantly.
“I am sorry-”
“William, do not be. It was beautiful, so raw, so naked, I did not know how I could repay you.” She walked over to the draped easel he had just now noticed in his room. “So I decided to commission this.”
Victoria removed the drape, revealing a portrait of herself, hair down bare except for a light gauze robe that hid nothing particularly not her breasts.
Melbourne thought he might have a heart attack. Either because he was very aroused by it or because the Queen of England had posed for a nude portrait.
“William? What do you think?”
“You are quite nude, ma’am...”
“Yes, that was the point. To let you possess me completely.”
“And what if someone saw it?! Who painted it?!”
“A friend of Harriet’s.”
“She was paid quite well to not disclose it. The canvas never left this room.”
“You would be ruined-”
“That is the point!,” she shouted. “I wanted to give you the same power to ruin me that you let me have over you.”
“I don’t want it!”
“Then burn it! Do what you want! It is yours now!”
She threw her hands up and felt her husband’s mouth over hers. He was pushing her back into the bedroom and onto the mattress.
“I take it you aren’t burning it?,” she asked between kisses.
“Not at the moment, no...”
Dash bounded up, barking at David.
“You, too?,” he asked.
Victoria walked down the hall, arms crossed. “We’re dining with the King of Thailand. You had better be quick. Did you loan me a comic book or something?”
“We need to talk.”
“I am just a bit busy at the moment.”
“Alright, no need to go all Scottish.”
He followed her into the next room, furniture draped in cloths. Victoria took a seat.
“You have five minutes.”
“You can’t boss me about-”
“I think you’ll find I can. Four minutes.”
“You can’t take away a minute whenever I say a bloody word!”
“They’re my rules! I can do as I like! Two minutes!”
“Fine! If I wanted to be married to Marianne Davies, I would be married to Marianne Davies, yet I’m not! I asked you and you’re not going to do better than me not because you couldn’t because you so obviously could in about fifteen minutes but because you will never find anyone as pathetically in love with you as I am!”
Victoria drew a breath. “Is that everything?”
She stood up, pushing him against the wall as she pressed her mouth over his.
“My uncle’s right, you are a strange rookette...”
“Yeah. Jamie. He’s the weird one.”
“I like Jamie.”
“Of course you do. You’re English.” He looked back to where his head had been. “Did that wall just open?”
They stepped back, pulling back an oak panel on a hinge. Behind it, a canvas of a nude woman.
“That’s my great-great-great-great-grandmother,” said Victoria.
“Why is she naked?”
“I have no idea.”
“Right...” said David. He motioned at the door. “I think it’s probably better if I just close this.”