Chevalier could feel the thunder of hooves and the incessant howl of the hounds before the hunting party emerged from the woods. At the front of the group, Louis and Philippe rode side-by-side on matching white steeds with rifles slung over their shoulders. Farther behind, servants labored under the weight of their kill - a massive buck whose pronged antlers nearly dragged the ground with their length.
A slight breeze carried the scent of gunpowder and the slain kill across the yard. The mid-April air was chilly in an invigorating sort of way. Spring had sprung, bringing with it a restlessness that had driven their King and his court far from the crowded and stifling streets of Paris to this retreat in the woods. They had gone hunting each morning since their arrival, returning at dusk rosy-cheeked and exhilarated from the woods.
Chevalier had little interest in hunting. While Philippe bounded out of bed every morning at the break of dawn, Chevalier lingered behind in the satin sheets, slumbering well until noon when the party would return for a break and a bite to eat.
Hunting was a nobleman’s hobby that his father had attempted to teach him, but Chevalier had never been interested in killing living things. Yet, despite his disapproval of the hunt, he couldn’t deny that the sex they had when Philippe returned was especially good. Perhaps it was the fresh air and excitement, the freedom from the dim and ancient clutches of the palace back in Paris.
He had to admit, he felt safer and more relaxed here, too.
Chevalier set his eyes on Philippe from his position on the front lawn of the lodge.
Philippe conversed with Louis, his mouth widening in a smile. From across the yard, Chevalier could see his eyes were sparkling. They darted across the lawn for half a second, catching Chevalier’s gaze. He spoke to Louis a moment longer before swinging his leg over the saddle and pouncing to the ground. He handed the rifle off to one of the musketeers, and strode across the grass.
When he reached Chevalier, he caught him by the waist, and pressed a kiss to Chevalier’s waiting lips. His lips were raw and chilled by the wind, but the press of his tongue was warm and smooth like velvet. He pulled back, breathing heavily through his nostrils.
“You smell like the woods.” Chevalier murmured, stroking his thumb across Philippe’s cheek. “And dirt, like some feral, naughty creature.”
Philippe’s tongue darted against his lower lip. “I suppose I should get cleaned up.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Chevalier looped his arm through Philippe’s, and they walked across the lawn together toward the chateau. Feeling a pair of eyes on him, he flicked a gaze over his shoulder to see Louis walking several paces behind them. His expression was neutral, but his sharp, blue eyes watched Chevalier like a hawk prepared to spring for the kill.
Chevalier quickly averted gaze. He had to remind himself that he was safely within Philippe’s circle, and that no harm would come to him if he remained in the prince’s favor. For now, favor was securely with him. Even the king couldn’t touch him. That should have filled him with a sense of invincibility, but the spike of nausea in his stomach said otherwise.
Favor was a thing that could twist in the wind should a foul breeze strike. If Philippe ever tired of him, Chevalier would surely be at the king’s mercy; it was clear to him that Louis would not stay his hand should that day ever come.
Chevalier tightened his grip around Philippe’s bicep, and leaned closer to whisper, “Your brother is staring at us.”
“Let him stare.” Philippe replied, hardly attempting to keep his voice down.
“I don’t think he fancies me much.”
“Louis has never fancied any of my lovers. But to his chagrin, he has no say over who I fuck.” Philippe replied, casting Chevalier a cool smile.
Chevalier gave one last look over his shoulder as they entered the chateau, and he and Philippe’s path toward the bedroom split off from Louis’. Louis managed a momentary glare just as they disappeared around the corner.
“He hates me, actually.” Chevalier said. “No bother. I don’t care for him either.”
“Careful. He’s still the king.” Philippe warned, tugging on his arm.
“And you’re the prince.” Chevalier said, pulling Philippe to a stop in front of his bedroom door. “And you care for me quite a lot, don’t you?”
Philippe’s brows furrowed slightly as his pale blue eyes wandered intensively over Chevalier’s hopeful expression. He reached up to clutch Chevalier’s cheeks.
“What are you on about?” He whispered.
“What do you mean?” Chevalier asked, forcing a chuckle. “You know how I love affirmation. I just want to hear you say it.”
“All right, then. Yes.” Philippe said, leaning in closer. “I do care for you. Very much. Of that, you can be sure.”
The tightness in his chest eased as Philippe leaned in to press a kiss to his mouth. Philippe’s mouth lingered for a long, sweet moment before he pulled back.
Chevalier drew in a shaky breath, his knees suddenly feeling weak and improbable of holding his weight.
Philippe swung the door open, and marched inside, calling for one of the domestics to draw him a bath.
Chevalier leaned against the windowsill while two maids brought in heated buckets of water and filled a tub in the center of the room. Philippe dismissed them as soon as the tub was full.
He stripped down, and stepped into the water. his long, black hair spilled across his shoulders and down his back, giving way to the delicious little dip of his spine, and finally, the two round swells of his ass cheeks. Chevalier pursed his mouth over pleased moan as the day’s machinations of need came to a delightfully painful head.
He was enjoying the view, but he couldn’t quite shake the sense of insecurity Louis had rattled to life within him. His mind wandered back to this time last year when he’d not yet met the Duc d’Orleans, when he was far from court life, and the arms of a skilled and gentle lover.
Nearly eight months had passed since he had introduced himself at Louis’ birthday party, and subsequently introduced himself into Philippe’s bed. The seduction had been swift; despite his status as the king’s brother, Philippe was an alarmingly easy target. Perhaps it was his royalty that made him so willing to trust. He knew little of the dangers of the world beyond Paris, let alone outside the walls of the Palais-Royal. He didn’t know what strange men could do to him. He didn’t know what Chevalier had gone through to get himself to this point - inside the King’s brother’s inner circle - because he had been born into this life of privilege. But if Chevalier had it his way, Philippe would never have to know.
“Next time,” Philippe said, sighing aloud as he situated himself in the tub, “you should ride along with us.”
Chevalier chuckled. “Please, dear, you know I do not have the aptitude for hunting, nor the fortitude for the sight of blood - even if it isn’t human.”
“I didn’t say you had to kill anything.”
“I see.” Chevalier said, pushing away from the window and approaching the tub. “You simply want me to witness you killing something.”
“You would have been proud. It was I who fired the shot, not Louis. This buck had four more prongs than the one he took down yesterday.”
Chevalier gathered Philippe’s damp curls away from his neck, and bent to impart a soft kiss below his ear. Philippe shuddered, and tilted his chin back to accommodate.
“So, it’s the prongs you are interested in.” Chevalier whispered.
Philippe laughed quietly, and let his head fall back against the rim of the tub. Chevalier gazed down at him, stroking his fingertips along his pale throat.
“My dear Lorraine, you have such a way with words.”
Chevalier bent to press a kiss to Philippe’s mouth, and muffled a groan into the plush swell of his lower lip. “Don’t make me wait.” He rasped. “I’ve been thinking of you all day.”
He drew back, resting his forehead against Philippe’s chin. Heat coiled lower in his belly as Philippe shifted in the water, his nipples breaching the surface. His hand slipped from the edge of the tub, and disappeared below the water where the ripples suggested just where it was headed.
Chevalier straightened, and circled the tub. “Come now, get out. Don’t torture me.”
Philippe’s mouth compressed over a little moan. His hand moved beneath the water. “You’re so impatient.”
“Then, I shall get in with you.” Chevalier replied, reaching up to tug at the buttons of his vest.
“All right.” Philippe said, chuckling. He rose to his feet suddenly, causing water to slosh against the lip of the tub. Water sluiced down his slender frame, highlighting every dip and curve in the glistening of the yellow sun through the window. His cock stood hard and pink against the white of his skin, just begging to touched and caressed.
Chevalier hurried out of his vest and shirt as Philippe stepped out of the tub and walked toward him, hips swinging just enough to make his cock rock back and forth. Just as the shirt cleared his wrists, their bodies collided, and Philippe pressed his mouth hard to Chevalier’s. They stumbled back until they reached the bed, and they fell to the sheets, panting, kissing, and stroking.
Philippe’s hips careened against Chevalier’s, rubbing his hard, wet cock into the expensive fabric of Chevalier’s trousers. The water seeped through the material, outlining the swollen shape of Chevalier’s cock. He reached down to tug at the buttons, eager to feel Philippe’s skin on his own.
Philippe reached down to assist him, his fingers being the first to drag Chevalier’s cock from within the confines of his breeches.
“Oh, fuck.” Chevalier moaned as Philippe’s fingers stroked delicately over him. “Yes …”
Philippe’s mouth tore away from his, and he was between Chevalier’s legs in the space of seconds, his mouth sucking down on his dick like it was a fine dessert.
“God, yes!” Chevalier cried, his fingers tangling through Philippe’s hair. “Oh, mignonnet, this is what I was thinking about … alone, here, without you …”
Philippe hummed around a mouthful of his cock. One hand reached up to feel along Chevalier’s belly and chest until his fingers located the soft peak of his nipple.
Chevalier bit back a moan as the pleasure surged at him, threatening to send him buckling under in a matter of moments. That is what Philippe did to him. One stray, dirty thought could lodge into him like a pebble in his shoe, pestering him all day long until they were finally alone; at last, the hard-earned pleasure would come, too quickly, as if his body were tripping over itself to reach the explosive end that had culminated since the inception of that single, hungry image that had sprung up over breakfast. He felt like a child again, his body unraveling at the slightest touch, aroused by the strangest, most innocuous things, entranced by the simple work of fingers against his nipples.
Philippe wrung it from him, sucking and licking until Chevalier shuddered and moaned and his hips bucked wildly against Philippe’s face. Philippe swallowed down his release as if he were starving for it, his tongue lapping at the remnants even as Chevalier went limp.
“God in heaven …” Chevalier whispered, staring at the ceiling where little lights still blinked and sparked behind his eyelids. “You’re merciless.”
“You begged me not to make you wait.” Philippe pointed out.
“Yes, true.” Chevalier said, lifted his head from the pillows. “But, I promise you, later tonight I will fuck you properly. I want you thinking of me and my cock pounding you when you try to go riding tomorrow.”
Philippe crawled up to press a hard kiss to his mouth. “And I shall enjoy every moment of that agony.”
That evening at dinner, Chevalier nursed his second glass of wine before the food had even been served. Louis was making some dull, egocentric speech about the glories of hunting here at Versailles, their father’s favored lodge.
He leaned over to whisper in Philippe’s ear. “We’ll all be starving to death by the time he finally shuts his mouth.”
Philippe’s mouth compressed against laughter.
Louis cleared his throat, and cut a gaze to their side of the table. Straightening his shoulders, Chevalier arranged a charming smile in response.
“And now,” Louis continued, “It is with a heavy heart, but a sense of duty that I announce tomorrow will be our final day here at Versailles - at least for now. We must return to Paris the day thereafter to attend to matters of the state - a most welcome guest who you will all meet on our return. He brings tidings from India.”
Louis raised his wineglass to indicate a toast, and everyone at the table followed in unison.
“To the success of tomorrow’s hunt.”
“Tomorrow’s hunt.” The group chorused.
There was a brief moment of silence while they all drank the toast before Louis waved a hand at the servants who waited with the plates.
As the food was brought out, and served onto the sparkling china, Chevalier leaned closer to Philippe.
“Who do you imagine the guest is?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” Philippe replied. “Louis doesn’t involve me in matters of the state, if you’ll recall.”
“Someone from India, he said.”
“Someone with trade routes, I’d imagine.”
“He must be someone of great importance to earn the king’s ear, and perhaps his partnership.”
“Yes, I would imagine.” Philippe acquiesced, “Why do you care?”
Chevalier cleared his throat. “I don’t. It’s just court gossip, that’s all. I’m sure he’ll be the talk of the salons once he arrives - whoever he is.”
“Don’t worry,” Philippe said, casting him a smile. “I’m sure your position as chief topic of gossip in the salon will not be threatened by whoever this man may be.”
Chevalier managed a chuckle. “I don’t know anyone who could.”
Two days later, the entourage returned to Palais-Royal to find the halls scrubbed, the furniture polished, and the windows thrown open to clear the air with the sweet, spring breeze. Preparations were fully underway to accept a notable guest. The buzz of the salons was the topic of that guest, though no one seemed to know exactly who he was. Louis had announced that this person might help them with their trade relations in India, but had given no clue as to the identity of the man.
Chevalier damned himself for not paying better attention to the foreign policies of trade. Names swirled through the salon, but he recognized few of them.
Four days after their return from Versailles, it was a mildly warm, lazy afternoon, but Philippe was bounding with energy. He suggested they go out onto the lawn and try their hand at a few rounds of fencing. He practically dragged Chevalier outdoors, the latter complaining all the way.
“Look at the sky, Philippe.” Chevalier protested. “I could lie on the grass for hours. We could look at the clouds, read a book …”
“Yes, the sky is quite blue today.” Philippe agreed, not looking back as he marched across the lush green of the grass with his sword in hand.
“You know I am not the swordsman you are.” Chevalier said, handling his own sword with less acuity.
Philippe turned with a mischievous smile “That’s debatable.”
“Well, perhaps in the bedroom.” Chevalier said, returning the smile despite his annoyance. “You should fence one of the your musketeers. I’m sure they’re up to it.”
“I want to fence with you.” Philippe said, drawing his sword and pointing it at Chevalier’s chest. “Now, put up your weapon. You look foolish standing there with it pointed at the ground.”
Chevalier let out a sigh, but unsheathed the weapon. “Your wish is my command, Highness.”
The sound of metal upon metal rang through the air as they crossed swords. Philippe allowed Chevalier to lead in with the first strike, but once he had deflected the blow, he rushed in with a series of blows that devastated Chevalier’s defenses. His strikes were sluggish and unweildy whereas Philippe’s were swift and practiced. It was a matter of moments before Chevalier’s sword flew from his hand, and Philippe had him on the ground, sword pressed gently to his throat.
“You’re dead, sir.” Philippe said, smiling triumphantly from above him.
“I’m no match for your prowess, mignonnet.”
Philippe withdrew the sword from Chevalier’s neck, and strode a few paces away. “Again.” He announced.
“Come now, don’t tell me your feelings are hurt.” Philippe said, nudging Chevalier’s fallen sword with the toe of his shoe. “Get up.”
Chevalier grabbed the sword, and clambered to his feet. He didn’t particularly enjoy being beaten time and again, but experience had taught him not to argue with Philippe’s more trifling wishes. Philippe was as prone to bouts of brooding and complaint as well as a child half his age, and Chevalier would rather avoid those moments if the only sacrifice was a bit of pride.
They met swords again, and this time, Chevalier tried harder to anticipate Philippe’s footwork. He was doing quite well when Philippe swung from overhead, and Chevalier barely put his sword up in time to block it just above his head. Philippe leveraged his weight, and Chevalier’s knee buckled, then twisted. Falling to the dirt on his knees, he felt the sword slip from his fingers. Philippe pressed up behind him, holding his own sword taut beneath his chin.
“Dead, yet again.” He whispered, his breath hot and ragged with exertion in Chevalier’s ear.
“You’re enjoying this.” Chevalier replied. “Do you like seeing me on my knees?”
“Quite.” Philippe murmured.
He dropped his sword to the grass, and circled around to stand over Chevalier. His fingers caught Chevalier’s chin, lifting his head in perfect angle with his crotch. His thumb dragged across Chevalier’s temple, and cheekbone until it reached his lower lip, pressing just past the edge of his teeth.
“Yes, I was born for this.” Philippe said, his voice raspy from the fight. “And you, for this …”
Chevalier swallowed hard as Philippe bent to kiss the corner of his mouth. Though they were alone on the lawn, surrounded by trees, there remained the sense that anyone could come upon them at any time. Philippe’s whisper only enhanced that sense of danger.
“On your knees, in front of me, hungry for my cock … begging for it.”
Heat churned in his belly, and parted ways, some racing for his cock, the other for his cheeks. He couldn’t pin down the reason why this particular scenario left him feeling humiliated rather than aroused, protective of his pride rather than eager to please, yet he felt the first sparks of anger coming to life in his chest as Philippe pulled back to gaze on him with a pleased smile.
“You silly, little girl.” Chevalier whispered, his voice trembling. “If that is the fantasy you wish to pursue, then so be it - but it is a fantasy nonetheless.”
Philippe’s brow furrowed at the tempestuous tone in Chevalier’s voice.
“Does this swordplay make you feel like a man?” Chevalier pressed, rising slowly to his feet.
Philippe’s mouth softened into a quiet shape of disbelief, and his eyes widened. He took a step back as Chevalier straightened, and reached out to clutch his jaw.
“We both know you prefer dresses.” Chevalier said, dragging his thumb across Philippe’s mouth. “And the sting of my hand on your backside.”
Philippe tugged his chin free, and slapped Chevalier’s wrist away with a harsh swing of his palm.
“You forget yourself.” He said, his brows furling in anger. “You forget who you’re speaking to.”
Chevalier dropped his head. Shame was quick to consume the sudden bout of vicious anger that had bolstered him to speak. The regret came next, filling his belly with heavy nausea, like a stone dropping.
“Forgive me.” He whispered.
“What’s gotten into you?” Philippe demanded. “It was a bit of fun.”
“Nothing. Forget I said it.”
Chevalier bent to pick up his sword, and took off across the grass toward the palace at a determined stride. He heard Philippe say his name, but he continued walking until he reached the edge of the treeline, where the grass ended and the long, stone path leading up to the front of the palace began. Here, he halted, his gaze drawn by the sound of hooves and carriage wheels turning over rock. Squinting against the sun, he saw a magnificent carriage trimmed with sleek, dark wood and golden fixtures, riding up the path toward the palace. It was drawn by a team of white horses, and surrounded by armed Musketeers.
Chevalier stood transfixed in his place as the carriage sped past him with a clatter of horseshoes and the groan of wheels. The ground seemed to thunder with it, as if the presence of the man inside could split the earth. And, for a moment, as the carriage went by and Chevalier glimpsed who it was that was inside, the hands of time ground to a stop. It was only a second, but he would recognize that face anywhere. A face which haunts ones nightmares is not quick to fade away, even with the swift passage of time.
Suddenly, the carriage was past him, and Chevalier was standing on the grass with the sword clutched in a white-knuckled grip. His lungs felt pinched as he struggled to draw in a proper breath.
Having caught up to him, Philippe paused at the edge of the path beside him.
“I’m assuming that was our welcome guest.” He said.
“Yes.” Chevalier whispered.
“We should get inside and clean up.” Philippe said. “I’m sure Louis will want us there to properly receive him.”
“You go on ahead.” Chevalier said. “I need to catch my breath. I’m not used to this type of exercise, you know.”
Despite his cavalier tone, Philippe frowned suspiciously. “Are you all right?”
“Fine.” Chevalier said, managing a smile.
“All right. But don’t dally. Louis will have your ass if you show up late.”
Philippe strode toward the palace, casting one last glance over his shoulder at Chevalier. Chevalier forced a smile onto his face, and bent to clutch his knees as if to catch his breath.
He remained crouched there for several long minutes, listening to the breeze rustle through the tree branches, and the birds sing cheerily overhead. He could feel the sweat drying between his shoulder blades, and turning to an itchy plaster. Even as he tried to breathe deeply and collect himself, the panic roiling through his belly raged like an untamable beast.
Self-control equals self-respect. His father used to tell him. If you cannot conduct yourself in the form of a nobleman, you will not be revered in the court’s eyes.
He’d never taken his father’s advice into consideration. Excess and opulence were the principals he had lived by for as long as he could recall, but right now he could do with a bit of self-control. If only he could control the panicked flutter of his heart, perhaps he could control all the bloated, festering consequences of the past that the new palace guest was bringing with him.