Chapter 1: The Hunt
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.
Chapter 2: The Guest
The council was the first to receive the guest, indicating that he was indeed related to matters of the state, either finance or war. Louis had mentioned India, leading Philippe to believe it was the first.
He lingered in the hall, staring down the guards who stood watch at the doors of the council chambers.
Every year that Louis did not invite him to be a part of the council ripped wider the gap forming between them. As children, they had been close despite their mother’s and the council’s attempts to keep them apart. As adults, Louis had departed from their childish fantasies of what brotherhood meant, and plunged into ruling the way he had been taught: without mercy, without consideration for others’ opinions, especially if they differed from his own. The companionship they’d shared in the woods of Versailles only days ago was already forgotten.
Philippe waited outside the council chambers for an hour and a half before the doors opened. Colbert, Louvois, and the other council members exited ahead of their mother, Queen Anne. She was quickly escorted down the hall and away from Philippe by her servants. She’d been in poor health recently, and the conversation appeared to have taxed her.
Louis and a man perhaps ten years their senior, dressed in a blue coat with gold piping, were the last to leave the council chambers. The clothing suggested a man of status and wealth, as did his air of authority with Louis. They conversed as they walked as comrades do.
As they passed Philippe, the man acknowledged him with a nod. He had a strong, intimidating face with angular cheekbones and a stout jawline. His skin was swarthy, though not foreign, as if weathered from hours beneath the sun. His dark, narrow eyes, surrounded by a web of wary crows feet, seemed to assess and disregard Philippe in turn.
No sooner had they passed him than did Louis halt his determined stride. The man stopped, and turned slowly as Louis announced, “And this is my brother, Philippe Duc d’Orleans.”
The man arranged a warm smile on his mouth. “Monsieur.”
“Philippe, this is the Vicomte de LaFayette. He’s here to negotiate trade relations between us and India.”
“Vicomte,” Philippe said, “A pleasure to finally meet you. The entire palace has been abuzz trying to decipher your identity. His Majesty left us somewhat in the dark to his plans.”
“I asked him to make it so.” The Vicomte replied, “Relations, as you are aware, are tender with India. It must be handled with utmost care.”
“The suspense is over, however,” Louis said, “and we will be hosting a party tonight in the Vicomte’s honor. I trust I will see you there.”
“Yes, of course.” Philippe said.
Louis waved for one of the guards. “Show the Vicomte to his rooms.”
“Yes, your Majesty.” The guard said. He turned to the Vicomte, and nodded for the man to follow. “This way, Monsieur.”
The Vicomte followed the guard down the hallway, leaving Louis and Philippe alone.
“I trust you will be there.” Louis repeated. “And that you will keep your pet, the Chevalier, in line.”
“He knows the etiquette, Louis.” Philippe said, “You mustn’t always treat him like a child.”
“We’ve had this conversation. He’s below you.”
“He is of noble blood, and that is all that matters.”
“His single saving grace.” Louis said, procuring a thin smile. He turned on his heel, and marched down the hall. His guards surrounded him, taking him out of Philippe’s sight.
Louis had arranged for the best dishes and entertainment to be brought in for that night’s festivities. The wine was flowing freely, rousing an atmosphere of joviality through the hall.
Philippe slouched at his place at the table, turning his half-empty wine glass between his fingers by the stem.
Louis was seated farther down the table, flanked on the left by the Vicomte de LaFayette, and on the right by Queen Marie-Therese and Princess Henriette. Louis and the Vicomte appeared to be in deep conversation. He leaned close to Louis, speaking with a look of intense focus that comes with negotiation.
“What’s the matter with you?” Chevalier asked, nudging his elbow. “This is a party. You’re scowling.”
“I want to know what they’re saying.”Philippe said, keeping his gaze fixed on Louis and the Vicomte.
“Probably a lot of boring things about commerce and trade relations.” Chevalier said, releasing a flippant sigh. “We should dance.”
“I’m not as useless as he thinks.” Philippe said, ignoring Chevalier’s proposal. “If he would just let me past the door, he would see.”
The Vicomte’s gaze flicked towards their end of the table, his dark eyes locating Philippe and the Chevalier from the among the sea of faces. The stare lingered even as Louis spoke to him, remaining blank and unblinking for a long moment before a thin smile crept to his mouth.
Philippe quickly averted his gaze. Something about the man made his skin crawl.
“He looks a bit dead in the eyes, don’t you think?” Philippe said.
When Chevalier didn’t promptly agree, Philippe cast him a frown. Chevalier was peering down the table in the direction of the Vicomte, his mouth half-parted, his eyes wide and glossy. Philippe’s gaze pivoted back in the Vicomte’s direction, realizing now that the man was looking straight past him to Chevalier.
“Lorraine.” Philippe said, reaching over to nudge his arm.
Chevalier startled, his cheeks blossoming pink as if he’d been caught doing something untoward. “What?”
“Have you met before?” Philippe asked, glancing back at LaFayette.
“You and LaFayette. Do you know him?”
“What? No.” Chevalier said, chuckling coarsely. “Talk in the salon is he’s barely stepped foot on French soil in the last ten years.”
“He was staring at you.” Philippe said.
“At us.” Chevalier said, smiling. “Perhaps he’s as intrigued as the rest of the court as to why the king’s brother prefers men.”
Philippe leaned back in his chair, huffing a sigh. “Yes, it just wouldn’t do to have a homosexual on the king’s council. That’s why he would never allow it.”
“Please, mignonnet,” Chevalier said, lacing his fingers through Philippe’s. “There’s other things in life besides the council. I can think of several things that are better than putting up with Louis every day for three hours. Chiefly among them, fine silk, dresses, perfumes, chocolates, a summer’s breeze … me .”
Philippe chuckled despite the frustration coiled in his chest.
“Come now.” Chevalier said, tugging on his fingers. “Dance with me.”
“Fine.” Philippe said.
He allowed himself to be dragged away from the table, and onto the dancefloor where the musicians had just started a sweeping waltz.
Chevalier’s arm curled around his waist, leading him into the steps with accomplished ease. Philippe turned his face into his lover’s neck as the dance floor seemed to spin beneath them, the two of them fixed at its epicenter.
He put the Vicomte from his mind, and thought of nothing but the smell of Chevalier’s skin, the taste of his lips, and the promise of the evening to come.
He didn’t think of their little row out on the lawn. It was a passing storm, rather more of a rainshower. They came and went with the breeze when one was entangled with a free spirit like the Chevalier. Their relationship was in its infancy, and growing pains were sure to come. The disagreement and casually thrown words were nothing more.
Chevalier clung to Philippe as they danced. With every turn, he caught a glimpse of the table where Louis and the Vicomte were conversing. Philippe was already suitably disenchanted with the night’s celebration, and he hoped that a few turns about the dancefloor would have him ready to return to their rooms in no time.
Usually not one to flee from a party, Chevalier would have to tread lightly to not arouse Philippe’s suspicions. He’d already had to lie once tonight, and he’d rather not have to again. He was no financier, nor politician. He had no idea how long these negotiations might take, or how long the Vicomte would remain at the palace. He could only hope that he could keep up his charade of careless frivolity until the deal was secure, and that infernal man was gone once more from their lives.
After their third consecutive dance, Philippe tugged Chevalier to a halt at the center of the dancefloor.
“I’m tired.” He said, “We should sit.”
“Perhaps an early night is in order.” Chevalier suggested as they walked arm-in-arm back to the table.
“You? Retiring early from a party?”
“I only say it for your sake, mignonnet.” Chevalier said, smiling gently.
He snatched two wine glasses from a passing waiter, and extended one to Philippe. He’d kept count, and this would be Philippe’s third glass for the night - just enough to make him properly malleable in Chevalier’s hands.
Philippe accepted the glass without hesitation, and took a drink.
“This party is rather a bore.” Philippe said, his nose wrinkling with distaste.
“Yes, and think how much more fun you and I could be having together, alone.” Chevalier said, grazing his knuckles down Philippe’s cheek.
His gaze shifted over Philippe’s shoulder as LaFayette rose from his chair, and began to walk towards them. His heartbeat bolted into a sickening race that swiftly brought perspiration to his palms.
Grabbing Philippe by the arm, he tugged his half-drunk prince toward the exit. “Wouldn’t you agree?” He pressed.
“I think you’re just in a hurry to fuck me.” Philippe murmured, a sly smiling curling his mouth.
“Perhaps.” Chevalier said, casting a harried glance over his shoulder.
The Vicomte loomed behind them, his long strides rapidly closing the space between them. Their gazes connected, and Chevalier felt a cold shiver run down his spine, as if the hand of fate and misfortune had caressed him.
“Monsieur.” The Vicomte said.
Philippe stopped and turned, pulling Chevalier with him.
“Vicomte.” He said, regarding the man with a curious gaze.
“I feel we did not get a proper introduction earlier.” LaFayette said. “It was so brief.”
“Yes, it was.” Philippe agreed. “My brother has left me rather curious about your intention here at the palace.”
“It is a negotiation, as he said.” LaFayette replied. “Over the years, I have procured relationships of trust between myself and key members of the king’s council in India. They asked me to come here and speak with Louis, on their behalf.”
“They do not wish to come on their own behalf?” Philippe asked.
“They thought it best to send a fellow Frenchman, and a friendly face.”
“I cannot speak to its friendliness.” Philippe said, “Have you been away from France for very long?”
“I come and go.” LaFayette said, smiling warmly despite Philippe’s probing. “But France will always be my home.”
“Talk in the salon is you haven’t set foot on French soil in nearly ten years.” Philippe countered.
“Talk in the salon.” LaFayette echoed, chuckling. “You can’t always trust it, can you?”
His gaze crept to Chevalier, who clung to Philippe’s elbow, silently praying the conversation soon cease so that they could return to Philippe’s rooms.
Philippe could read a man well; the Vicomte did have dead eyes, and they were burning into him even as he and Philippe spoke. That observation was not to say that they were lifeless, because they did hold a spark of something; it was to say that they were cold and dark and they held little compassion. They penetrated him now with the same cutting precision he recalled, the same silent power that could bring a person to their knees in front of him, begging for mercy.
“I have a mind as to where these rumors originate.” LaFayette said, his smile turning frosty as his gaze perused Chevalier from head to toe. “I don’t believe we’ve had a proper introduction.”
“Ah, yes.” Philippe said, tugging Chevalier forward. “Vicomte de LaFayette, this is the Chevalier de Lorraine.”
“A pleasure, truly.” The Vicomte said, seizing Chevalier’s hand in his own. He bent to place a soft kiss on his knuckles, as if Chevalier were some fainting woman in the salon, dazzled by his wealth and power.
Chevalier retrieved his hand the moment LaFayette’s fingers released him.
“And the same to you.” He whispered, struggling to maintain a neutral expression.
Philippe gazed between them skeptically for a moment before he cleared his throat. “Forgive me, Vicomte, but I’m feeling unwell tonight. I was just on my way to retire to my rooms.”
“A pity.” LaFayette said. “The King has put on a wonderful show in my honor.”
“Yes, it is, but we spent a great deal of time outdoors the week past and I think I’ve caught the cold air.” Philippe said, “Excuse us.”
Chevalier let out a wavering breath as Philippe led them toward the door.
They walked silently to Philippe’s rooms, the hollow ring of their heels striking the stone floor echoing down the halls in their wake. Chevalier could feel the ripple of tension pulsing between them, like the crackle of lightning before a storm. Philippe’s strides were long and resolute, and his chin was held high and rigid.
The sweat that had gathered on his palms when he saw LaFayette walk toward them now worked its way beneath the silk of his shirt. His collar and cravat felt more like a noose than a fashionable accessory. He thought momentarily of bidding Philippe goodnight and escaping the disagreement that was sure to come, but he knew it would only delay the inevitable.
When they reached the room, Philippe opened the door, and stood back to let Chevalier in before him.
Entering the room, he cast a discreet glance over his shoulder. Philippe’s gaze tilted downward as he followed Chevalier inside. His jaw unclenched to allow a slow, steady breath from his lips. He leaned into the door to close it as Chevalier wandered to the open window.
They had left the panes open, allowing the warm, spring breeze to float in, carrying with it a sense of calm that Chevalier struggled to grasp.
“He’s a strange fellow.” Philippe said.
Chevalier cleared his throat, and focused on undoing the row of buttons down the front of his vest. “Yes.”
“Kissing your hand like that.” Philippe said. “It’s not proper etiquette between two men at court.”
Neither is a man wearing a dress. Chevalier thought, but quickly buttoned his lips over that response that was certain to only make things worse.
He cleared his throat, and manufactured a nonchalant tone. “Perhaps he prefers men as well.”
Philippe’s shoe scuffed against the floor, drawing Chevalier’s gaze from the window. His shoulders tightened as Philippe slowly crossed the room, his hands clasped behind his back. His mouth pursed thoughtfully when he reached Chevalier. Gradually, one hand slithered from behind his back to rest heavily on Chevalier’s hip.
“Do you think that?” Philippe asked, quietly. “Or do you know it?”
Chevalier swallowed hard, and closed his eyes briefly. His fingers curled around the lapels of his vest, gripping the lacy fabric until he could feel the embroidery tracing itself into his skin.
“Lorraine.” Philippe said, his tone rising to irritated command. He pulled Chevalier around, and pressed him against the wall with a jolt. “I asked you once, I will not ask you again. Do you know that man?”
Chevalier opened his eyes to find Philippe’s face inches from his own, his eyes on fire with jealous rage. In another situation, that look may have been enough to dislodge the truth briskly from his lips, but tonight, something stronger and more potent drove him to silence. The fear that Philippe might be displeased with him for perhaps a week was trivial in comparison to the fear that Philippe might discover the truth.
“No.” He whispered.
His eyes slammed shut when Philippe slapped him, spreading a wave of tingling pain across his cheek.
“Don’t lie to me again.” Philippe hissed, shaking him by the shoulders. “I saw that look in his eyes. That is not the look of a stranger!”
“Yes, it must be, because I have never met him before this week!” Chevalier retorted, pressing his palm over his throbbing cheek. “Perhaps he is a pervert, intent in fucking me, and you are in jealous hysterics.”
Philippe raised his hand again, but when Chevalier did not flinch, he quickly let it drop.
He heaved out a sigh, a scowl marring his brow. “I’m going to bed.”
“Shall I come with you?” Chevalier whispered, his heart clenching with trepidation.
Philippe paused at the edge of the bed to discard his clothes. There was a brief pause before he ducked his head. “Yes.”
The next morning, Chevalier woke to the morning sun pouring through the open window and the sound of the birds trilling their daybreak song. The gentle caress of Philippe’s hands on him had lured him from sleep. Despite the dull ache gripping his head from too much wine the night before, he felt the first sparks of pleasure igniting low in his belly.
Philippe’s palm traversed the swell of his hip, and dove down to locate the dusting of curly hair leading down his belly to where arousal was swelling him.
Chevalier’s mouth parted in quiet whimper of pleasure. Philippe pressed up behind him, his own cock hard and rigid against his spine. He scattered kisses down Chevalier’s shoulder and neck, where he paused to nuzzle below his ear.
“I’m sorry I hit you.” He whispered. “I was drunk, and stupid.”
Chevalier bit at his lower lip as Philippe’s palm pushed its way down the length of his hardening cock and his deft fingers fondled his softly pulsing balls. Pushing the sheets away, Chevalier opened his legs to the gradual caress that worked its way towards his hole.
“I don’t care.” He muttered, drunk anew, this time with need. “Fuck me.”
Philippe pushed him face down on the sheets, and quickly located the small bottle of oil they kept at the ready beside the bed. His slick fingers were soon pushing into Chevalier, oiling him inside and out, and coaxing taut muscles open to his caress.
“Oh, Jesus Christ …” Chevalier moaned as Philippe’s fingers pressed just right, sending thrills of pleasure through his whole body. “Hurry …”
Philippe’s fingers departed, leaving him void for only moments before he replaced them with the hot, blunt press of his cock.
Chevalier tucked his knees under himself, and leaned back into the dull pressure slowly working its way to his depths. He reached up to grasp the headboard, bracing himself as Philippe’s hips slapped firmly against his backside.
“Oh my God …” He moaned, his back arching at the sensation of fullness that pulsed through him.
Philippe grasped his hips, holding him in position, as he began to rock in and out.
Chevalier’s body pulsed with need, bringing him fully awake with every spasm and thrust. He eyes opened to watch his fingers flex around the metal bar of the bed frame, his knuckles turning white against the force of Philippe’s thrusts.
He was often the one leading the seduction, taking Philippe’s willing body and molding it to his will, and then fucking him raw until he was wet, whimpering mess. In the wake of last night’s argument, he welcomed Philippe’s eagerness to take charge; it meant that nothing had changed between them, that he wasn’t angry, that he meant to keep Chevalier by his side.
Besides, he didn’t mind being well-fucked, especially when his mind needed a diversion. He closed his eyes and let the sensations take him away to a utopia of pleasure and release, far away from the prying eyes and ill-intent of the Vicomte de LaFayette.
Chapter 3: The Villa
The following week of negotiations kept Louis, Queen Anne, LaFayette, and the rest of the council behind closed doors and away from Philippe and Chevalier. Rumors flew about the salon, but none of them could be backed up by facts. Louis was set on keeping the talks a secret, and he had ordered a moratorium on the subject to all involved.
Philippe waited outside the council doors each day, hoping to catch some scrap of conversation, but nothing ever came of his efforts. Louis had effectively shut him out.
After five days of intense negotiations, the council seemed to take a break. They had their usual meeting with the king and queen, but LaFayette was free to roam the palace and gardens. That evening, Philippe found Louis taking a walk through the orchard as the sun went down.
“Brother.” Louis greeted him as they crossed paths among the branches heavy with fresh blossoms.
The guards hung back as Louis motioned for Philippe to join him.
“How are negotiations?” Philippe asked.
“And a good evening to you as well.” Louis said, dryly, casting Philippe a sly smile.
“You know very well I’m eager to know what’s been said by the Vicomte.” Philippe said, “Why don’t we skip pleasantries and go straight to the heart of the matter.”
“Very well.” Louis said, “We are awaiting word from India. It could be several days.”
“So, you’ve made a proposal?”
“Mm.” Louis muttered, pausing to catch one of the blossoms from a low-hanging branch between his fingers. He took a whiff of the flower. “We must wait patiently now.”
“And in the meantime? What of the Vicomte?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” Louis said. “He is our guest, not a prisoner.”
“He’s not exactly a friend, either.”
“What concern is it of yours?”
Philippe clasped his hands behind his back as they continued down the path through the grove. “I don’t trust him.”
Louis chuckled. “Neither do I. He is a Frenchman, but he works for the Indian. That is how politics work, brother.”
Philippe shook his head. “He shouldn’t be given free reign of the palace. He did something the night of the party when he first arrived …”
“Did what?” Louis asked, stopping to pin Philippe with a curious gaze.
“He introduced himself to me and the Chevalier, and then, he kissed his hand. It was strange.”
“He kissed the hand of the Chevalier de Lorraine?” Louis echoed, a note of amusement lifting his tone.
“It was strange.” Philippe repeated. “I didn’t like the look in his eye.”
“You mean you didn’t like it that he was touching your favorite.” Louis said, “Philippe, it does not matter to me who he fucks - men or women, children even. If he brings me India, then I will be happy.”
Philippe heaved a sigh. “You know, there was a time when you would have heeded my advice. When you trusted your own brother.”
“Yes.” Louis said, “I trust him to sometimes be proud and jealous. I trust him to put his lover above political goals. I trust him to trust Lorraine more than me.”
“That’s not true, and you know it.”
“Is it? Sometimes, I wonder.”
Louis turned to continue walking, but his tone dismissed Philippe from going with him. He was left among the peach blossoms, their little white flowers dusting his shoulders and clinging to his hair. They perfumed the air with a sweet, cloying smell, and it reminded Philippe of the way LaFayette had smiled when he kissed Chevalier’s knuckles. Saccharine and overpowering, luring the court with outward beauty that would one day reveal a rotten interior.
The mood about the palace was tense as word had gotten out that the King and council were waiting to hear from India about whether they would accept the trade negotiations. To lighten the morale, it was announced that Barthelemy Hervart, Superintendent of Finance, would be hosting a party at his villa in Saint-Cloud. Most of the court was invited to go, including LaFayette, and of course, Philippe and Chevalier.
The morning of the party, Philippe was watching over a domestic pack a bag for the brief journey from Paris to Saint-Cloud when Chevalier wandered into the rooms. He made a show of plopping down onto the bed, and sighing aloud while Philippe looked over which pairs of stockings he wanted to bring with him.
When his sighing didn’t bring him the attention he wanted, Chevalier rolled over and propped himself up on his elbows. “Mignonnet …”
Philippe waved a finger at a pair of blue stockings, and ordered the maid to pack them.
“Yes?” He said.
“Must we go?”
“Why wouldn’t we?” Philippe asked, casting a dubious gaze over his shoulder at Chevalier.
“I don’t know, I thought perhaps we could stay here. You can teach me a bit more about fencing so that one day I might actually have prayer at beating you.”
Philippe scoffed. “Do you remember how well that went last time?”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be fencing, at least not that sort of swordplay.” Chevalier said. He sat up on the bed, and crossed his legs. “It could be fun, you know. Just the two of us here at the palace, alone, no one to tell us to stop …”
Philippe motioned for the maid to leave. She scurried out of the room, and the door slipped shut behind her, sealing the room in silence.
Philippe walked slowly toward the bed, scrutinizing Chevalier’s doe-eyed expression. Those eyes could grant him many things, but the past week had tainted whatever innocence he hoped to imbue into this attempt at secluding them.
“You’ve never been one to avoid a party.” Philippe said. He caught a strand of Chevalier’s blond hair between his fingers, twirling it thoughtfully. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing.” Chevalier laughed, reaching up to clutch Philippe’s hips. “You’ve been away from me all week. I miss you.”
“Must I always be within touching distance of you for you to remain happy and satisfied?” Philippe asked, allowing himself to be reeled into.
Chevalier rose to knees on the mattress, and wrapped his arms around Philippe’s neck.
“Yes.” He murmured, blending the affirmation into a kiss.
Philippe muttered a sound of pleasure as Chevalier’s tongue wound past his lips. The kiss lengthened until their tongues were stroking back and forth, and his skin was suddenly hot beneath the heavy layers of silk fabric.
Chevalier tugged him down onto the bed, and they rolled across the mattress, Philippe first coming out on top, and then Chevalier. Chevalier straddled his hips, and broke the kiss, leaning back to scrape his hair back from his face. One hand slipped down his chest to grasp at his erection through his trousers.
“Well?” He murmured, “What do you say, mignonnet?”
Philippe sighed, and shook his head. Grasping Chevalier’s hips, he heaved him up and across the sheets. As Chevalier tumbled back against the pillows, Philippe jumped up from the bed.
“Come on.” He said, “Stop fooling about. We must pack.”
Chevalier’s lower lip dropped as Philippe marched across the room to his half-packed bag. “So, you leave me like this? Hard and aching?”
“You do it to yourself.” Philippe said, “Now hurry up.”
He passed a cursory gaze over his closet where shirts, vests, and trousers hung before turning to the second set of doors. Throwing them open, he looked over the selection of dresses with a smile.
He heard the bed creak and Chevalier’s shoes hit the floor. He glanced over his shoulder in time to see his blond curls swinging as he marched out of the room.
Philippe’s fingers drifted from the silk folds of the dresses.
He’d convinced himself that their argument the night of the party honoring LaFayette had been the product of too much wine and the prodding of the Vicomte’s perverted gaze. Now, Lorraine was acting strangely, and it made him wonder if he should have looked farther than his own hazy memory of that evening.
Hervart’s villa at Saint-Cloud was an enchanting retreat that overlooked the River Seine. The south pavilion faced the gardens which led in descending terraces toward the glistening strip of water that wandered off into the French hillside. It was here that the party originated, beginning with a lavish dinner and entertainment.
Louis and their mother were the last to arrive, making their entrance once all the guests were assembled around the table. Everyone rose to their feet as the two entered, and found their seats at the center of the table.
Louis’ gaze lingered on Philippe, who had chosen to wear a dress this evening, until he had passed by him to his seat.
Philippe didn’t know exactly why he wanted to torment his brother tonight. He doubted his own conclusions about LaFayette just as much as Louis doubted them. He doubted his memory, and his motivations, yet he wanted nothing more than to offer Louis a defiant facade in the hopes of jarring a reaction. Any reaction. He hated to use something he thoroughly enjoyed as a stick to poke Louis with, but it was the only card he could play. Louis had grown tired of haranguing him for his pursuit of male lovers long ago.
When they were all seated again, dinner was served.
Louis stood up, and made a toast to LaFayette and their negotiations. The table murmured the sentiment, and drank the toast in silence.
“And now,” Louis said, setting his empty glass down. “Let the festivities begin. Tonight is not a night of negotiation or conquest. It is a night of joy and celebration - for us, for France, and for the future.”
He took his seat, indicating that dinner could proceed.
Philippe took another drink of wine.
LaFayette had been seated across from them, much to Philippe’s displeasure. He wondered if Louis had done it intentionally, to spite him.
Then let it be a night of spite. Philippe thought, crossing his legs beneath the heaviness of his skirts.
After dinner, the party spilled down into the gardens where a quartet of musicians had taken up their instruments to fill the air with rousing melodies.
Philippe and Chevalier walked arm-in-arm through the terraces, the air unusually absent of their banter.
“Why do you vex him like this?” Chevalier asked, glancing across the lawns at Louis, who was sitting with Henriette on the pavilion.
“You don’t approve?” Philippe asked, “My dear, I thought you had crowned yourself the king of vexing others.”
“Yes, so stop trying to dethrone me.” Chevalier replied, gently elbowing Philippe in the side.
Chevalier’s chuckle ebbed as Philippe continued walking in silence, gazing out at the River Seine, its waters like a reflecting glass beneath the golden rays of impending dusk. The hillside was lavish green beneath the yellow splendor, and the sky was a cloudless blue. Here, all seemed simple and well, as if the cares of the world could fall away with one daring sunset. The purple and pink tingeing the sky looked like oil on a canvas, as if the painter had been searching for the definition of peace.
Philippe sighed as the heaviness in his chest rose by a measure.
Chevalier’s fingers tightened around his bicep. “Are you still angry with me?” He asked, his tone unusually diminutive.
Philippe glanced over to find wide green eyes gazing at him anxiously.
“For what?” He asked.
“The past few weeks haven’t exactly been smooth sailing.”
“No, but I thought we had put that behind us.”
Chevalier flashed a quick, yet false smile. “Yes, of course …”
“ But ?” Philippe pressed, pausing their meandering pace through the garden.
“You seem … quiet.” Chevalier said, his gaze darting from Philippe’s. “Dissatisfied.”
Philippe sighed, and reached down to clasp Chevalier’s hands. “It isn’t you.”
“No? You make it difficult to tell.”
Philippe nodded. “I know. I think too much. Sometimes I feel I’m locked in a dark room … but I’m inside my own thoughts, chasing them round and round in circles.”
“Are you certain it isn’t Louis you’re chasing?” Chevalier asked, cutting a glare up the yard at the pavilion.
Philippe followed his gaze. Louis was surrounded by their mother, his Spanish bride, and Henriette. Women had always preferred him, even their own mother. They rotated around him like satellites circling the sun. They surely knew more of these negotiations than he did.
“I spoke to him the other day about the negotiations.” Philippe admitted. “He was less than forthcoming … less than agreeable about my asking.”
“So, this is how you repay him?” Chevalier said, nodding at the train of Philippe’s dress dragging behind them. "I suppose we must all seize our little victories, wherever we can find them."
“He thinks he can define me. Keep me in a little box. I will show him one day that I am my own person.”
“By wearing a dress?”
“No.” Philippe said, stopping to gaze out at the river.
He was struck again by the beauty of this place, tucked away from the bustle and din of Paris. He could imagine living in a place like this one, and how much easier it would be than remaining at the palace surrounded family and duty. Of course, this villa was not fit for a prince, a realization the tugged lower the already weary weight in his chest. He would give almost anything for this view each morning.
Philippe's chest tightened as the answer seemed to come at him on the river's breeze. This villa was not fit for a prince yet ; it only needed a prince to make it fit for royalty. In truth, he would not have to give much in order to have this view.
He whirled around to capture Chevalier’s gaze, a smile spreading across his face.
“No, I am going to buy this villa, Lorraine!” He announced, “ And when I own it, I will dress in it however I like, and I won’t stop there. I will transform this little villa into a chateau worthy of a prince. I am going to extend these gardens all the way to the river. I will add an art gallery fit to rival the ones in Paris. I’m going to create something that Louis and my mother have not touched - that no one but me has touched. Then … Then I will live here.”
Chevalier blinked, his mouth moving wordlessly for a moment before sputtering, “You’ve made this decision just now?”
“Yes.” Philippe said, smiling wildly at Chevalier’s startled expression. “They won’t give me any freedom beyond the palace, so I have to take it for myself. I have the money, and they cannot stop me.”
“And then what?” Chevalier asked, the light in his eyes shifting to share Philippe’s excitement.
“Well, I think you should leave the palace as well, and move here.” Philippe said, “Just you and me … and the servants, of course.”
Chevalier’s smile widened as Philippe wrapped his arms around his waist.
“You want me to come with you?” He asked, his voice dropping to a shaky whisper.
“Yes, of course.” Philippe said, planting a kiss on his mouth. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Right. Silly me. Of course you would.” Chevalier said, his mouth trembling despite its joyful smile.
Philippe laughed, and kissed him again.
Perhaps it was the night air, the scent of the river on the breeze, the wine, or the desserts. Perhaps it was Chevalier’s mouth, tasting like freedom, his eyes green like an open field he could flee across. Perhaps it was all those things and more, but he suddenly felt lighter, as if the weight of the palace and its politics had dropped like shackles from his wrists, and he could see a future beyond those walls. Louis had said this was a night to celebrate the future, and for once in a long while, Philippe agreed with him.
The sun went down over the villa as the party stretched on. Once darkness had settled, the guests gathered on the lawn for a fireworks show.
Chevalier and Philippe lay in the grass sharing a bottle of wine, watching the red, blues, whites, and greens light up the sky with explosions of noise and color. Chevalier propped himself up on his elbow, and glanced down at Philippe, whose wide eyes were fixed on the sky.
A white explosion rained across the blackened sky, lighting up his features for a moment before falling back into shadow. He was beautiful in this moment, even with the conflict raging within him.
Chevalier didn’t know whether Philippe would hold true to his plan to buy this villa and start a new life together, but he hadn’t stopped trembling since he had spoken it. These past eight months with Philippe were like something from a dream, a fantasy he had conjured after taking some powders and falling asleep. Not only was Philippe beautiful and wicked in bed, he was also good in his heart. Too good for Chevalier. He could be childish, selfish, wild, and unruly at times, but when that raging hurt inside him finally stilled, there were always tears and apologies, gifts, and desperate attempts at compensation. He was as hungry for companionship as Chevalier, and so, they made the perfect match.
It was the fact that he was a prince, a station much higher than Chevalier had ever managed to ensnare, that made him tremble. There was the taste of freedom in Philippe’s suggestions, in the pretty, pink seam of his lips. He was so close to achieving absolute protection he could almost feel it like a sword in his fist. Nothing and no one could ever hurt him again. If the night passed, and the wine mellowed, and Philippe woke with these same thoughts in his head, those wounds he fought to forget would forever be a thing of the past.
When the fireworks died out, and there was only smoke floating like clouds in the sky, the guests turned to the indoors where card tables were set up.
Chevalier dragged Philippe up from the grass, and led him up through the gardens back to the pavilion.
“We should play.” Chevalier said. “Try to win as much as we can in one night.”
“You’re terrible at cards.” Philippe said. “You lose every time.”
“Not if I’m helping you.” Chevalier said. He nodded at the table where Louis was seated. “I see our target.”
“No.” Philippe said, “If he figures out that we’re cheating, he will string you up by your toes.”
“You are no fun at all.” Chevalier complained.
“Louis is actually good at cards, unlike you.” Philippe said. “We should choose an easier target. Someone with equally deep pockets who is not as smart.”
He scanned the room before laying eyes on Louvois . “Ah-ha.”
“Oh, really?” Chevalier said. “You don’t even need my help to beat him. You go on, then. I have to go take a piss.”
“So you’re abandoning me?” Philippe protested as Chevalier disentangled his arm from his, and swaggered around the nearest card table.
“Go on, mignonnet. You’ll be wonderful, I’m sure.”
Philippe shook his head, a smile stretching across his mouth. He waved a hand as Chevalier retreated into the hall.
The raucous sounds of laughter and conversation faded as he wandered down the darkened corridor to locate the pot. Squinting against the shadows, he made out the shape of the silver pot at the end of the hall near the back exit. He hastened his pace until he reached it, and quickly unbuttoned his trousers to relieve himself.
Bracing himself against the wall, he let out a sigh. His head was already swimming from too much wine, but it was that stage of discomfort right before the night descends into a hazy blur. Even though Philippe didn’t need his help to win of hand of cards, he had every intention of getting right back to the tables to see if he could get the evening to go his way. Philippe was in the proper mood for sex in the other room while the rest of the party guests were only a wall away, and the chance of getting caught was perfectly high so as to add the element of danger to their tryst.
Chevalier startled at the sound of the voice behind him, like a snake’s hiss cutting through the shadows. Stuffing his dick back into his trousers, he fumbled to get the buttons closed as he cut a glance over his shoulder.
LaFayette stood in the hall just behind him, his fingers wrapped around the marble top of his cane. Though his face was half-hidden in shadow, Chevalier could make out the glitter of his eyes seething through the darkness.
“It’s a pity that we haven’t had a chance at privacy since my arrival here.” LaFayette continued, emerging from the shadows to approach Chevalier’s trembling form huddled against the wall. His cane thudded with every step, jarring to present every memory he’d tried to bury.
Chevalier’s hands froze around the front of his trousers. He leaned into the wall as LaFayette drew closer, eyes filleting him from head to toe.
“Cat got your tongue?” LaFayette pressed, a chuckle grinding from the back of his throat. “This surprises me. It was always your mouth that got you in the most trouble.”
Chevalier swallowed against the lump forming in the back of his throat. “Wh-what do you want?”
“What do I want?” LaFayette echoed, impressing casual innocence into his tone. “You sound frightened, darling.”
“You know very well why that would be.” Chevalier whispered, the words wavering from past his clenched teeth.
LaFayette smiled thinly, as if he were being very patient with a dull child. “You only ever brought it on yourself, Lorraine.”
“You should leave.” Chevalier said, glancing down the hall where the light from the card room offered a distant escape.
He straightened, and buttoned his pants, forcing his fingers not to tremble.
“Why would I do that?” LaFayette asked.
“You know why.” Chevalier said, lifting his chin. “I’m with Philippe now. The Duc d’Orleans. The king’s brother. If you hurt me, there will be hell to pay.”
“You mean that pitiful, confused boy in a dress?” LaFayette asked, a coarse chuckle erupting past his lips. “ He is going to hurt me? Is that what you think?”
“Yes. He will.”
Chevalier shifted away from the wall and back toward the corridor, but LaFayette took a step to the side, blocking his path.
“Lorraine, I have the favor of the king and the queen.” LaFayette said, a smug smile spreading across his face. “And their favor will always outweigh the favor of a prince.”
“Yes, and they approved our match.”
It was a falsehood, but in this moment, that didn’t matter; all that mattered was that LaFayette believe him. Please God, let the bastard believe him.
LaFayette began to chuckle as he advanced toward Chevalier. “The queen approved of you fucking her son? You take me for a fool.”
Chevalier looked up at LaFayette’s dark eyes, glinting like a feral creature preparing to attack, and then at the yellow light at the end of the hall which now seemed more distant than before. Despite the relatively small size of the villa, he knew no one would hear it should there be a fight. The musicians had brought out their instruments once more, and the sound of laughter and chatter rose above whatever plaintive cry he might manage before being struck down.
He shifted a pleading gaze back to LaFayette.
“Please, don’t do this here.” He whispered.
LaFayette ducked his head, and nodded, as if he were thoroughly considering the proposal. As Chevalier stood trembling, waiting, and hoping, he began to chuckle. His gaze traveled back up again, until it rested heavily on him with predatory brightness.
For a moment there was silence except for the fearful rasp of Chevalier’s breath in the back of his throat.
LaFayette lunged, seizing him by the jaw with one hand, the nape of his hair with the other. He thrust Chevalier into the wall, sending his head thudding into the plaster and jarring a whimper from his throat.
“You are as pathetic as I recall.” LaFayette hissed, his breath surging hot across Chevalier’s trembling mouth. “I will have you on your knees, drinking my cum, you cheap, worthless little whore.”
Chevalier’s head throbbed, lights spilling before his eyes like the glint of the fireworks as LaFayette dragged him away from the wall and through the door into the next room. He squeezed his eyes shut as LaFayette threw him to the ground. As he scrambled to his knees, LaFayette towered over him, crowding him against the wall so that there was little chance of escape.
LaFayette grasped his jaw, and pinned his head back against the wall.
Chevalier’s eyes fluttered open, searching wildly through the darkness to make out the shape of LaFayette’s fingers plying his cock from his breeches.
The panicked rush of his breath filled his head. He was paralyzed by cold, gripping fear even as time seemed to grind to a crawl, every detail impressing itself into his mind as if by a branding iron: the pressure of LaFayette’s fingers around his jaw, the hardwood floor biting into his knees, the sliver of the moon glinting like a distant escape through the window, and the summer’s breeze wafting just past the open pane. He could smell the river, the gardens, the lingering, smoky remnants of burned-out fireworks. If he closed his eyes, he could almost detach himself from the fear and disgust crawling across every inch of his skin, and imagine a romantic scenario in which the moonlight played softly across his lover’s raven hair.
LaFayette’s thumb dragged across his lower lip, urging his mouth open.
“Are you going to make me hurt you?” He whispered.
Keeping his eyes firmly shut, Chevalier shook his head.
A low chuckle. “Good.”
Chevalier licked his lips. His tongue felt dry and thick with a dull fear that had faded to a sick sense of inevitability.
He opened his mouth, and LaFayette forced his cock inside.
Chapter 4: The Prey
Philippe had chosen Louvois because he was not adept at cards, but Chevalier had been right when he suggested the man was no challenge and therefore not a pleasurable conquest. Philippe played only a few hands before divesting Louvois of his purse.
“It was a pleasure, truly.” He said, scraping the loose coins into his own purse.
Louvois’ mouth pursed into a thin smile, but his frustration was evident in the ruddy color on his cheeks. “Likewise, Highness.” He said.
Philippe rose from the table, and scanned the room for Chevalier. He was easy to locate from amongst a crowd, particularly at a party, as he was always the most flamboyant, and the most well-dressed. Party-goers flocked to him like flies to honey. This evening, however, Philippe’s scan of the room came up empty. Chevalier had seemed eager to return to him, perhaps to steal him away into a bit of privacy where they could engage in carnal pleasures this party could not offer. He found it strange that he had not yet returned.
Philippe wandered around the crowded room, stopping at the tables where Chevalier’s friends were seated to inquire as to his whereabouts. No one had seen him since the conclusion of the fireworks.
Philippe fleetingly pondered if Chevalier had grown bored of the party and of waiting, and had taken off with some young thing with which to entertain himself. Their relationship was one of a relaxed symbiosis, a giving and taking. They offered each other things other people could not, yet they had never locked one another away from their desires if their gaze wandered somewhere else. Still, some part of Philippe now flinched at the thought of Chevalier so easily falling prey to another’s seduction. After his promises of a new life together once he purchased this chateau, he had hoped Chevalier would be more scrupulous with the long leash he had been given.
Philippe squared his shoulders, and slipped out of the room through the door he had seen Chevalier leave through. The dark hallway stretched down several yards to a set of double doors that led out onto the eastern veranda. The doors lining the hall where all closed except for the very last one. From this doorway, emanated a sound Philippe was quite familiar with - the gagged moan of Chevalier with a cock down his throat.
Philippe quickened his pace down the hall, gathering up his skirts in both hands to avoid tripping in his haste. Blood rushed hot to his face as he neared the room, and the moaning grew louder, overlapping now with another man’s voice.
He charged around the corner, prepared to lambast whatever pretty young man Chevalier had managed to ensnare, but his ire jolted to a cold, dead stop when he laid eyes on the nobleman towering over a kneeling Chevalier.
The Vicomte’s fingers were tangled in Chevalier’s hair, guiding his head back and forth at an eager pace. Despite the shadows, it was obvious that his breeches were unlaced, and that his prick was free and making erotic use of Chevalier’s gaping mouth. His head hung back, his mouth clenching and gasping in rhythmic sounds of pleasure that grew raspier as his hips thrust harder, faster into Chevalier’s mouth.
Chevalier seemed to struggle with the powerful rhythm of the man’s rutting, but he was hardly resisting. His fingers were locked around the loose fabric of LaFayette’s trousers, pulling him closer. With his eyes shut, he was unaware of Philippe’s presence, blissfully ignorant that he’d been caught red-handed.
All of Philippe’s rage landed empty and hollow. He stood paralyzed in the doorway as LaFayette’s pleasure reached its end. His hips shuddered as he came, pushing Chevalier’s head back against the wall with a thump. Milky streams of release spilled past Chevalier’s stretched lips, and the guttural sound of Chevalier choking rose discordantly over LaFayette’s pleasured groan.
As LaFayette drew back, Chevalier lurched forward, retching onto the polished floor.
LaFayette steadied himself, preparing to remark on the miserable excuse for a man on the floor in front of him when he caught sight of Philippe standing rigidly at the door.
“Oh, your Highness.”
Chevalier’s gaze raced up to meet Philippe’s, his eyes turning round and glossy with horror. In an instant, the flush was gone from his cheeks, replaced by mortified anemia. He swiped desperately at the cum dripping from his mouth, succeeding only in smearing the evidence across his cheek.
“Philippe.” He said, trembling panic racing through his hoarse whisper.
LaFayette calmly laced himself back into his breeches. “Forgive my indecency, your Highness.”
Ignoring him, Philippe took a shaky step closer. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Chevalier. He was trying to convince himself that he wasn’t enraged, that he wasn’t hurt, but he could see the glint of dismay in Chevalier’s eyes that told him that this was a betrayal and nothing less.
“You told me you didn’t know him.” Philippe said, the words echoing hollowly through his brain.
Chevalier scrambled to his feet, pawing disheveled strands of hair back from his pallid cheeks. “I can explain this.”
“I’m certain you can.” Philippe said.
Gathering up his skirts, he turned and marched back down the hall. The sound of his heels striking the floor echoed dimly behind the shocked hum swelling to a shrill ring in his ears. His own breathing was like the rush of the wind, his heartbeat like thunder. Emotion expanded and tangled in his chest, filling him with a foreign, ungainly weight that he’d never felt before. He had been a jealous and possessive lover to all the favorites who had come before, but never with this intensity, this devastation that he felt now. He had never longed for the loyalty of those other men because it had been given inherently to him by his title alone - and he had never expected it to be ripped from him so casually, with the great disregard that gleamed in LaFayette’s eyes, and the evidence of treachery that shone in Chevalier’s.
He stopped when he reached the doorway, and braced himself against the wall. The card tables lay just beyond, offering a tableau of mindless entertainment he now felt entirely disillusioned from.
No one could see him this way.
He paused to draw in a deep breath, and calm the racing of his heart. His eyes stung as his mind replayed the moment Chevalier had looked up, and saw him watching. LaFayette’s expression of smug satisfaction was quick to follow. Those dead eyes held some life in them, the joy of watching a chasm rip wide between them.
Philippe opened his eyes to see Chevalier jogging down the hallway.
“I don’t want to hear it!” Philippe retorted, shoving away from the wall to meet him. “You told me you didn’t know him!”
“Will you listen for one moment?” Chevalier said, holding both hands outstretched in a plea.
“You selfish, stupid little fool! I promised you the world, and the next moment, you throw it back in my face!” Philippe shouted, thrusting a finger at his face.
“No, that isn’t-”
“You thought you could get away with it, didn’t you?” Philippe hissed, leaning closer to glare into Chevalier’s shimmering eyes. “I am the king’s brother. I know all; I see all!”
Chevalier’s mouth went limp, his lower lip trembling. His gaze sank to the floor, blinking against the swell of tears. He swallowed thickly, and took a tentative step closer.
“Philippe, you must believe me. It wasn’t me.” He whispered, putting a trembling hand on his arm on Philippe’s arm. “It wasn’t what I meant to happen.”
Slapping his touch away, Philippe turned to clutch a hand through his hair. The edges of the doorway where the light spilled into the hall blurred as hot tears stung his eyes.
“Mignonnet, please … It was him.”
Philippe felt Chevalier’s fingers against his back, brushing the skin where the neckline stretched across his shoulders. He savored it for a single second before wrenching himself away.
“Do not call me that.”
He strode out of the hall and past the card tables, not giving himself the chance to look back. He pushed the door open with his shoulder, and burst out onto the pavilion where the shadows stretched long across the gardens. He ran across the grass, ignoring the sound of Chevalier calling his name.
Chevalier slept fitfully that night. The strange surroundings of the villa offered little comfort to his racing mind, and wounded heart. Each time he closed his eyes, he saw LaFayette looming over him, his face etched with that horrid smirk of satisfaction. When he tried not to think of that nauseating image, his mind immediately turned to Philippe, which in turn only made him feel more wretched.
He vacillated between sobbing into the pillow and cursing angrily at the ceiling. At three o’clock in the morning, he rose and pilfered some wine from the kitchen. When he was suitably drunk, he at last fell into a disturbed sleep that was haunted by visages of the past.
The next morning, he awoke to one of the servants warning him he might be left behind. They had already packed away his bags, leaving only himself to be carried back to the palace.
He stumbled out of bed, head throbbing, and managed to dress himself before wandering outside. The sun was shining brightly overhead, blinding his tender eyes.
All of the nobles’ carriages were lined up, prepared for the return journey to Paris. Philippe’s carriage was near the front of the line.
Chevalier’s hasty stride came to a halt when he drew closer, and saw Philippe leaning close to a young man, and speaking in hushed tones. The boy laughed, ducking his head and blushing at whatever sweet-nothings it was that the prince was whispering in his ear.
Chevalier clasped his hands tightly behind his back, and drew in a shaky breath. Philippe was always quite the flirt about the palace, but watching this interaction after last night’s disaster felt like a knife going through his chest.
The boy glanced up, and stopped laughing when he noticed Chevalier glaring at them.
Philippe turned to see what his companion was looking at. When his gaze fell on Chevalier, the blue of his eyes was like a frigid winter day rather than the softness of a spring sky after rain that Chevalier knew so well. His mouth turned down into a thin line as their gazes reached one another.
He shooed the young nobleman away, and turned to meet Chevalier.
“You look like shit.”
“I had a terrible night.”
“I imagine you did.” Philippe said, his tone absent of compassion.
“Why do you hate him so, and not all the others I have courted?”
“Because, you lied to me.” Philippe said, “You should have simply told me the moment he arrived that you knew him, and perhaps I would not now be so displeased with you. And because he is helping my brother; you should have known that I would not approve.”
“So, this is my fault?”
Chevalier squinted at the distant gleam of the Seine cutting its way across the distant landscape. He thought of fleeing across the field and throwing himself in to rid himself of the gnawing desperation aching in his belly.
“And beside all that, he is a smug and vile person who clearly enjoyed watching how things played out last night.” Philippe added, “He’s sick, Lorraine, and you are sick for entertaining him.”
Chevalier was unable to muster a rebuttal as Philippe turned on his heel and marched back to his carriage. Climbing inside, he pulled the door shut, and pounded the side of it to signal the coachman to drive.
Chevalier watched the carriage drive away, the knot in his stomach growing ever larger.
He had never felt more alone. For the past eight months, he had allowed Philippe to anchor him, to drive his every waking thought, and take up his every spare moment. He had been a satellite to the sun, existing purely at Philippe’s pleasure, nourishing himself on that light and grace. He didn’t know what a life beyond that circle meant for him at the Palais-Royale. He had plenty of friends in the salons, but none that compared to Philippe. No one that would hold him the way Philippe did, no one that would make love to him with such passion and intensity, no one that would make his blood to sing with a single glance - no one who could love him as Philippe did.
A wild, desperate part of him longed to run after the carriage, and tell Philippe everything. Perhaps he could win Philippe back if he could only open his mouth, and speak the truth. But that fear, like an ironclad grip around his heart, kept him cowering in silence. He could not admit to the sordid truth of he and LaFayette’s dark history. He could not reveal himself to be such a coward; Philippe would never hold a scrap of respect for him again.
“Do you need a ride?”
Chevalier spun around. He recognized LaFayette’s voice before he laid eyes on the man, hovering just behind him. LaFayette’s carriage had been drawn up, and waited for him to step inside.
“I would rather walk back to Paris, thank you.” Chevalier said, turning his gaze back to the road where Philippe’s carriage grew to a distant speck.
“I doubt that.” LaFayette said, “You wouldn’t make it a mile.”
Chevalier clenched his teeth against a hasty retort, knowing well that LaFayette was right.
“Come now, darling.” LaFayette said, his hand brushing Chevalier’s lower back. “I don’t see anyone else here who will take you in.”
“I’ll have you know I have many friends at court.” Chevalier said, “I don’t need your help … though I doubt help is what you’re offering.”
LaFayette chuckled. “You should consider yourself lucky that I even taxed myself to travel this distance for you. I’d been away in Rome for some time when I learned you were at Louis’ court. It was a long, difficult journey.”
“Oh, how romantic of you.” Chevalier said, snapping a tart gaze at him. “You must have been so prevailed upon to travel all this way, and secure yourself a trade deal between India and France, no doubt pocketing a hefty purse along with it.”
“Please.” LaFayette said, smiling wanly. “This deal is only the icing on a very tasty cake.”
“If you expect me to believe that you came all the way here for me, and nothing else, you must be very delusional indeed.”
LaFayette’s gaze hardened from smug to resolute. “Lorraine, you must know by now - when I own something, when I take it for myself, I do not let it go.”
Chevalier glared petulantly as LaFayette flashed a smile, and motioned for him to follow.
“Now, come, get in the carriage.”
“Thank you, but no.”
LaFayette paused, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. His shoulders rose with a deep, steadying breath. He turned slowly to pin Chevalier with a cold, calculating gaze. Striding back to where Chevalier stood, he thrust a finger at the carriage.
“You will get in the carriage, Lorraine, or I will be forced to go to the King and make him aware of the money you owe me. I do not know him well, but I imagine he would not appreciate having a debtor at his court.”
He turned and marched to the carriage, leaving his words to pummel and lacerate like the edge of a deadly weapon. They held the weight of a thousand spears, each of them driving through Chevalier’s stomach with nauseating ease. He could have lashed out except for the truth of them. There is no witty retort when one’s life is in the hands of a much harsher, crueler man.
Stomach turning, Chevalier followed LaFayette to the carriage. He climbed inside, and sat on the cushion opposite LaFayette. As the carriage lurched forward, he focused on the scenery passing by. He felt as if he could see the next few days, the weeks, even the years unraveling before him, all of them swelling in pitiless agony, defining him a helpless prisoner to the whims of a sadistic man. Escape was a distant relief. Philippe’s good graces, once a guarantee, seemed as unreliable as the wind.
Upon their return to the palace, Philippe arranged for a party to be held in the salon near his rooms, and sent out exclusive invitations. He wanted little to do with the stuffy nobles who were loyal only to the king, or those who held leisure and parties in low esteem. He invited only those whom he considered to be full of life and joy, and would provide him a diversion from thoughts of his Chevalier.
The wound had cut deeper than he first considered. He had spent nearly all night thinking of it, despising not only LaFayette, but his own melancholy over the matter. Chevalier was one of many favorites who had come and gone through his inner circle, yet he could not shake the despondency he felt over having been betrayed by this lover in particular.
No matter. He thought. I will drown myself in wine, and desserts, and perfumes until I cannot feel the pain any longer.
This task is what he set out to do that evening as the party commenced, but even as he danced with half-naked young men and woman, and downed glass after glass of wine, the shadow of Chevalier followed. He wondered if, or perhaps yearned for, the contrition he’d seen in Chevalier’s eyes the morning after to be true and genuine; but Chevalier had never apologized for his behavior, no matter how scandalous it became, no matter how despicable the conquest. This time shouldn’t be any different.
Philippe was on his fourth glass of wine when he glanced across the room, past the swaying and gyrating bodies of the party guests, to see the subject of his thoughts lingering tentatively at the doorway. He was too drunk to wonder at Chevalier’s meek posture, just unhinged enough to vengefully enjoy it.
He made his way slowly across the room, focusing on putting one drunken foot in front of the other. When he made it to the doorway, he braced himself against the wall, and brazenly met Chevalier’s gaze.
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
“Why? You’re not invited to this party.” Philippe said, pointedly placing his hand on the door handle.
“I thought perhaps you could make an exception.”
“For you?” Philippe said, chuckling. “Not this time.”
Chevalier stared at him, unusually silent for a long moment, before nodding in resignation. “I understand. There will be no second chances.”
“I have given you many second chances.” Philippe said. “You require them. Daily.”
Chevalier’s jaw tightened. He rearranged his expression to one neutrality. “Then forgive me, Highness, for vexing you with my continued presence. I shall take my leave.”
Philippe frowned as Chevalier turned to retreat down the corridor. He had expected more; some dramatic outburst of desperation, begging and pleading Philippe to let him stay. Something deeper and darker moved beneath the surface, but he was too inebriated for logic or compassion. Abrupt and fiery anger rose in his chest. He was drunk and reckless, and this cavalier attitude Chevalier displayed simply wouldn’t do.
“Do not turn your back on me.”
Chevalier stopped, his hands clenching at his sides.
“I didn’t dismiss you.” Philippe continued, shuffling out into the hall to wave a trembling finger at him. The door swung shut behind him, leaving them in the stifling silence of the hall, where their words echoed and grew beyond a single moment.
“Why must you dismiss me if I was not invited?” Chevalier asked, each word grinding rigidly from his lips.
“Because I wish it to be so.” Philippe snapped. He tilted his glass to his mouth, and drained the last of the wine from it. He gripped the stem as he glared at Chevalier, holding onto the wavering fear in his eyes, before throwing the glass to the ground.
The sound of the glass splintering reverberated through the hall. Tiny shards exploded against the smooth wood floor, and scattered in every direction. The sound of the minuscule pieces dancing across the floor filled the air with the tangible evidence of his pain, until at last, the echoes died away, swallowing his petulant rage into silence.
Philippe took a swaying step closer, ignoring the fragments of glass scattered across the hall.
“Come here.” He ordered.
Chevalier stared at him, his eyes wide and shimmering.
“Come. Now.” Philippe repeated, stabbing a finger at the floor. “Come, my darling, tell me how I’ve broken your heart. Tell me that I am drunk and stupid, and that you hate me.”
Chevalier lifted his chin, clenching his jaw against the glimmer of pain in his eyes. “I don’t hate you.”
“But you must!” Philippe cried, throwing his hands wide. “Why don’t you scream it, my dear Chevalier? Why don’t come here at once and strike me?”
“Is that what you wish?” Chevalier demanded, his face growing pink with frustration. “Truly?”
Philippe staggered through the patches of glass, ignoring the dim, needle-like pain as the shards bit into the bare soles of his feet. He seized Chevalier by the front of his jacket, and heaved him closer.
“Don’t you wish it?” He whispered, searching Chevalier’s perturbed gaze for some sign of the angry passion he longed for. “This is your one and only chance. I am the best thing you will ever achieve - after tonight, it’s all quick, sharp drop to the bottom.”
“Let me go, then, if I am no longer in your favor.” Chevalier whispered, his eyes darting away from Philippe’s.
“Ahh, I see.” Philippe murmured.
He uncurled his fist from around Chevalier’s jacket, and slid his palm up to grasp his cheek. Chevalier flinched, his gaze darting nervously between the floor and Philippe.
Philippe slowly delved his fingers into the nape of Chevalier’s hair, and curled his fist tight until his knuckles were taut against the back of Chevalier’s head. Chevalier uttered a quiet whimper as Philippe dragged his head back, gradually forcing him to his knees.
“You prefer your confrontation like this.” Philippe whispered. He leveraged his other hand against Chevalier’s shoulder, pushing him down to the floor. “Is this what I must do to spark some life in you? Take you the way he did?”
A shadow of darkness fell across Chevalier’s face. The dull misery in his eyes shifted, something deeper and angrier igniting inside them. Philippe had only a second to relish the reaction before Chevalier struck quick and hard with his fist, his aim landing true in Philippe’s groin.
Philippe howled in pain as he collapsed to the ground, holding one hand over his throbbing crotch, and swinging wildly at Chevalier with the other.
Chevalier pounced on him, seizing him by the throat. “Is this what you wanted?” He shouted, cocking his fist back.
Philippe’s flailing hand struck him in the mouth at this moment, sending them rolling across the floor, scrambling to catch hold and pin the other.
“I have use of those, you insolent little prick!” Philippe cried, shoving his palm across Chevalier’s face as the other man’s fingers latched around a handful of his hair. “Perhaps you do not intend to use yours for childbearing, but I have a royal duty yet to do!”
“Do not make me think of you fucking a woman at this moment!” Chevalier retorted, “Do you want me to really hurt you?”
“Yes, I’m begging you to!”
Their raucous squabbling descended into huffs and grunts of pain as they rolled across the floor. The struggle lasted only a moment longer before Philippe managed to gain the upper hand, and pin Chevalier to the floor by his shoulders. He wedged himself between Chevalier’s legs, leveraging the weight of his hips down against Chevalier’s to hold him to the ground. Chevalier bucked beneath him, grunting loudly in exertion for several moments before his struggle availed him little, and he lapsed against the parqueted floor, breathing in tiny, whimpering bursts.
“Tell me, why did you do it?” Philippe rasped, his head spinning from the wine and the fight. “Do I make you so unhappy?”
“No!” Chevalier cried.
Philippe awaited a further explanation, but Chevalier let his head fall back against the floor, his eyes slipping shut in quiet agony. His chest rose and fell sharply beneath Philippe’s hands, but his body had gone limp.
Philippe huffed out a sigh of disbelief, and leaned back against his heels. He felt the pinch of tiny shards of glass embedded in his feet more acutely now that the panicked anger was gone. He felt deflated, like a vibrant bottle of wine gone sour.
“You’re right.” Chevalier said, his voice holding a note of resignation. “You are the best thing that I will ever have.”
“Then explain yourself. Whatever has gotten into you?”
Chevalier opened his eyes, and sat up slowly. His gaze struck Philippe’s for a mere second before darting away. He reached out a hand to softly touch Philippe’s ankle.
“I know.” Philippe said, pulling his foot out from under himself to look at the small bits of glass and blood marring the bottom of his foot. “It hurts terribly.”
Chevalier rose to his feet. He brushed his hair back from his face, and straightened his jacket.
“Wait here. I’ll fetch the doctor.”
He took off down the hallway, turned the corner, and disappeared from Philippe’s sight. Part of him wondered if Chevalier would come back, if he should come back. Their affair had been borne of reckless passion, and had never once ceased to be a wild, unpredictable thing with teeth. They had been consistent in only one thing - for all the times they had argued, they had always reconciled come morning when their blood had cooled, and the wine no longer riled their veins. Philippe feared this night might be the exception.
Chapter 5: The Rumor
Sunday dawned cold and rainy. A dense fog hung over Paris, draping the world outside the palace in cloudy wreaths that seemed to disconnect them from the rest of the world.
Chevalier considered not going to mass, but decided his absence would be noted and less than appreciated by Philippe. He arrived late, when the communion line had already formed. He took his place at the back of the line, and searched the pews for Philippe.
Philippe was near the front of the chapel, surrounded by his friends. His arm lay loosely around the shoulders of the young man to his right. As if he could sense Chevalier’s eyes on him, he shot a glance over his shoulder to locate him from across the room. His expression was solemn and sober, a stark difference to the feral behavior he had displayed the night before.
Once Chevalier had fetched the doctor, he had returned to his own rooms and collapsed into bed. He had no taste for self-flagellation, and hadn’t wished to speak to Philippe any further. He had gone to the party hoping to persuade Philippe, but it was clear now that forgiveness would not be forthcoming. He was abandoned to defend himself against LaFayette alone.
Chevalier scanned the line of nobles ahead of him as they shuffled closer to the priest. He did not see LaFayette among them. He was afforded a few moments of peace that ended abruptly when he felt a hand on his back.
“I gave my confession this morning. Have you?”
Chevalier spun around.
LaFayette smiled at the look of shock on his face. “Pardon me, I did not mean to scare you.”
LaFayette nodded, unconvinced.
“I don’t go to confession.” Chevalier said, managing a nonchalant tone. “I am a Catholic in theory, not in practice - as is half of the court.”
“Perhaps you should. A little unburdening is good for the soul.”
“Does it make you feel less of a vile fiend? If so, then I have no need for confession as you do.”
LaFayette gave a throaty chuckle. “I’m glad to see that while many things have changed, you have not. I do admire your spirit.”
“Yes, as I recall, you enjoyed trying to crush it.”
LaFayette gave a wounded sigh. “You think me cruel.”
“If dear Philippe had not so rudely interrupted us that night in Saint-Cloud, I would have reminded you that I am not - that I can be very generous.” LaFayette said, his voice dropping to a raspy whisper.
His palm pressed against Chevalier’s lower back. When Chevalier tried to twist away from the caress, his fingers clenched around his hip.
Chevalier anxiously glanced around the chapel to see if anyone noticed how close LaFayette stood to him, but like the good Catholics they were, their eyes were all turned toward the priest.
“Allow me to show you.” LaFayette continued, palming Chevalier’s other hip. “Come with me.”
“No.” Chevalier whispered. “Not here.”
LaFayette’s breath rushed hot through Chevalier’s hair and against his ear. “Need I remind you of our previous conversation about you, and the debt you owe me?”
Chevalier closed his eyes, hearing the thud of his heart growing louder like a drum through his chest. His limbs felt numb as LaFayette gripped his elbow, and discreetly led them out of the chapel. He caught one last glimpse of Philippe before the door of the chapel swung shut behind them. His arm was around the young man beside him, fingers toying with the boy’s blond hair. He hadn’t noticed Chevalier’s disappearance.
A bit of sunlight filtered through the dense clouds outside LaFayette’s bedroom window. The pane was open, letting in the sweet smell of the gardens, their blossoms stimulated by rain.
Chevalier focused on the intricate scroll-work of the window frame as LaFayette’s fingertips traced the dip of his spine. His skin prickled with goosebumps, an automatic response just like all the others that had played out in this hour past despite his disgust and hatred of the man in bed beside him. His release was still drying in the sheets, taunting him with his own inability to fight.
The life of a debtor is no life at all. He thought, bolstering himself against the humiliated rage of his mind and body. If LaFayette made good on his promise, it would all be over for him. Debtor's prison was a much worse fate than what he now grappled with.
“You are so beautiful in repose.” LaFayette murmured, bending to plant a kiss on his shoulder.
Chevalier drew in a trembling breath. “I despise you … with every fiber of my being.”
It felt good to say it, though it little mattered. LaFayette was not bothered by things so trivial as insults.
Indeed, he chuckled as if he had just been told an amusing joke.
“You hate me, but I have just given you a release so powerful you were screaming for it not to end.” He said, stroking Chevalier’s hair back from his neck. He dropped a row of kisses there as his palm slid down Chevalier’s forearm to retrieve his hand. He laced his fingers through Chevalier’s, and lifted his palm to lay another kiss against the inside of his wrist.
Chevalier twisted his hand free, and sat up. He snatched his trousers from the end of the mattress, and shoved his feet into them.
“May I go now?”
LaFayette rolled onto his back, and laced his fingers behind his head. “Yes, of course. You are not my prisoner.”
He didn’t look back to see LaFayette’s smirk as he located each discarded piece of clothing, and pulled them back on. He found his shoes halfway across the room, and bent to put them back on.
“When do you imagine you will hear back from India?” He asked.
“Any day now.” LaFayette said. “Are you eager to be rid of me?”
Chevalier turned to cast him a thin smile. “More than you know.”
“We cannot always have what we wish for. I have considered staying here, in France, for a little while once this deal is concluded - here at the palace, in fact.”
“What do you mean?”
“Louis has offered me rooms here.” LaFayette said, rising from the bed. He tossed the sheet aside, and swaggered toward Chevalier naked. “This room, actually. Yours is just down the hall, isn’t it?”
“But … but your businesses are not here in Paris.” Chevalier whispered, “Why stay here?”
“My businesses are managed by proxy, as are all noblemen’s. I can stay wherever I like, for whatever reason I choose.”
Chevalier took a stumbling step back as LaFayette approached, his head tilted down in a devilish smile.
“For how long?” He asked, his voice trembling.
“As long as I need.”
LaFayette reached up to touch Chevalier’s cheek. Chevalier pressed his eyes shut, waiting for the moment the caress would turn brutal. Instead, LaFayette let his words do the cutting. “For me to break you, darling.”
Chevalier slowly opened his eyes as LaFayette’s fingertips retreated from his cheek.
LaFayette walked back to the bed, and sank down against the pillows. He waved a dismissive hand.
“Go, now. Run back to him while you can.”
Chevalier stood frozen in his place for only a second longer before turning to flee the room. Once in the hallway, he paused to compose himself. A group of young women walked down the hall, murmuring their “good days” as they passed him. Arranging a smile on his face, he muttered a reply.
When they were gone, he rushed down the corridor and around the corner where the palace was empty and quiet. His quiet sob echoed against the arched, stone ceiling, and he pressed a hand to his mouth to silence the emotion.
He now knew he had to be rid of LaFayette. Survival tactics until the India deal was in place would no longer do. He must act, or doom himself to a life of misery under the thumb of the Vicomte.
A caged bird will thrash itself against the bars in an attempt to get free, but a lion will tear its way to freedom. He must be the lion, and not the bird. He must find his courage.
Sunday was a holy day, and the salons remained empty; but once Monday dawned fresh and new, shedding itself of the dismal fog of the hours past, the leisurely activities of the palace resumed without hesitation.
Having passed up dinner the night before, Chevalier woke famished. He ordered the servant to bring him breakfast, and ate from the platter in bed. When he polished off the meal, he rose and dressed in his finest clothing.
Standing in front of the mirror, he pinched his cheeks to bring some life back to them. There was a dull look of despondency in his eyes that must be driven out. He knew what he meant to do today, and he could not do it looking as if he were one step from the grave.
He grabbed the pitcher of wine the servant had brought in with breakfast, and poured himself a stout glass. When he had downed the glass, he returned to the mirror to criticize his appearance. His cheeks were flushed from the wine. Slightly inebriated was all the better than partially deceased.
He swung his jacket over his shoulders, and left the room.
As he made his way down the corridors toward the salon, he was met by a friend, the Madame de Arbois and her entourage.
“Good day, Chevalier.” She said, waving for her ladies to wait for her.
“Madame.” Chevalier said, bending to kiss her hand. “I was just on my way to the salon. Do you care to join me?”
“Certainly.” Agnes said, looping her arm through his. “I have not seen much of you lately, my dear. Is our lovely prince keeping you occupied?”
“Very.” Chevalier said, “We were away in Versailles for almost a week hunting.”
“You were invited to hunt with the king’s party?” Anges asked, her head tilting back in laughter. “I can scarcely imagine it.”
“No, no. His Highness went hunting; I stayed at the lodge, keeping the bed warm.”
Agnes descended into another bout of laughter as they continued down the hall. She flipped her fan open, and waved it over her flushed cheeks.
“You are ever so scandalous, Chevalier.”
“How else would I keep myself preoccupied?”
They reached the salon doors, and Chevalier was pleased to see that a great number of nobles were already engaged in gossip and drink at the noon hour.
“We must catch up.” He said, showering Agnes with a warm smile. “What is the gossip about our guest, the Vicomte de LaFayette?”
“There has been much talk.” Agnes said, keeping her voice low as they entered the salon. “Mostly among the young women who are looking to marry.”
Chevalier struggled to keep his smile afloat. “Indeed? They find him desirable?”
“They find his wealth desirable.” Agnes replied.
She pulled them to a stop at the table decorated with a variety of wine and treats. She plucked a chocolate from among them, and popped it into her mouth.
“Well, I do imagine he would make a fine husband since he is always abroad.” Chevalier said.
“Yes, husbands are of the most benefit when they are absent.” Agnes agreed, chuckling around a mouthful of chocolate.
“I hear that he has been to nearly every part of the world.” Chevalier said. “China, Spain, India, most recently in Holland, being entertained in De Witte’s court no less …”
“Holland, you say?” Agnes echoed, her eyebrows arching. “What did he have to do with the Dutch?”
“I do not know. I heard it.” Chevalier replied. He discreetly watched Agnes’ expression as he inspected the treats laid out on the table.
The Madame de Arbois was no fool. She may have married into her husband’s trading business, but she had learned the politics of the occupation as well. He had happened upon exactly the right person to begin this thread of deceit. Not only was she smart, she was also fond of gossip. He had no doubt his little remark would be out to the entire salon by day’s end.
“I did hear that he has not set foot on French soil in some time.” Agnes said.
“Ten years or more, some say. What Frenchman stays away from his country for so long?”
Agnes slapped him in the shoulder with her fan. “You speak dangerously, Chevalier.”
“I’m only saying … it makes one wonder where his loyalties lie.” Chevalier said, extracting a string of ripe grapes from the table.
“Yes, but he is in good favor with the King.”
“It’s idle chat. I’m certain there’s no validity to it. You know how people love to gossip.”
Agnes frowned, her gaze lingering curiously on him. “Where did you say you heard it?”
“I do not recall. I must have been well into my cups by that point.” Chevalier said, popping a grape into his mouth.
Agnes’ gaze wandered the room, perusing the unaware nobles chatting and playing cards. She was deciding who among them could have started this rumor, and Chevalier’s indifference only fanned the flame of her curiosity.
“Come.” Chevalier said, offering his arm to her. “Let’s play some cards. I feel lucky this morning.”
Philippe did not see much of Chevalier in the days following Sunday mass. He had looked for him after the ceremony, but he was nowhere to be found. He had disappeared without taking communion.
Lying in bed that Tuesday evening, Philippe told himself to put the Chevalier from his mind. It seemed quite obvious that Chevalier was avoiding him, though Philippe did not blame him. He was ashamed of how he had acted that evening in the hall when he had screamed and smashed his glass like a child. He could easily dismiss it as drunken recklessness, but he’d acted of his own volition.
Now, the hurt in his chest was beyond the realm of the initial betrayal. Perhaps, on another day not so long ago, they would have reconciled by now, but there was something different about Chevalier. His eyes did not hold the light they once did, nor his cheeks their vibrancy. When Philippe saw him in the salon, he was like an actor on a stage, playing out a character that he did not believe in. The truth was yet to come to light, and with it, forgiveness.
Philippe pulled the sheets over his head, and shut out the thoughts. He rose the next morning, and stood before the mirror, assuring his reflection that today would be different. He would think only of himself, and not so many days off, he had promised himself a beautiful little villa in Saint-Cloud.
He dressed for the day, and walked across the palace to the council chambers where he knew he would find both Louis and the queen, the two people who could grant him his wish. When he arrived, the doors were shut, and the guards stood watch.
“I would speak to my brother.” Philippe said.
“The council is in session.” The guard replied. “You must wait.”
He lingered by the door, his ears straining to hear what was being said. He took whatever chances were afforded him to learn of what went on in the council chambers with the hopes that one day, Louis and his mother would see his potential as a member.
The voices that drifted from beyond the door now were raised in conflict. Philippe could catch only bits and pieces of the conversation.
“Where did this rumor originate?” Louis asked.
“In the salon, as they all do.” Colbert replied.
Philippe paused his pacing, and leaned closer to the door as his mother’s voice, much quieter than the men, fell below his scope of hearing.
Louvois was the next to offer his opinion. “It is a rumor and nothing more.”
“Yes, but how can we be certain he is not also entertaining the Dutch?” Louis pressed.
“He is a Frenchman!” Louvois exclaimed.
“Some Frenchmen are traitors. Not all are loyal to the crown.” One of the other council members said. “And LaFayette seems to me more loyal to India than to us at this moment. Why not also the Dutch?”
“We should question him.” Colbert said. “How better to root out than the truth than directly?”
“If he is a traitor, he will surely have a lie composed.” The other member said. “We should search his rooms while he is away.”
“Stop, all of you.” Queen Anne’s voice at last rose above the rest. “I will not have this council descend into discord due to some fanciful gossip in the salons. We will not be ruled by this rumor. LaFayette has not given us any reason to doubt him.”
“I agree.” Louis said, “Our deal is already in progress. We must secure India. We will proceed with caution, but I question any rumor originating in the salon. Now, if that is all, I think this meeting has endured long enough.”
There was a rumble of agreement before Philippe could hear their chairs scraping back, and the thud of footsteps approaching the door. He stood back as the doors of the council chambers opened, and the members exited, each of them speaking in hushed tones to one another.
Philippe could easily parse those who believed the rumor from those who didn’t. Most of them had friends in the salons, spouses even. People whom they trusted more than a stranger coming from India after years of absence from France.
Philippe himself wondered at the truth of the story. He did not trust the man, not as far as he could have thrown him. Perhaps he was not only a scheming villain, but also a traitor.
As the last council member left the chamber, Philippe let himself inside.
His mother was still seated at the table while Louis peered out the window in deep thought.
“Philippe.” Queen Anne said, rising from her chair.
“Mother.” Philippe said, “Louis. I’ve come with a request.”
Louis turned from the window, his brow furrowed. “A request?”
“When we visited Hervart’s villa in Saint-Cloud, I was enchanted by it. I would like to put in a request to purchase it, and the surrounding grounds.”
Queen Anne’s eyebrows rose. “A home, Philippe?”
“Yes, Mother. I think it’s time I made one for myself, don’t you think?”
“You are of age.” Anne said, sinking back down to her seat with a heavy breath.
She was not as strong as she had once been. She often tired from standing too long, or exerting herself in any way. It seemed that the previous discussion that passed through this chamber had already worn her down to the point of concession.
Louis, though King, would not deny an edict by his mother. He turned back to the window, deferring the conversation to her.
“Will you grant me this request?” Philippe asked.
Anne smiled softly, and beckoned for her son to approach.
Philippe crossed the room to sit on the chair beside her. She reached up to stroke his cheek, her dark, glassy eyes wandering over his hopeful expression.
“Will it make you happy, my son?”
“I think so.” Philippe whispered.
“That is all I wish.” Anne said, patting his cheek. “For my sons to be happy.”
“Thank you, Mother.”
She nodded, her hand dropping to her lap. It held a slight tremor, and she clasped her other hand over it.
“I will give this to you.” She said, “But, Philippe, a home is for a family. I believe that, and it is why I kept you close to me when you were a child, even when they told me to send you away.”
“I will make a family.” Philippe said, glancing over her shoulder at Louis. “I know the day will come when the King will order me to marry.”
“Mm.” Anne murmured, “But you will not love her.”
“Do any of us love the ones we are ordered to marry?”
Anne chuckled. “Ah, Philippe, you have always been wise beyond your years. My bright, little star.”
Philippe ducked his head as she leaned over to kiss his forehead.
“You will find a way to be happy.” She said. “Saint-Cloud will be sold to you.”
“Thank you, Mother.” Philippe said.
He rose from the chair, and bowed to Louis. “Your Majesty.”
Louis barely glanced over his shoulder as Philippe retreated. Just before the doors shut behind him, Philippe could hear him speak.
“You give him everything he asks for.”
Anne replied, “And you have all of France, my son.”
Chevalier was pleased to watch his rumor spread like wildfire through the palace. The nobles, intrigued by their visitor from the moment Louis announced his arrival, latched onto this piece of information like rabid dogs. Whether it was true or not didn’t matter. What mattered was that it was salacious.
The expediency of the rumor, however, did not ease Chevalier’s worries. Gossip only mattered if it was effective in achieving the desired result. For Chevalier, the result he desired was for LaFayette to be ordered to leave the palace, and to never come back. The rumor needed traction, of which Chevalier had very little.
He’d crafted the lie in the space of one day, and there were no facts to back up the tale he’d spun. Louis would likely require proof before he discarded LaFayette. Chevalier hadn’t yet come upon a solution to that problem.
He stayed in the salons for the majority of the next few days, spurning the privacy of his rooms or the secluded corridors of the palace whenever he could. He feared that LaFayette might come upon him at any moment. The rumor was sure to get back to him, as all rumors do.
Two days after he whispered the question in Agnes’ ear, he was in the salon playing cards when he saw Philippe enter the room. He was in a suit of pale gray with a white cravat and a red, velvet necktie. Chevalier, having not laid eyes on him for the past few days, let his gaze linger, famished at the sight of him. His stomach turned when Philippe’s gaze cut across the room, finding Chevalier’s with haste. He brushed aside the young noblemen flocking to him, and started across the room towards Chevalier.
Chevalier turned his gaze back to his cards. He didn’t have a winning hand, and needed to get away from this table before anyone overheard their conversation. He hadn’t told anyone of he and Philippe’s falling out, and he intended to keep it that way.
“I’m out.” He said, throwing his cards on the table.
“We've only just started.” One of his companions said.
“Forgive me if I don’t want to lose all my money to you today, Charles.” Chevalier said, tapping the young man on the nose. “I know you’re a cheater.”
Charles chuckled as Chevalier left the table. He weaved around another table, and escaped to the other side of the room where fewer people were gathered.
Philippe joined him at the windowsill. “Are you running away from me?”
“No, of course not.” Chevalier said, tossing his hair breezily over his shoulder.
“I wouldn’t blame you.”
Philippe reached around him to pluck a glass of wine from the table. He took a sip, and sat down on the cushioned windowsill with a sigh.
“You were drunk.” Chevalier said, “We all say things we do not mean when we are drunk.”
“Yes, most of it was untrue.” Philippe said.
Chevalier bit the corner of his lip. “Most of it?”
“Yes.” Philippe said, casting him a scowl. “I’m still angry with you.”
“Will you ever forgive me?”
“I don’t know.” Philippe rose from the windowsill, and turned to pin Chevalier with a penetrating gaze. “Will you ever stop lying to me?”
“Lying? I don’t know what on earth you’re tal-”
“There! Exactly.” Philippe said, jabbing a finger at his chest. “You are a liar, my darling, and once you tell me the truth perhaps I will forgive you. But not now.”
“If we’re going to fight, I suggest we take it out onto the lawn.” Chevalier said, “Or would you prefer the entire salon see when you start swinging at me?”
Philippe gave a clipped sigh. “I don’t want to fight.”
“Then we should choose another topic of conversation.”
Philippe took a drink of wine, humming thoughtfully. “Ah, I know. Since you are so very close to him, I’m curious if all this talk about the Vicomte being in bed with the Dutch is true.”
Chevalier turned his gaze to the window to hide the truth in his eyes.
“I am not close to him, and I do not know if it is true.”
“Well, it certainly is the talk of the salon.”
“Does Louis know?” Chevalier asked, tempering his tone to one of indifference.
“I heard them arguing about it when I went to the council chambers the other day.” Philippe said, “Half the council thinks they should interrogate him, the other half think it’s nothing but empty talk.”
“Which half is Louis on?”
“My mother thinks it’s empty talk, so he’s on her side, naturally.”
“So .. nothing will come of it?”
“Perhaps, not.” Philippe shrugged. “Why do you care?”
“Well, I can tell you, if it did turn out to be true, he wouldn’t be long for this place.” Philippe said, “Louis would have him drawn and quartered. I’m sure you don’t want to see that.”
“Not particularly. You know how I hate the sight of blood.”
Philippe studied Chevalier’s profile. Chevalier could sense that he was probing with his remarks. He knew something was wrong.
Chevalier cleared his throat. “Why were you going to the council chambers the other day?”
“I’m purchasing the villa in Saint-Cloud. I must have Louis’ approval to do so.”
“Ah. I’m sure you’ll make it beautiful.”
“I’m going to make it my home.”
“Alone?” Chevalier asked, peeking a glance up at him.
Philippe drained the last of the wine. “If I have to.”
He set the wine glass down on the table, and turned to leave.
“Philippe.” Chevalier’s fingers closed around Philippe’s wrist before he could stop himself.
Philippe paused, his eyes searching Chevalier’s. They flickered with hope, waiting for Chevalier to speak, looking for the truth this time.
Chevalier was inclined to give it to him, in this moment, because he was desperate. He hated sleeping alone, and he hated fighting over things he couldn’t explain. But telling the truth meant revealing every dark and shameful part of himself, the dismal, pitiful parts that he’d tried so hard to bury. It meant telling the whole truth, because once he began with the long and twisted story, he would not be able to stop. There would be no stopping the consequences if he spoke one word of the past.
He squeezed Philippe’s hand, and averted his gaze to the floor.
“I … I miss you.” He whispered.
Philippe hesitated for a moment before pulling his hand free.
Chevalier lifted his head just in time to see him walking away.