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Sunday, 9 August 2015


This is Book Six, the final part of the Holy Poison series which follows ordinary people who lived through the reign of Bloody Mary.

1558 - Bloody Mary is finally dead and Lord Richard Summerville is pardoned by Queen Elizabeth for high treason. He is home with the wife who betrayed him, the woman he risked his life to protect, the woman he still loves. They have both committed sins against each other, but will their love be strong enough to bury the resentment they both still feel? Will they be able to put the past behind them and forgive each other, build a life together? Or will the consequences of those sins follow them into the future?

This is the sixth and final book in the Holy Poison series, which has followed the lives of ordinary people who lived through the religious persecution of Queen Mary I and her brutal campaign to restore England to the Church of Rome. This is the story of how those people survived into the more stable reign of her Protestant sister, Elizabeth, and the effect their actions will have on their children.

This book takes us from Lord Summerville's narrow escape from death by the executioner's axe, to his feud with his once loved cousin, Anthony, and that cousin’s plot to destroy Richard’s marriage and claim Summerville for himself.

The consequences of all their actions will reach out to haunt them for years to come.

Holy Poison: Consequences - First Chapter


Queen Mary was dead! Could there be a better gift to end the year of 1558 for Protestants everywhere than to know that the Papist hag was dead and gone and her brutality with her? It was the first day of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, England's second female monarch, and one could only hope she made more friends than her late, unlamented sister.
Only that morning, after little sleep, Bethany, Countess of Summerville, had dressed in black and gone about the mournful duty of telling the tenants and villagers that their lord was dead, executed for treason. Anthony blamed her, said it was her failure to obey her husband's wishes that caused him to replace her at court with his mistress. He had presented that mistress to the Queen as his countess, an insult to Her Majesty's face. And when the Queen learned the truth, the Earl of Summerville, who had been her staunchest supporter and closest friend, was arrested, tried and convicted of treason.
Only yesterday Bethany had made the long journey from Suffolk to London, bribed her way with gold coins into the grim building where her husband awaited his death and held him in her arms for what she believed would be the last time.
She still believed then that he was in that dismal place because he could not bear to be parted from his mistress, the beautiful Lady Rachel Stewart. Now she knew better; now she knew the truth and she felt humble and grateful for the risk they had both taken to protect her.
She went to the village priest that morning to buy masses for his soul, all the time knowing he had no need of such superstition, but it was what he believed that mattered. She had let him down about so many things; she would not let him down about that.
And as she went about these tasks, her imagination would not stop seeing his beautiful head on a spike on London Bridge, with all the other traitors.
Then the miracle for which she had prayed so hard happened - Mary died and the new Queen pardoned all her enemies. Richard came home, just when she had decided there was nothing left worth living for. He held her hand and took her to bed and she was nervous like the very first time, it had been so long since they did those things, so long since she felt his touch on her flesh.
He made love to her this afternoon, a joy she had thought would remain nothing more than a wondrous memory for her to savour during the cold, lonely nights to come.
This was a momentous day, a day when Bethany realised her actions had unwittingly severed the close bond between her husband and his cousin. Anthony blamed her when Richard was condemned and seeing him alive and well had failed to turn the tide of his resentment and anger. He would never forgive her the betrayal of her husband; Richard had been forced to choose and he had chosen his wife.
Anthony did not join them for supper and she was forced to finally admit to herself that he meant what he said, he was leaving, moving to his own house where only that morning she thought she would be joining him as the unwelcome guest he would reluctantly house out of loyalty to his cousin.
Now he was leaving, and they could hear him upstairs dragging his boxes around, yelling to the servants to help him with his belongings.
"Will you not try to make up with him, Richard?" Bethany asked for the third time. "Of course he is angry. This has been his home since he was a child and he is angry with me on your behalf, because he loves you."
"No," he replied coldly. "If he loved me he would not be trying to drive us apart. I can only suppose my influence did not get to him before his own father's did, he who believed that women should always know their place and have no thoughts of their own. I have never believed that; if I had I would not have chosen you for my wife. If he cannot accept that, then it is better for all of us if he does leave."
"I hate to be the cause of a rift between you."
"You are not the cause; he is. He is old enough now to run his own household in any case. He has had enough practice and will no doubt be looking for a wife of his own. She will be someone who believes she must not have an opinion that differs from his. She will be as unlike you, my love, as she can possibly get, but the one thing I hope is that he loves her. That is the only way he might understand how we can forgive each other for such crimes as we have committed."
"He does not believe you need forgiveness, only me."
"Then he is a fool, and I did not raise him to be a fool." He finished his meal and pushed the plate aside then reached to take her hand. "Have you had enough?"
She could not resist the innuendo attached to that question.
“No,” she said, mischievously. “I can never have enough of you.”
He gave her one of his delighted smiles, a smile she had never thought to see again, and shook his head.
"I never realised before what a wicked woman I married," he whispered playfully.
He leaned toward her and kissed her lips, but Anthony appeared in the doorway just as they stood up. Perhaps this was their last chance to make things right and she knew it would go better without her presence.
"I will bid you goodnight, Anthony," she said as she walked past him.
He made no reply, but she felt his eyes following her all the way to the stairs and she turned in time to see him move farther into the room. She sat on the stairs and peered through the rails where she could just make out the interaction in the dining hall.
"I have had my things packed, all my belongings I think," Anthony said. "I shall stay at the inn tonight."
"There is no need," Richard answered. "You can stay here until tomorrow."
"No. It is better this way." He paused thoughtfully, looking Richard full in the face, before he went on. "I really wish you would reconsider."
Richard frowned but made no reply, which his cousin seemed to take as encouragement.
"You should put her aside," Anthony was saying. "She will never obey you."
"I am very glad to hear it," Richard replied with a little smile.
"But you can marry again, Richard. You can get an heir with some other woman, someone of your own class, your own faith."
Richard was puzzled.
"What do you suggest I do with the wife I have?" He asked.
Anthony shuffled his feet, as though deciding whether he should speak his mind. He had told Bethany before this that he expected Richard to do away with her.
"You got rid of your last wife," he finally muttered.
A flash of anger crossed Richard's face; was he about to lose that fragile temper and do something he would regret?
"Yes," he replied at last. "Bethany mentioned that you thought me responsible for Rosemary's death."
"Well, am I to believe you were not responsible?"
Bethany listened carefully, waiting for him to deny it, but he did not.
"You are right, Anthony," he answered after a few moments. "I was responsible, but you are missing the point. I disliked Rosemary; indeed I would go so far as to say she made my life a burden. I had good reason for wanting to get rid of her." He paused and looked up, knowing his wife was listening to every word. "Bethany is different, because I love her. She is my reason for living and without her I would not want to go on. Do you yet understand?"
"No, and I never will. I wish you well of your treacherous little commoner."
Anthony turned on his heel and left the house and Bethany’s heart sank. She had hoped they might find some common ground, that their lifelong bond could be healed and she would not be the cause of breaking that bond forever. But it was not to be.
Richard came to meet her at the top of the stairs and gathered her into his arms.
"Why did you let him believe you killed Rosemary?" She asked.
"Because it is no bad thing if he believes me capable of murder. It might make him think before he insults my wife again."
"You do not trust him to know the truth about her?"
"No, I do not. Look how he has behaved over you, unable to forgive when he has no right to question. His sister has been a greater influence on him during her short visit than I thought possible. I do not want him unable to forgive Rosemary as well, perhaps even having her remains removed and buried in unconsecrated ground. If the church knew she was a suicide, they would not hesitate."
Bethany had a sudden awful vision of sombre faced priests supervising the removal of her skeleton to be reburied outside the churchyard walls or at a crossroads, a vision which made her shiver.
"Come," Richard said gently. "Let us forget him. I want to know more of that wicked woman."


After breakfast, while Richard rode out to show himself to the tenants, to allay their fears, Bethany visited the old cottage in the woods. For some reason she was drawn to it, as though she wanted to say goodbye, to be sure it could not reach out and grab her, take her back into a past she wanted desperately to forget.
She had been here but once since she was released from her prison by the death of her dear little girl. She had no real idea of why she should want to see it now; its memories were not good, but as she stood and looked about, she was reminded of what she so very nearly lost.
It was late in the year and the air was damp and chill, the ground muddy even inside the cottage. She remembered the winter she spent here, how the dirt floor soaked up the wet from the rain and snow, which found its way through the waxed screens and the hole above the fire.
An unexpected surge of resentment and anger tore into her heart and made her almost forget the love she had so recently shared with her husband. They were going to start again; they had no need of past transgressions rising up to interfere and spoil things. She shivered, despite the fur cloak she wore.
Just looking at this place made her vividly recall the terrifying rage in Richard's entire body when he discovered her here, when he trapped her here, her fear when she realised he meant for her to fend for herself like a peasant, in this freezing, dilapidated hovel.
That is how angry he was, how full of vengeance for her betrayal; and she had betrayed him, she had risked both their lives to aid his enemies. These memories were quickly followed by the memory of her devastation when she finally realised she had sent the man she loved into the arms of another woman for the support and comfort she had been unable or unwilling to provide.
She needed to remember the pain of that time in order to properly savour the present.
"Why are you here?"
Richard's voice from the doorway made her start violently and she shivered as a memory flashed into her mind, a memory of the last time she had failed to notice him standing in that same doorway. For a few brief seconds, the guilt and fear came rushing back with it.
"I might ask you the same question," she replied, surprised that her voice shook a little.
"I came to see what would be the most efficient way to destroy this place."
She stared at him. She had not expected that.
"Why would you want to do that?" She asked.
"It is a reminder of some terrible sins," he replied.
"Yours or mine?"
He did not reply at first, just stood in thoughtful silence, considering his answer.
"Both," he said at last.
"Then let it stay, please."
"Why would you want that? It is a reminder of an awful time, a desperately unhappy time. How can we put the past behind us while this place still stands as a monument to that past?”
"Do you always do this?" She asked him softly. "Anything you do not want to remember has to be destroyed or kept out of sight, like Rosemary's portrait?"
"What are suggesting? That we hang her portrait in the gallery?"
"It is where she belongs. She was your wife."
"In name only," he replied with a note of bitterness.
She had been dead for years, and still he could not look fondly upon her memory.
"I want this place destroyed," he said at last. "I do not want to be reminded of what we did to each other. I cannot imagine why you would not want that too."
"If Alicia had not taken ill, I might still be living here. Do you realise that?"
"I would not have left you here once Mary was dead. I never intended to release you, but I would have found you somewhere more comfortable to live."
"Anthony would have," she said. "Had you been executed, Anthony would have gladly left me here. He as good as told me so himself and I doubt he would have even bothered to tell me you were dead except to be sure I took the blame."
He frowned and shook his head.
"He would have told you I was in the Tower. I asked him to in my letter and he would not have refused me my last request. You would still have come to the prison to say goodbye. You do not realise just how much that meant to me; until that moment I believed I had destroyed your love." He paused and held her close and they stood in thoughtful silence for a few minutes, while she rested her head against his chest and listened to the pounding of his heart, savoured the warmth of his nearness just to assure herself she was not dreaming. "I cannot tell you how my heart leapt with joy when I looked up and saw you standing there. I will tell you something, Bethany. Had you not come to say goodbye, I would likely never have come back here at all."
She pulled away and looked up at him in alarm.
"Whatever do you mean?"
"I was writing letters when you came, remember? I never got to the one for you, the one that would tell you I knew you no longer loved me and that I did not blame you."
He paused and kissed her forehead, holding her head in his hand while the other held her close against him.
"That is why I did not care if I was put to death. When I interrupted you with those berries in your hand, you thought I was Anthony. You told me there was nothing left for you, and that is exactly how I felt. After you left, everything changed; I started to dread the dawn, because then I knew I had been wrong, that I did still have something precious worth living for."
"I cannot imagine why you would ever think otherwise, no matter what happened."
"That is what Rachel said," he looked at her with a little puzzled frown. "She told me you would love me no matter what I did."
"She is a very wise lady. Perhaps she would have come and released me had you not survived."
“I am so very sorry,” he said. “And I am sorry I would not listen to you, when you tried to explain. I was too angry, too hurt and I was so furious I just wanted you to suffer.”
“Do you want to know now? Why I did it?”
He made no reply straight away. He did want to know why his wife had betrayed him, but he was afraid of the answer to that question.
“I know you wanted to help; I recall your telling me, before I shut you up.”
“Oh, yes, I wanted to help, but not for the sake of the fleeing Protestants. It was for Julia.”
He frowned.
“Julia? I do not understand.”
“I watched her die, remember? And all I could see for weeks afterwards was the contempt in her eyes as she looked down at me from that cart, on her way to the stake. She told me not to marry you; she likened me to Judas Iscariot for giving up my beliefs to marry you for your wealth and title.”
“I do not think she could have meant it.”
“She meant it. You were not there; you did not see the look in her eyes.”
“I do not think it was contempt in her eyes, Bethany,” he said. “It was more likely to have been detachment. You felt guilty and you conjured up the contempt you believed you were owed. If she took the potion I smuggled into the gaol for her, she would have been too drugged to even recognise you, much less have any feelings on the subject.”
She pulled away and stared at him, hope in her eyes.
“I heard her scream.”
He shook his head.
“I was not there, but I have it on good authority that she was unconscious when they tied her to the stake. With all the screaming going on, you could not have known it was her you heard.”
“So you smuggled in something to send her to sleep, to spare her the pain and humiliation?”
He nodded.
“It was the best I could do,” he went on. “Had she been anyone else, I could perhaps have got her out, but they knew she was one of the leaders. Had I been suspected then, I would have lost the ability to help, to warn them. I could not risk it, not for one woman, not even for her. I am so sorry.”
She clung to him, tears beginning to erupt.
“You saved her,” she said. “And you saved me. I thought she hated me, but she did not even know I was there. I have to get word to Charles, Richard, do you not see? He will be suffering as I was, believing she died in agony. It would mean so much to him to know the truth.”
“I do not want you to go there,” he said.
“Why? Do you still not trust me?”
He pulled her close.
“Of course I trust you, but seeing him, seeing Simon, will be like being in this place. It will bring back awful memories which can only stand between us.”
“May I write to him?”
“Very well,” he agreed. “But do not tell him it was me who gave her the drug.”
“Why not?”
“Because he will likely not believe you and that will defeat the object. Tell him it was you.”
She shook her head.
“He will not believe that. I would have told him before now if I had known.”
Richard was thoughtful for a little while.
“Tell him it was Adrian, Earl of Kennington.”
“Who is he?”
“A friend, a man who has been helping me.”
“The same man who saw Charles come here and thought he was my lover?”
He nodded.
“Come,” he said, taking her hand. “Let us get out of this place. I will order it demolished as soon as possible.”
“It should stay. Think of all the people I saved because of this place.”
“Think of the day I left you here, think of what I did before I left you here.” He held her away from him and sighed impatiently. "Do you want our children to one day come asking about this place, about its history? Will you tell them the truth, that their mother lived here, alone and in poverty, imprisoned by their father in one of his more vicious moods?"
"If I do that, I will have to tell them his reasons, tell them the cause of his vicious mood. I will have to tell them that their mother broke all her promises to their father and betrayed him by helping his enemies. I will have to tell them she got precisely what she deserved."
He pulled her into his arms, while she reached up and kissed him hungrily.
"Supposing we make some new memories," she whispered.
She slipped her hand beneath his doublet and shirt and began to caress his back, but he held her away from him.
"Not here, please," he pleaded. "I cannot. Not here."
"If it means that much to you, we will destroy this place, raze it to the ground and pretend it never existed. We will never have to tell our children what happened here, but one day they may find Rosemary's portrait, like I did, and they will want to know about her, like I did." She watched his expression change and a little frown appeared on his brow. "I will make a bargain with you."
"You did that once before, remember?" He said with a little smile. "I seem to recall it did not work out as planned."
"This one is much simpler," she replied. "You have the portrait cleaned, hang her in the gallery where she belongs, and I will not object to the destruction of the cottage. I will swear to you that our children will never know what happened here."
"Why does it mean so much to you? Why will you not let me forget she ever existed?"
"Because she did exist and your relationship with her is part of who you are. She helped to shape you, just as Rachel did. Why, without her influence you might never have chosen me for your wife." His words when he first proposed their marriage resounded in her mind: I do not want a wife who does not want me. She paused thoughtfully, unsure whether to ask her next question. "Why did you not have the marriage annulled? It would have been the best thing for both of you, surely."
"I did not think it right to subject her to such an invasive examination."
"So you would not frighten her by insisting on the consummation, which was your right, and you would not even annul the marriage because of the intimate nature of the enquiries. Why all that for someone you hated? For someone you want to erase from existence?"
She paused while he shrugged and looked at her sheepishly, as though his kindness had been something of which to be ashamed.
"I know why," she answered her own question. "Because you are a kind man and whether you cared for her or not, you accepted your duty as her husband to protect her. I do not want my children coming to me or to you and asking what your first wife had done, what crime she had committed, that she was not even allowed a presence with all the other family members. I do not want to have to tell them that her only crime was in not being what you wanted her to be."
"Very well," he agreed with a sigh. "But if she is to have her portrait in the gallery, then yours must be there too. I will concede that you are right about Rosemary, if you will concede that I am right about this place."
"It is a bargain."
"Talking of those children who will never know what happened here,” she murmured, “do you not think we should start on them sooner rather than later. Can we go back to the house now, please? I have an urgent need to be alone with you."
Outside the cottage she led him by the hand to the spot beneath the tree where she had often sat with her memories and her misery.
"This is where you first took me as your wife," she told him. "Do you remember?"
"Indeed I do," he said with a smile as he put his arm around her protectively. "You were trembling so much I thought you might run away."
"My first instinct was to do just that. But although you were a stranger to me, and I feared your touch, you promised you would not hurt me. I trusted you to keep your word."
He was quiet for a few moments and when he finally spoke, his words surprised her.
"I too was afraid," he said hesitantly.
"You? Why? You were no virgin."
He laughed softly.
"No, but I had never had the deflowering of one before. I had already failed to consummate one marriage."
"And you blamed yourself for that? But that was not your doing."
"Was it not? I could never be sure before. I did not want to frighten you too."
"I was very nervous. I knew nothing; I had no real idea of what was expected of me or whether it would be something unpleasant I was duty bound to endure." She stopped and looked at him, and saw that little mischievous glitter in his eyes.
"And is it?" He asked flirtatiously.
She laughed, then her gaze caught his.
“I fell in love with you here, that first day.”
He held her hand to his lips, watched her over the top of it and smiled reminiscently.
"After only a few days of knowing you,” he said, “I realised that for the first time in my life I had no need of any other woman and it started on that first day. That was when you began to turn my world upside down, to steal away the control I always had over my life. That was when I began to miss you when you were not there, when I started to look forward to seeing you. More than that you made me hunger for you, made me want you, as I have never wanted another woman in my entire life. You made me feel like the most important man on earth. How could any man resist that?"
She brought his hand up to her lips and kissed it.
"You are the most important man on earth," she answered softly.
"And then the King died and I let it all collapse. I knew I would fight for Mary; I had waited almost six years for the opportunity to do so. The Summerville Earls have always fought beside the monarch until Edward took the throne. Even when King Henry broke with Rome and we were all forced to sign his damned Oath."
"I assume you signed it, or you would have met the same fate as Sir Thomas More."
"I did. More was a good and honest man, but he was a fool. I was not going to risk my head for a silly oath that meant nothing."
"But you risked it for me."
"That was different. You were worth it."
He kissed her and smiled at her, his eyes locked on hers.
"You completely destroyed my plans, you know," he said with a smile. "When I first proposed to you, I had it all planned out, I knew precisely how it would be. I would find an independent woman, one who could talk intelligently and was not afraid to speak her mind. We would come to a civilised agreement. I would go and fight for Mary when the time came and yes, I wanted to marry before that happened, to at least try for an heir in case I did not return. I did not intend for love to enter the equation at all and when it did, I was torn in two directions, and that was a feeling I did not enjoy at all." He paused and gave her a bashful look. "I thought when I went away, you might forget those feelings and so might I. I was wrong."
"Is that why you tried to push me away?" She asked sombrely. "Is that why you behaved like that cold and arrogant stranger I had believed you to be when we first met?"
"Yes. And I told myself it was for your own good. I knew by then I could not have you at court and I imagined you would be happier if I could make you think less of me."
"What an absurd plan, My Lord," she answered. "Just as if a few harsh words could have made me think less of you."
"I wish I had stayed here with you, never gone to London."
"Did you have a choice?"
"Not really. I had to fight for Mary or be condemned as a traitor when she won, and I knew she would win. When Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen, Mary wrote to all her noblemen seeking their support. I know at least one who failed to respond and was later coerced into serving her anyway. Adrian was a Protestant and very unhappy about it."
"I wish we could make love here again, now," she murmured. "That would be my ideal new start."
It was damp and cold and he gave an exaggerated shiver.
"Perhaps when the springtime comes," he said with a laugh.
He pulled a knife from his belt and approached the tree, began to carve some words into the bark.
“Will that do instead?”
She moved to stand beside him, looked at the writing and smiled. Richard loves Bethany.
"That is perfect.”
They held hands and carried on walking toward their waiting horses, anxious to return to the privacy of home.
Before they had a chance to mount, a figure appeared through the woods. It was Will, Connie's husband who had been so distraught when he thought Richard was dead.
"My Lord," he cried, running toward them. "Connie told me we had got you back. I cannot tell you how happy we all are." Then he bowed toward Bethany as he drew to a halt. "My Lady. Is this not a great day?"
"The greatest, Will, the very greatest."
"I want..." Richard began, then paused and looked at her before starting again. "That is, we want this cottage destroyed. Can you arrange it? Burn it to the ground. I want no trace of it to remain."
"Yes, My Lord," Will replied. "I am surprised you’ve not ordered it before now."
They exchanged a puzzled glance, wondering just what secrets this man and his colleagues knew that they would rather they did not know. Servants and tenants knew everything. They would both be humiliated if it transpired that they all knew what had happened here.
"What do you mean by that, Will?"
"Well, My Lady," he replied, rubbing his chin, "the poor lady who lived here last was a leper, so I heard. The disease could still be hanging about. The only way to get rid of it is fire."
They both breathed a sigh of relief, then Richard glanced at her and smiled. She knew he was thinking the same as her. They could grab this excuse with which Will had presented them as a reason to destroy the place.
"Will you see to it?" Richard asked.
"Right away, My Lord," Will replied as he turned and started to move away, looking back over his shoulder as he went. "So pleased to have you back."
Later that evening, their sleep was interrupted by a loud explosion coming from the church. Bethany climbed out of bed and donned a fur cloak with which to cover herself, then went to the window to look out.
She saw the flames rising high above the trees and knew that Will was carrying out his orders and consigning the priest's cottage to oblivion. She felt Richard's hand on her shoulder as he watched with her and she turned to look up at him, saw his satisfied smile as he held her against him.
"It is gone," he said. "We can only hope it takes all its bad memories with it."


"Tell me more about Rachel," she said when they had returned to bed.
The flickering from the flames in the distance bounced off the window, making it appear cosy and warm.
Talking about Rachel was very difficult for Bethany. For years she had hated the woman, had believed Richard loved her, was spending his nights in her bed, sharing his tenderness and his body with her, while she could only pine for him, knowing Rachel was stealing his love away, knowing that she herself had driven him into that woman’s arms.
Now to learn the woman had risked her life by allowing him to present her to the Queen as his wife, knowing that she did so to protect that wife, was a lot to accept. Rachel was beautiful, the sort of beauty which turned heads and made people watch her as she approached, made artists long to capture her image for all eternity.
If what Richard and Rachel had told her was the truth, she had to trust him; she could do nothing else.
"How did you meet her? She is the sort of woman you would have pursued, but I do not believe you did, or she would not still be your friend. I just think it odd that a woman like that could have met you any other way."
"You are right, as it happens," he began. "It was the birth of Prince Edward. The King invited everyone in court circles to the celebrations, he was so ecstatic, and Rachel had no one to escort her. Knowing that things were not, shall we say, close between me and my Countess, that she would likely not be attending herself, he asked me to escort her."
Mention of his being at the court of King Henry made her realise how much older than her he was. She had not really thought about it before, but she held tight to him now; one day she may well lose him. He was nearly twice her age.
And Rachel too was so much older than her, so much more experienced of the ways of the world. She was Richard’s contemporary; his wife was not.
“I never thought of it before,” she said teasingly. “You are old enough to be my father.”
He laughed, held her close.
“I am indeed, but still you will not do as you are told.”
“Is that what you want?” She snuggled close and spoke against his neck. “You can be my master here in this chamber; you will always be my master here.”
He kissed her passionately, arousing those longings once more.
"So King Henry asked you to escort Rachel?"
"Yes," he answered. "I have no idea what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought I could help her to blossom, as he had been unable to do, or perhaps he thought to give me a partner for the ball and the night to follow."
"And you escorted her to the ball, but not beyond? Are you sure?"
"It was certainly my intention to pursue her when I went there, but I soon saw my advances would be unwelcome. When a man takes the hand of a woman in greeting and she flinches away, he should know that something is not quite as normal. It seems I was the first one to either notice or to care." He sighed softly, reminiscently. "So we went to the palace and we had a really good time together. We got on well; she was intelligent and funny and I felt sad that I had not met a woman like her instead of Rosemary. But I knew I could never ask anything from her."
“You will see her again, will you not?"
"She does not expect it, Bethany. You heard what she said; she does not want to come between us."
"She is not going to come between us. Nothing and nobody is ever going to come between us again," she declared firmly. "She is your friend, you are hers and her protector. She still needs you and perhaps she always will. I do not want to be the one to deprive her of that comfort, especially after she risked her life for me."
He sat up then and looked down at her.
"I would like to keep in contact with Rachel," he replied carefully. "But only if you are sure. I will do nothing to distress you, to make you feel less secure."
"That will not happen. She is your friend and if she were a man, we would not be having this conversation. You would think nothing of visiting a friend of your own sex. Perhaps we can visit her together."
They were interrupted by the sound of hooves and cartwheels in the courtyard.

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