Marie exuded a calm she did not feel and a confidence she did not possess. Still, she knew how to present herself properly, to be…

A queen. Here I am not… yet I am something else. Something unnamed… can there be such a thing as an unnamed queen?

People were flocking to her. The two young men assigned to protect her stood close by, but did not interfere. She greeted each with the grace of nobility and the kindness of a woman who cared deeply for her people.

These are my people… I was neither born to it nor married to it, but these people look to me for… for something.

Moose and Nyota were mingling, being hosts, as were Clovis and Anne. Marie’s friends had hinted that perhaps she should attend the ball on Galen’s arm, but that idea just seemed… awkward.

Galen was an enigma. One moment, he would seem to care deeply for her, watching over and protecting her with a fervor that seemed beyond any self-imposed duty. But the next moment he would retreat to a professional distance, never allowing himself to remain in close proximity for more than a few minutes. He was always moving, always watching the horizon. He did his job exceptionally well, adapting to the leadership position as Marie’s entourage grew.

The ball was no exception. Marie’s eyes kept finding him, always in a different place. He watched her from a distance, but instead of making her feel safe and secure, his gaze sent shivers up her spine.

The shivers were particularly intense tonight. He was dressed in formal  grey pinstripes, in a style that seemed both timeless and out of time. It was appropriate for The Place. The suit was well fitted to his body, showing a trim waist and well muscled torso.

How long has it been?

Marie recalled the last time she’d been with a man. It was with some regret that she admitted it had been a lover, not her husband, but that was simply the way her relationship with Louis worked. She loved him, and he loved her, but it was more the way of two partners filling their ready-made roles. Their love was deep, but not sexual.

In spite of her fears and uncertainties, Marie found herself enjoying the ball immensely. It had all the fun and excitement of the grand events she’d been accustomed to as Queen of France, but there was an air of freedom that went with the knowledge that all the guests were from a wide variety of eras and social backgrounds.

Galen’s eyes were on her again. She knew it before she even turned to see him. His gaze was like fingers on her flesh. Between the dancing and the drinking and the excitement, she began to imagine what it would be like if he would just stay still long enough to actually stroke her flesh with his fingers, instead of raking her with his gaze.

She turned away, chatting with various people as she made her way towards him while her back was turned. That way, it was not at all obvious that she was seeking out his company. She could simply appear near him, and…

Drat!

She reached the wall where he’d been, but he was gone again. She saw him moving purposefully through the crowd, heading directly for a group of older women sitting and watching the dancers. Between the crush of bodies, Marie’s eyes found a familiar face among them.

The madwoman! What is she doing here? She doesn’t respond at all to my invitation, but then she appears anyway? Is that how things are done?

As the crowd passed between her and the circle of women, Marie lost sight of her. Apparently Galen had seen her as well, because he stopped while he was still a few yards away, and immediately began to scan the room. His eyes hit Marie, but remained for only a moment as he assessed that she was safe, and then he continued scanning, presumably for the madwoman. Then he moved off, still scanning the crowd.

“My lady, I beg of you, another dance?” Marie turned to see the strikingly dark features of a man she only knew as “Phillip.” He had danced with her twice already, each time beating away the other suitors as if his words were fists. They didn’t even try to compete when he was around.

Marie listened to the strains of music starting to play. “Why, yes, Phillip. I’d love to dance.”

She allowed herself to be carried off in his very capable embrace. Dancing with him felt almost like the pull that led her around The Hamlet, teasing her with where to go next. She followed his lead easily, as if he gave some undetectable instruction straight into her mind. It was intoxicating, being swept away by someone so strong and so masculine. Someone who so obviously desired her.

As they paused for a brief moment after swirling across the dance floor, she asked the question that had been on her mind for some time. “Phillip… you’re from The Castle, aren’t you?”

He smiled confidently, then held her tightly as he flung himself back into the churning mass of dancers. She squealed in spite of herself as she found herself spinning amidst the dancers, completely under her partner’s control. His breath tickled her neck in a way that made her want more.

The music ended, and he held her gaze as he slowly let her go. His smile seemed… overconfident, as if he knew exactly how he was making her feel. “Until our next dance, madame,” he said, bowed, and melted into the crowd.

Marie knew for certain he was from The Castle when she realized he was nowhere to be seen only moments after leaving her. It was some kind of magic, and he was playing with her.

She liked it.

Marie didn’t see Phillip or Galen for the next few hours, though she felt them watching her. The heat of the crush of bodies was getting to her, even though some kind of magic kept the room a comfortable temperature overall. The heat came from inside her, a pulsing need that refused to be satisfied by mere dancing.

She glanced back at her two bodyguards. They nodded politely, then went back to scanning the crowd around her.

Marie was hit with a sudden need to find Galen. She didn’t know if it was the mysterious pull, or something from deep in her own heart, but she had to find him. She had to make him understand… she had to let him know… she wasn’t just some figurehead who needed his protection. She was…

There.

She found him standing just inside one of the corridors that led to the other rooms. His stance was authoritative, and he seemed to be staring down a guest who was very drunk. Marie moved towards him, wanting to feel his steady presence. She needed a rock to cling to; one who was steady, unaffected by the magic of The Place.

The drunk took a swing at Galen, but he adroitly ducked under the blow and wrapped the man’s arm behind his back, hurrying him through a door and away from other guests.

“Marie… dance with me.” She felt Phillip’s overpowering presence and went to him, falling into him and allowing herself to be carried away. The music was strange to her. It pulsated rather than flowed, and all her mind could envision was the entwining of bodies and thrusting nakedness that had been a rare and wondrous part of her previous life. She felt Phillip’s breath on her neck again, and then his lips brushed her there, sending her reeling.

The music changed subtly, switching tune without ever coming to a close. “Come with me,” Phillip whispered, and she had no choice.

As he led her out of the throng, she saw Jane Charlotte again. The madwoman was talking to the Phillip who had arrived the day before their audience with Jane Charlotte.

What was it that she said about “Her Phillip?” Who is Phillip to her?

But as soon as they were out the door and in the cool night air Phillip pulled her hard against him, crushing her lips in a ravenous kiss. His hands found her curves beneath the silk of her gown, and she wished fervently she could be naked, right then and there, just to feel his skin on hers.

“Come… further…” he pleaded. Or ordered… she could no longer tell the difference. She floated along in his wake, being pulled physically by his strong hand enfolding hers.

They hurried across the patio and detoured through a garden, coming back to The Hall away from the heaviest crowds. He lifted her up and her legs wrapped around him, clinging and wanting desperately for him to do more.

She got her wish as he pressed her against a wall, holding her there with the press of his own body. His mouth devoured hers, his tongue delving again and again, stroking her into a frenzy. His capable hands found a way under her skirts, and she gasped as his fingers quickly and expertly removed every barrier until he was stroking her wet folds. The feeling as he penetrated her was almost overwhelming, a relief of a need that had been ever present for years, one which had been building to an unbearable level over the course of the night. She had no sense of time as wave after wave of pleasure washed over her, radiating out from what had once been a tight knot deep inside her, streaming out from every extremity.

Time stood still as the waves of pleasure melted away into satiated puddles. Her legs fell to the ground slowly, slipping down Phillip’s body as he gently eased her to the floor.

“Until our next dance, madame,” he whispered, kissing her neck one last time before leaving her.

When her eyes focused again, she saw Galen. He was watching Phillip leave.

Damn him for covering his expression… damn him for not ever showing one iota of feeling.

Galen’s eyes snapped to her. She held his gaze, brazenly daring him to say anything about her dishevelment.

He stared back at her, not saying a word. Neither his face nor his body betrayed any hint of emotion. Neither disapproval, nor arousal, nor any discernible feeling whatsoever.

Damn him. Damn his body.

Marie covered her own emotions, casually returning his gaze.

And damn my body for wanting him so.

What Would Have Been

What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!

This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.

The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-l2