Read Righting Time by Kat Jaske
Pages 1-7 of the book
France, May 1641
Her majesty, the queen of France—a woman with a mission—hands
thrust on her hips, bored down upon the younger woman. “Touch the
pins at your own peril, Laurel.”
Laurel d’Anlass, marquise de Langeac, and a woman of nearly
two and twenty, promptly dropped her hands from her waistline and stood
stock still in the wedding dress the modiste had left her standing in
for the past two hours.
Fittings. Shopping. More fittings. Laurel honestly did not know how she
would survive it. A wedding was more hassle than it was worth, or so she
was beginning to think. She had work to tend to, a spy network to run.
What ever had possessed her when she had agreed to marry the duc
de Rouen? And this dress. Why it was patently ridiculous to be fitting
her for a wedding dress right now. Everyone was rushing her to marry.
Pressure to get her to the altar immediately, when she and Aramis had
not even set a wedding date yet.
“Anne,” Laurel began with a note of real pleading in her
tone, “I’m tired. Enough fittings for one day. Besides, as
you know, I have other obligations that I must attend to.” All of
them more desirable than this one––at least all that came
“Laurel d’Anlass,” Anne started in tones that would
have caused most men and women to quake, including her own petulant husband.
Then she sighed. “Help her out of the dress,” the dark-haired
queen, roughly two years older than Laurel, instructed the modiste. “We’ll
continue the fitting this Friday.” Even if she had to drag Laurel
Immediately the seamstress complied with the queen’s orders. As
the gown was stripped from Laurel’s form, Anne broached the subject
lesser mortals would have quaked at bringing up. “You will have
to set a date, you know?” Already nearly five months had passed
since the betrothal announcement without the couple having set a date
for their wedding.
“I know,” Laurel admitted in an oddly deflated tone. “Aramis
and I were going to talk about that very issue tomorrow. Please, Anne
. . . no more. Give us time. We’re still getting used to the notion
of marriage, particularly marriage to one another. Please.”
Anne shook her head. Laurel d’Anlass did beat all. Now she was
more than met the eye—possibly more than Laurel herself knew. And
knowing the marquise as she did, Anne would not be surprised
were the woman to lead other women to question and oppose established
patriarchal order. Give Laurel enough time and she might well be able
to do anything, especially with the circle of friends she had drawn to
“Lâche.” Anne accused the woman of cowardice.
“You are avoiding Aramis,” she concluded, placing extra emphasis
on the “are.” “Merci, that will be all,”
Anne dismissed the modiste as she finished her task of freeing Laurel
and helping her back into the afternoon dress. The modiste disappeared
from the room.
A baby wailed in the background and Anne closed her eyes. Not again.
But she had asked for it when she had insisted that she have more time
with her son. Without further ado she retrieved her son, tucking his head
against her bosom. The six and ten month old boy dropped silent as if
As the queen looked up from her baby and rested her eyes on the marquise,
Laurel said nothing. “You are a coward, Laurel d’Anlass. Sometimes,
you know, it takes more courage to risk loving than it does to follow
a solitary path. Take the chance, Laurel. Not many of us ever get the
chance you’ve been given.”
Laurel did not meet her friend’s eyes. She could not. Rather she
diverted herself by adjusting the afternoon dress she wore so that less
of her breasts were revealed. The blond-haired woman opened her mouth
as if to speak, and then finding she could say nothing, closed her mouth
Anne came closer, within touch of Laurel. Concern radiated from her eyes.
“Laurel, what’s wrong? Laurel. Look at me. I can help if you
will allow it. Tell me what’s wrong. Come on; do not lock everything
“Anne, what if.” Laurel stumbled over her words and then
met Anne’s eyes again. The queen had never seen her friend more
vulnerable. “Anne what if I don’t really love him or he doesn’t
love me? . . . Oh Anne I just don’t think I can do it. What if I
can’t satisfy him?”
“Well, you know.” Laurel blushed crimson and cleared her
throat. “There are so many other women who want him. And—and
I get so afraid, Anne, so afraid when he touches me. I just don’t
know if I can—” Anne waited, silently encouraging. “If
I can do what men and women do in the marriage bed.” The marquise
shivered. Apprehensive, nervous, embarrassed––all at once.
She could not pinpoint what.
So that was it. Laurel felt sexually inadequate and was terrified by
the idea of having sex. Particularly the idea of having sex and being
found cold or wanting. “Mon amie. Oh, Laurel. Aramis wants
you and only you.” Laurel, if anything, appeared more forlorn, and
the monarch was at a loss. Different approach, then. With more confidence
than she felt, Anne started anew. “Now this is what you do, chérie.
You go to Aramis’ residence dressed in your sexiest dress. Then
you bolt the door, sit him down, and—”
“Anne . . .” Laurel interrupted, profoundly scandalized despite
the fact that Laurel had seen and heard much worse during her years spying
with her father and on missions with the musketeers, such as the one when
they had captured one of France’s worst traitors. The one where
she had first met Aramis, and he had learned to accept (more or less)
her nonconventional behavior, independent way of thinking, love of swordplay,
and other “inappropriate” behaviors for a young woman of her
station. “I can’t just go seducing him.”
“Well, diantre Laurel!” Anne lost her not inconsiderable
patience. “You won’t talk with him about sexual matters; you
won’t try to get him to your bed so that he can teach you and put
your fears to rest. You won’t take another man. What will you do
then? All right. Look. I’m sorry and I know some of the suggestions
are objectionable and completely inappropriate. Just think on it, Laurel.
But don’t spend too much time thinking. You do have to act.”
Laurel nodded slowly and leaned down and pressed a swift kiss to Anne’s
cheek. “I promise.” She tried to assure the other woman as
well as her own self. The marquise de Langeac offered her queen
a farewell and escaped toward the door.
Before she could step through, the queen’s voice captured her attention.
“Just remember,” she said, “no matter what happens,
I will always be here for you. Always. And I am not the only one, either.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
A mysterious hum undercut the chirping of the spring crickets, only for
an instant, and then was gone, to be replaced with an even briefer flash
of gold and blue light. As the haze disappeared, a figure took several
steps and glanced around. Several locks of sandyblond hair were whipped
into his face by the wind.
The bearded man paid it no mind. Nothing here mattered anymore—except
. . . well, except the goal of his mission. He fingered the minuscule,
pen-shaped unit by his side. Executioner was still there. A second later
he remembered to place the handheld linkup inside his pouch. He took a
deep breath and smelled the air. Yes! He was on French soil and, more
importantly, he was back! Back in 1641.
One more time he fingered the executioner; then, all other thoughts pushed
aside, he started purposefully toward Paris. He had a long overdue appointment
to keep. His vengeance had been deferred much too long.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
After bidding Porthos good night, Aramis mounted the last of the stairs
to his room. For several moments he stood poised on the threshold of the
room assigned to him while he stayed in Paris. One more time his thoughts
drifted back to his large, boisterous comrade. Porthos was unhappy; Aramis
was sure of it. The man had been trying too hard to be jovial and carry
on like nothing had happened. Aramis, duc de Rouen, knew better
than to be fooled. The mighty Porthos had been felled by that thing called
love, and an impossible love at that, if Aramis was guessing aright.
“God bless you.” Aramis sent the blessing on the retreating
form of his fellow musketeer. May God watch over him too—Porthos
needed it right now.
Once again the duc turned his attention to his door and opened
it. In a few lithe strides he was inside and closing the door behind him.
With a deft flick of his wrist he locked the door and then leaned back
against it, head staring up at the shadowed recesses of the ceiling and
the odd way the moon and the stars illuminated the texture.
Suddenly every muscle in his body tensed. He was not alone. Instinctively
he reached to his left and drew his sword, whirling around to meet his
Just as he whirled he hesitated, and his sword fell from its ready position.
“Laurel.” Foolish woman. She should know better than to sneak
into his room like this. He might have killed her. Belatedly he sheathed
his sword and focused his attention on the woman in front of him.
“Non, please, don’t say it. I should not have surprised
you like this,” the marquise admitted, her voice soft and
earnest. She took a quick breath to fortify herself and then looked her
fiancé straight in the eye without so much as flinching. “I,
I just wanted to see you.”
“Oh, I see,” he replied, though he was more baffled than
he had been moments earlier. Laurel was being too polite, or at least
more polite than she usually was to him. He took a step closer to her
and took a quick gasp of breath. It was almost inaudible, but it sounded
louder to Aramis as he gazed upon the blond-haired woman.
Never before had he seen Laurel wearing a dress like that, scandalously
low cut and one that most married women wouldn’t dare sport, let
alone a respectable single woman. He found that he could not raise his
eyes from the expanse of exposed shoulder and bosom. He took himself to
task. “What did you want to see me about?” He thought his
voice sounded at least somewhat normal.
Laurel smiled. The smile was more confident than she actually felt. “I
see you noticed the dress.” As if she couldn’t think of anything
more inane to say!
“Well diantre, Laurel! What did you expect? Of course
I noticed the dress!” He plunged a hand through his raven-black
hair, and in that action Laurel could tell Aramis was truly discomfited.
“I hardly think I need tell you that it is wholly inappropriate
for a lady of your station.”
“Shut up,” Laurel snapped, exasperated and overwrought. “You’re
the only one who’s seen me in it, so don’t worry your overdeveloped
sense of propriety.” Though, truth be told, she found the dress
far too revealing for her sense of modesty too. Oddly enough, Laurel was
coming to think that she was more modest than most women, and she was
definitely beginning to seriously rethink the wisdom of this course of
action. Yet, the scandalous things she had seen and heard from supposedly
chaste unmarried women alone . . . She did not complete the thought as
Aramis’ voice interrupted her musings.“Laurel, I.” She
saw him swallow. “I think you had better go.”
“Why?” was her simple response, and she heard him start to
explain something about propriety. Laurel sighed, scared and disappointed,
maybe even resigned, at the same time. “So you have no interest
in kissing me then?” Now, where had those words come from? And was
it possible to take them back without really appearing the fool?
Aramis froze. “I did not say that.” The collar of his tunic
felt too tight.
Fingertips brushed his cheek, and he felt a warm breath. For a moment
he thought he felt those fingertips tremble. “Then kiss me, Aramis.”
Please don’t make me beg, she added silently, wondering from where
this alternate her had suddenly emerged.
Reluctantly, and with all the discipline he could muster, he pushed her
hand down and started to tell her she should go, but she didn’t
let him finish. “I’m sorry. If you don’t want . . .
I shouldn’t . . . I don’t know what I was thinking. I’d
better go,” she finally stuttered to a finish.
“Chérie. That’s precisely it. I do want,”
he whispered in her ear, and her eyes suddenly locked on his. He could
sense her nervousness; however, she did not run. Her eyes, they dared
him. Beckoning. He didn’t put it off any longer; he twined his hand
in her long hair, pulling it from its pins, and covered her mouth with
his. She shivered and sighed, falling against him. Close, but not close
enough. His free hand traced the contour of her body up to the bodice
of her dress and then paused there.
“So, you are no better than a whore. Well, you’ll never have
her again, Aramis,” another voice intruded, and Aramis and Laurel
did not even have time to break apart as a shot of blazing light streamed
from the window. The marquise screamed in tortured agony as the beam impacted
with her spinal cord, eating away and fusing neurons, warping molecular
structure. The impulse traveled further up her spine, and she writhed
Aramis dropped to his knees, struggling to support the woman’s
convulsing body. Desperately, his hands shaking, he searched for some
sign of the wound the assailant had inflicted. Nothing. Laurel’s
cries and throes were going weaker. Still nothing.
Once again he tried, his hands searching everywhere. Then suddenly she
was still. He shook her, but she did not move. Aramis’ hands frantically
tried for a pulse. There was none. No breathing either.
“Non.” He shook his head in denial and looked up
to see the figure perched in his window, unmoved emotionally or physically
by the scene he had just instigated. A slow, malicious smile spread across
the other man’s face. “My debt is now paid in full,”
he said in a voice that Aramis recognized.
The musketeer jumped to his feet and dashed for the window, drawing his
sword. “Konrad. You devil’s spawn. You’re going to wish
you were dead when I’m finished with you.”
Konrad shrugged his shoulders and shifted his position. “Give my
condolences to the others,” he told the duc flippantly,
and Aramis, his face set grimly and sword at ready, stalked forward.
“You will pay.” Aramis’ voice was frigid.
“Only if you can find me, Aramis,” Konrad replied and jumped
from his purchase on the window. By the time Aramis was able to dash from
his place and jump out the window, the Prussian had vanished.
“NON!” the duc screamed in anguish and then screamed
again. Finally he fell silent. Not Laurel. But there was no further denial
that Laurel had been murdered. “I will catch you, Konrad. My promise
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