Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 14 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

After Danielle's fitting the Queen insisted she take another nap. The Queen then went for a walk in the gardens. Henry found her walking there and invited her to go meet Danielle's family. The King had already informed her of their arrival the previous afternoon.

As they prepared to go inside, Henry heard a familiar laugh behind him. He looked back and was shocked to see Danielle walking in the gardens with a man he didn't recognize. "Mother, I thought you said Danielle was taking a nap? What is she doing out here?" He watched in surprise, as Danielle laughed up at her companion. They seemed to know each other very well. 'Yes, quite well', he thought, feeling an unwelcome twinge of jealousy. "Who is that man she is with?"

"She was in bed just a short time ago, Henry. I don't know who that is with her… or where she got that dress," said his mother, equally puzzled.

Henry led his mother across the gardens to find out what Danielle was doing out of bed and wandering about in the gardens. She was smiling up at her companion. Henry had never seen that particular smile, he thought, suddenly irritated at the recipient of that smile. Who is he?

"What are you doing out of bed?" he said solicitously as he approached Danielle. "The doctor said you were to stay in bed all day, remember?"

She looked up at him in total confusion. "Excuse me, monsieur?" she said, her eyes widening in surprise.

Monsieur? She didn't recognize him? Henry took her hands in his, "Are you all right, Danielle?" looking at her in concern. She looked so shocked and not quite like herself that he nearly picked her up to take her back to bed.

Distressed, she tried to pull her hands away, "Monsieur! My name is Nicole."

Henry said a little loudly, leaning closer to her, "Nicole? Your name is Nicole?"

The Queen gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. Had she hit her head when she fainted? Some kind of amnesia?

The man with Nicole recognized them and spoke up, disregarding the etiquette that requires a royal to address you before you may speak. "Your Highness, If I may explain your confusion?" he bowed.

Henry looked at Danielle's companion. A handsome man of about 25, of medium height with reddish brown hair and blue eyes; he looked familiar, but Henry couldn't put a name with the face. "And you are?"

"I am Antoine, the Duc de LeVey, Your Highness, and this;" he indicated his companion "is my sister, Lady Nicole de LeVey. Danielle is our first cousin."

Nicole curtseyed, embarrassed that she had been so rude to the Prince, and flustered that he was still holding her hands! "Your Highness." She found it most awkward to curtsey while he was holding her hands.

Henry and the Queen were taken aback. "Nicole?" Henry said again, wondering if he was going mad, unable to take his eyes off of her. He realized that he was still holding her hands and sheepishly released them. "Have we ever met, Nicole…? My lady?" he inquired, attempting to recover his footing.

"No, Your Highness. This is my first time at court," she explained with amusement, relieved to have her hands back. He was peering at her closely now. He could see she looked different, somehow, but he couldn't put his finger on what the difference was.

"Well, we are delighted to make your acquaintance, Lady Nicole, Duc" the Queen smiled charmingly. "You have come to see your cousin, Danielle, I presume?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," the Duc bowed.

"Yes, Your Majesty, we have," Nicole curtseyed. "I have never met her. Do I really look so much like her, Your Highness? You look positively…mesmerized," she blushed. Nicole had never had a man stare at her so openly and was nonplussed.

Henry laughed, realizing that he had been gazing at her in fascination. "Yes, Lady Nicole," he said deliberately, as if trying to convince himself, "the resemblance is quite… striking. Please excuse my staring," which he continued.

"Our mothers were twins, so perhaps we, too, look alike."

The Duc spoke up, "I met our cousin only once, about ten or twelve years ago. I was amazed at the resemblance to my sister... and thankful she didn't live with us. At the time, I couldn't imagine having two of you around," he teased his sister affectionately. She made a face at him, which made her look even younger than she probably was and slightly different than Danielle, Henry thought.

Henry liked them immediately. He was sure that Danielle would, too. "I understand that your mother is here, as well?"

"Yes, and my brothers," the Duc answered. "Would you care to meet them?"

The Queen spoke up. "Henry, why don't you and the Duc go along? I want to take Lady Nicole with me for a bit, if you do not mind?" She took Nicole's arm and led her away, her mind busy with the possibilities presented by Nicole's unexpected appearance.

The Prince and the Duc walked along, discussing how the family had tried to keep in contact and been refused by the Baroness. They also discussed Danielle's life after the death of her father and the possibility of Danielle making her home with them. After they reached the Duc's rooms Henry made it plain that Danielle was to have as much freedom as possible. She was to be introduced to court before they left. Henry also stipulated that Danielle was to be encouraged to choose her own husband, in her own time. The only condition Henry made was that she and her intended had to come to him, personally, to get approval. Henry needed to know that she would be choosing freely and could think of no other way to ensure it. He didn't know the Duc well enough to trust that he wouldn't arrange a 'suitable' marriage for his cousin, the Comtesse.

The Duc thought this was a very strange obligation. "Forgive me, Your Highness, may I ask you a delicate question?"

Prince Henry knew what was coming and admired the Duc for having the courage to question him on behalf of his unknown cousin. "Yes, go ahead and ask your question."

"Thank you, Your Highness. I think, in order for me to help my cousin, I need to know the full extent of her connection with you. It seems clear that you are taking a great, personal interest in her future."

Henry smiled at the Duc. "I am in love with your cousin. If I were not betrothed to Princess Gabriella I would be marrying Danielle." Henry paused here, taking a deep breath before continuing. "She has been abused by the Baroness for ten years, cheated out of both her inheritance and her family. Her step-mother's treachery caused me to believe Danielle was dead when she was actually a captive nearby. I will always love Danielle, but I cannot break my betrothal and I will not dishonour her by asking her to become my mistress. She is innocence itself. Goodness itself. She should marry when she is ready. I will provide anything she ever needs, including a dowry, but it must not look as though the money is coming from me. We will need to incur a measure of scandal when she is officially introduced. Her step-mother claimed she was a servant at a masque, in front of the whole court. Danielle didn't deny it, and we had an argument in full view. Actually, that is how I learned her real name. It ended with her running away after I publicly rejected her." Henry walked over to the fireplace, staring down into the flames and reliving the horrid scene. He couldn't believe he had ever acted that way, hearing his own story. "Having you here as head of her family will make people predisposed to accept her, I hope. There will be questions about where she was for the weeks between the masque and when she rode into the courtyard on the back of my horse yesterday afternoon."

"We don't have to answer those questions, Your Highness. Let people assume she was with us. We arrived at nearly the same time yesterday, after all. It would make sense for her to have gone to her family after such an event."

"Yes, I think that is the best approach. I haven't yet told Danielle that we found her mother's family. She knows nothing about you or her title. I will need to prepare her, you understand?"

"Of course, Your Highness. You will have no need to provide anything for Danielle. She is our family and we would take care of anything she ever needed. However, that won't be necessary, as she inherited a vast fortune and a splendid château, along with her title from her mother. She is a wealthy woman in her own right. Her father's estate was a rather minor holding. The Baroness never had access to any of the principal estate, so even if she squandered the de Barbarac holdings, it won't substantially affect my cousin's wealth. When she is ready to marry, I will screen her suitors, and she will have as much freedom as possible. She will be able to live like a Princess and marry any man in the kingdom, so you have no need to worry. Her husband will be a rich, powerful man, once in control of her estate, so I hesitate to let her choose completely on emotion."

"If she wants to marry a farmer, then she should be allowed to! I will not permit you to arrange her marriage, is that clear?" the Prince dictated.

"Yes, I understand, Your Highness. I just don't want her to be the target of a fortune hunter." Antoine was amused by the prince's outburst; a farmer, indeed. "After the pain caused by my grandparents estrangement from my Aunt Nicole, I would never do anything to interfere with her happiness, you may be sure. Our family has been through enough. You may trust me with this, with her," he vowed solemnly. Antoine was curious to meet his cousin who had such a champion- the Crown Prince of France. She must be quite extraordinary, he thought. "Would you care to meet the rest of her family? My mother and brothers are in the next room."

Henry nodded his assent and a minute later the Duc returned with an elegant woman on his arm and two younger brothers trailing behind. Henry immediately saw that she was an older version of both Danielle and Nicole. "Your Highness, May I present my mother, Danielle, the Duchess de LeVey?"

Henry smiled at this older Danielle, pleased the twins had named their daughters after each other; a close family, indeed. "I'm delighted to meet you, Madame. You look so much like your niece."

"Thank you, Your Highness. I cannot tell you how long I have yearned to meet my sister's child," she said with tears in her eyes.

"You will meet her tomorrow. I haven't yet told Danielle that we found her mother's family. The Duc will enlighten you."

Henry approved heartily of Danielle's long lost family. They appeared warm and friendly and sincerely eager to meet her. He gained a measure of peace imagining her in the bosom of such a family. It was most unfortunate they hadn't found each other ten years ago.

Henry departed with assurances they would meet Danielle on the morrow. How diverting it was going to be, introducing Danielle and Nicole to the court on the same day, he thought; near twins and each so lovely. That would certainly add a whole new level of distractions for the courtiers. They would have to wonder if it was Nicole or Danielle at the masque. He was curious to see the cousins side by side, himself. He had been shocked she wasn't Danielle.

He hurried to see Danielle. He hoped she was done with her nap. He had missed her. He walked into his mother's apartments.

The Queen greeted him. "Oh Henry, you're back. What did you find out?"

"Hello Mother, is Danielle awake?" he didn't want her to overhear any of his news. He wanted to tell her directly.

"She is much better this afternoon. I had her moved next door, to Charlotte's old rooms. She is getting ready for dinner. We will be eating in here in a few minutes."

"I will have to marry Princess Gabriella," he informed her, heavyhearted. "How am I going to tell Danielle?" he looked at her in despair.

"You will find the right words, Henry. I am so very sorry," she wished she could comfort him.

Henry knew he had to be composed when Danielle arrived. He needed to break the news to her gently. "I also met the rest of her family. They are everything I could have hoped for. Danielle will love them, as indeed, they already love her. I need to prepare her to meet them tomorrow. I think she will be happy with them."

"That sounds wonderful, Henry. Danielle told me that she was thinking of entering a convent," his mother said.

"A convent! Danielle? No! She must not be allowed to lock herself away from the world, mourning for what we cannot have. She has so much love to give, and a passion for life. I will not permit her to do that." Henry paced around his mother's apartment, distressed. "Hopefully she will forgo that misguided idea after she meets her aunt and cousins." He continued to pace around her room like a caged bear. "Danielle must be going mad cooped up in here. Did the doctor say she could go out and about, yet?"

"He feels that tomorrow is soon enough for her to venture out, but he said she could join us for dinner this evening. We need to plan her presentation carefully, Henry. I think she should be presented along with her cousin. I took Lady Nicole to my dressmaker this afternoon to have a dress made. I have Danielle in green and Nicole in blue, but the same dress. Tomorrow should be diverting. Imagine the courtiers trying to figure out if it was Comtesse Danielle or Lady Nicole they saw at the masque and in the courtyard the day you met."

"Yes, I thought of that. It should prove entertaining, I am sure," he said drily. "I just hope it works. I suppose we should present them tomorrow, but I have only two weeks left with her, Mother. I find myself covetous of my time with her. They will have her forever," he walked over to stare down into the fire.

"Yes, Henry. I understand. You want to hold onto her, but you both need to find a way to let go. It is the only way to survive," his mother told him, gently.

Danielle was getting dressed in the next apartment. The Queen had said these rooms were used by Henry's sister, Princess Charlotte, when she visited. She was married now, and didn't visit often. 'Can Henry really get out of this betrothal? If he does, would they really let him marry me? It doesn't seem possible. I am just a simple country girl. He is the Crown Prince of France. Why would the Queen have these pretty dresses made for me and let me sleep in the royal apartments?' She fingered the elegant burgundy silk dress laid out on the bed, thoughtfully. She had chosen to wear her other new gown, a jade green velvet. It had long sleeves that were just slightly full, gathered in several placed with openings along the length to show off the white sleeves beneath. It was cut lower across the bosom than Danielle was used to wearing, but it looked very elegant. There was a gold belt at the waist that made a "V" and hung down the front of the skirt, emphasizing her slim waist and hips, and gold cording edging the sleeves. Around the hem was embroidered a gold border. It was the most beautiful gown she had ever owned, next to her mother's wedding dress. She even had new shoes to match each dress; dainty little slippers of the same fabric as the gowns. They fit, unlike the shoes of Marguerite's she had borrowed when she had dressed up as the Comtesse, which were too big for Danielle's tiny feet. Her hair was elaborately braided on top and hanging in loose waves down the back. 'I certainly feel like a fairy princess tonight,' thought Danielle.

The maid answered the door and let her know one of the Queen's ladies was there to escort her to dinner. They walked down the hall to the next door, where a guard was standing. He opened the door as they approached. "Thank you," Danielle said to him with a smile as she passed. The Queen's lady left her at the door.

She saw Henry staring into the fireplace as she entered. He turned immediately upon hearing her and his face lit up with pleasure at the sight of her. He looked handsome in his gold doublet. He walked over to Danielle, taking her hands in his and kissing her on the cheek. "Hello Danielle, you look radiant tonight."

"Hello Henry. I missed you today." She smiled at him. "Do you like my new dress?" she asked him sweetly. "Your mother helped me pick it out."

"It is lovely. How are you feeling?"

"I feel wonderful. Are your parents joining us for dinner?"

"My mother will be joining us. Danielle, I need to ask you something." She looked up at him smiling, "Have you told me everything you know about your mother's family?"

"Yes, I don't know much about them. I don't remember Papa ever speaking of them."

"The day we met you said the name you could leave me with was 'Comtesse Nicole de Lancret.' Why did you give your mother the title?" he asked gently.

She looked a bit embarrassed, being reminded of her lie. "I don't know. I was trying to get away from you, if you remember. Persistent fellow," she laughed self consciously. "It just popped from mind to mouth, I guess. I didn't have a plan of what to say if someone asked me my name. Why is it important?"

He led Danielle over to the chairs in front of the fireplace and sat her in one. He stood by the fireplace, looking at her. "When you disappeared the night of the masque, my father launched an investigation into your background."

"He did? Why?" Danielle was surprised and a little apprehensive.

"My father doesn't like conflicting accounts from people. He was told you were a comtesse, a servant and the step-daughter to a baroness all in one evening. He had to get to the bottom of it."

"Oh, I guess that would make sense. Did he find out anything interesting?" She was eager to hear what they had learned. She knew next to nothing about her parent's families.

"Yes, he did. He located your aunt and some cousins on your mother's side."

Danielle jumped to her feet and interrupted, "I have an aunt…and cousins? Where?"

"Yes, they are here. You will meet them in the morning."

Danielle threw herself into Henry's arms, hugging him tightly. "Thank you Henry. I cannot believe I have an aunt and cousins. Here under this roof. I need to thank your father, too."

"I'm sure he will be thrilled to have such a beautiful woman throw herself into his arms," he joked.

Danielle had noticed that Henry had put his arms around her rather tentatively. She knew instinctively what that meant. He was still betrothed, but she didn't want to hear him say the words. She wanted to dream a little longer. She stayed quietly in his arms, but the tears started to fall.

The Queen found them there by the fireplace a few minutes later. "Well, the King won't be joining us for dinner tonight. Henry, did you tell Danielle the news?" She had noticed Danielle's tears, assuming he had.

They broke apart and came over to the table as the servants came in with dinner. Danielle wiped away her remaining tears. She found her voice. "Yes, Your Majesty. Henry was just telling me that the King found my mother's family. I have an aunt and cousins! I am excited to meet them. I had never heard about them before."

"Your aunt is your mother's twin. One of her children is a daughter just about your age," the Queen said.

"Really? My mother had a twin? Oh, I do hope my aunt will be able to tell me about my mother. I know so very little about her."

They finished the meal talking of nothing consequential. No one ventured to bring up the topic of the betrothal in front of the servants.

After the dishes were cleared, the Queen announced that she had some letters to write and suggested to Henry that he and Danielle go sit by the fire across the room.

Henry took Danielle by the hand and they went to sit on the couch in front of the fireplace. They were quiet, both knowing the topic and knowing each wanted to avoid it.

Finally, Danielle broke the silence, "You are going to marry her, aren't you?" she whispered.

Henry pulled her gently into his arms, burying his face in her hair. "I wish we could just run away together."

"I know, Henry. Why couldn't you have been a farmer?" she asked tearfully.

He chuckled, despite his grief. "I don't know how to let you go, Danielle. I could abdicate."

"You must be strong, Henry. I will always be your most devoted, loving subject, but all of your people need you. You were born to privilege and have specific obligations to them. If you abdicated, Spain would still be furious, maybe more so. Spurning their Princess and giving up your crown to marry a servant? Your cousin Louis would take the throne and he is already married, so that would be no help." She pulled back to look into his eyes, "Would you trust Louis to take care of your horse, Henry?"

Henry wondered what his horse had to do with anything. "No. He is terrible with animals."

"Would you trust him with me?"

"Of course not!" He knew where she was going with this argument, now. He couldn't imagine trusting anyone with her, but especially not a man like his cousin who was not the most trustworthy man he knew. He also knew he was going to have to trust her cousin the Duc with her, since they were related and she was the Duc's responsibility. He determined to get to know the Duc better before he would allow Danielle go anywhere with him. Cousin or no cousin.

Danielle was speaking, "If he were King, he could take any woman he wanted as his mistress; whether she were willing or not. How could you trust such a man with your people…your country? Would he care about the tax burden on the people? Would he care about their welfare or only his own? Would he sacrifice his own happiness to prevent a war? We are only two people. What right do we have to selfishly put our happiness above the needs of millions? You will be a wonderful King, Henry. Your people will love you; do love you."

"Danielle, how can you be so calm, so selfless? I am the one who was raised with the importance of my 'specific obligations' pointed out constantly."

"If I seem strong, I suspect 'tis only because I am more accustomed to disappointment. I almost never get what I want, you know. I have enjoyed the dream of being your princess more than you will ever be able to understand." He noticed tears streaming down her face. "I never believed that we would be permitted to marry. I knew I was a servant and you a Prince from the moment we met. You believed me to be a comtesse, so you believed it was possible for us to marry. That is my fault. I imagine the Prince is used to getting what he wants. You probably haven't had to learn to deal with many disappointed dreams. You have two loving parents. You know your destiny. You are quite blessed, Henry. I may not be able to be your Princess, but I will always be the Prince's," she finished, praying she would have the strength to help them both survive this.

Henry thought it ironic that he had been correct that she was a comtesse, and they could have married if things had worked out differently. How to tell her?

They sat together on the couch; unaware the King had joined the Queen across the room and that everything they were saying was overheard, despite their low voices.

Francis took Marie out to the balcony, "Did you hear her talking to him about his responsibilities to his people? About their happiness not weighing against the people? She has made more of an impact on him in a few weeks than I have in a lifetime. I have half a mind to sink that Spanish ship! She is wonderful; it is hard to remember what she has been through these last ten years. Henry chose better for himself than I did for him, I see."

"She is good for him, Francis. Henry told me that she saved his life from a band of gypsies."

"Saved his life? When?"

"That day he stayed out all night and woke us up with his university idea," she explained.

"Well, we will let them have as much time together as possible over the next fortnight, but there is, unfortunately, little else we can do for them at this point," the King said sadly.

Sitting by the fire, Henry broke the silence again. "When you were missing, I prayed a lot. I even initiated a bargain with God! I offered to do anything, even marry her, if he would spare you and let me find you well."

"When will the wedding take place?"

"In three weeks. They should arrive in a fortnight."

"I will have to leave before they arrive," she said softly. She couldn't be here. Couldn't bear to see the woman he would marry.

"You could stay at court, Danielle."

"No, Henry. That wouldn't be fair to either of us or to Gabriella. You need to find happiness with her. I would just be a distraction. I really cannot bear to see you married to another. I was thinking of entering a convent, but perhaps my mother's family will welcome me into their home, instead."

Sighing, Henry said, "You do not belong locked away from the world, Danielle. Right now it looks like a safe, peaceful retreat, but you need love and someday, children."

"Tell me about my mother's family. Where are they from?"

"They are from LeVey and Dieppe, north of Paris on the seacoast."

"I have never seen the ocean. I have heard 'tis breathtaking."

It was time to tell her. "Your mother was one of two children of the Comte de Lancret," he said.

She sat up straight, looking at him, "You are jesting."

"No, I am serious."

"My grandfather was a comte? Then, my grandmother was the Comtesse de Lancret? My father never told me." Danielle started laughing until she was crying at the irony.

Henry held her until she quieted, and continued. "Yes, your grandparents were the Comte and Comtesse de Lancret. Your mother was their oldest child. They disapproved of her marriage and became estranged. The Comte died two months before you were born, leaving both his title and lands to your mother, the Comtesse Nicole de Lancret… When she died they passed to you… Comtesse." Henry waited for her reaction.

She lifted her head and looked doubtfully at Henry. "My mother truly was a comtesse? I am a comtesse? Do you really expect anyone to believe that, Henry?" she was overwhelmed.

"Yes, of course! I expect everyone to believe it. It is true. You have always been a comtesse. You don't remember your father ever speaking of it?"

"No, never... I don't remember." She was struck by a horrible thought, "H-how long have you known?" She looked at him with huge eyes, not wanting to think this had influenced his words and actions of the last two days. If he loved her- simply as Danielle- that, at least, would be something to hold onto and cherish in her memory. If he loved the comtesse, that would be different.

"My father told me this afternoon," Henry said casually, having no idea how important that little piece of information was to Danielle. "You must have heard it at some point, even if you do not remember. That probably explains why you used the title without planning to. Your aunt is your mother's twin sister. She married the Duc de LeVey. Her name is Danielle. Her daughter looks almost exactly like you. In fact, when I saw her this afternoon in the garden I wondered why you were out of bed. After we were introduced and I looked at her more closely, I could see it wasn't you, but the resemblance is shocking. Her name is Nicole."

"Nicole? Nicole de Lancret?" she whispered.

"No, Nicole de LeVey. Her father was the old Duc de LeVey. Your cousin, Antoine, is the current duc."

She looked at him in wonder. "I am a comtesse? My aunt and cousin are a duchess and a duc? I have an identical cousin named Nicole? This is just too much, Henry." She couldn't absorb it all at once. She leaned back on the couch, thinking.

"So, Comtesse de Lancret, you will be meeting them all in the morning. After that, you and your cousin Nicole will be formerly presented to court."

"Oh, no. That isn't necessary, is it?" she cried, not wanting to go through another scene, remembering the masque.

"It must be done. Otherwise, there will always be speculation about Danielle/Nicole. It is necessary that you both be presented so that both of you are seen as accepted by my parents, the court and your mother's family. If you went into hiding it would simply be assumed that your cousin is the mysterious woman from the masque. It will also allow you and me to be seen together in the next two weeks without it being such a spectacle. It is necessary for both of your sakes. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I do. I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt my cousin. I can put up with some curious stares and whispers…It does seem…cruel that I was the comtesse all along but never knew until it was too late," she said sadly. She sat up, suddenly, "Did my step-mother know?"

"The Duc has letters from the Baroness telling him you did not want contact with them."

"Why must she hate me so? I felt it from the moment we met, but it was so much worse after Papa died. She was livid that his last words were to me and not to her."

"Jealousy and bitterness can be powerful emotions. When you met her, do you remember how your father introduced you? Exactly what he said?" he asked curiously.

Danielle thought back to that long ago day, "I was covered in mud; Papa was disappointed that I didn't look like a little lady. Then he said, 'Danielle, may I present the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent and her daughters, Marguerite and Jacqueline?' She didn't look happy to meet me, although she tried to pretend. She said 'Hello, Danielle. At last we meet. Your father speaks of nothing else. Ladies, say hello to your new stepsister.' "

"I suppose you never noticed that he presented the Baroness to you and not the other way around? That shows that he was aware that you outranked his new wife, the Baroness," he pointed out.

"Yes, I suppose it does, but I never thought about it before. What will happen to her?"

"She will eventually be tried on a list of charges. We are still investigating the extent of her crimes. She lied to the Queen. She lied to the Crown Prince. She lied to your cousins and the old Duc, who was your rightful guardian. She lied to you, telling you you were a servant when she knew you were a comtesse and your father's heiress. Any money she spent over the last ten years was without your approval and essentially embezzled from your estate. She may be exiled to the Americas, imprisoned or even executed."

They sat quietly on the couch, taking comfort in being together. When the Queen came over to them later Danielle was asleep leaning against Henry's shoulder. "Can we just let her sleep, Mother?"

The Queen took pity on them, "This is the last time, Henry. Tomorrow we are presenting her to court and you need to start treating her less familiar. It isn't fair to her, you know. She is much too attached to you and spending time alone with her will just make it harder in the end, for both of you." She left to sleep in the next room, leaving Lady Anne working on a tapestry with Henry and Danielle.

A few hours before dawn, Danielle awoke snuggled up next to Henry. The fire had died down and it was chilly in the room. She glanced up, expecting to see Henry sleeping. He was gazing tenderly down at her.

"Henry," she murmured sleepily.

"You have a big day ahead of you, you should go to bed, sweetheart."

She sighed, reaching up; she pushed a lock of his hair off of his forehead. "Tomorrow I will be a comtesse, cousin to a duc. Tonight I am just Danielle. Can you be 'simply Henry,' for a few more hours, as you were that day with the gypsies?"

Henry smiled down at her, wishing he could kiss her, but Lady Anne must have taken a nap during the day, for she was still working on her tapestry nearby. She would indulge him to a fair degree, but not that far, he was sure. "You are wonderful, do you know that?"

"Tell me about our university. You will still build it, with a large library?"

"Yes, I will still build it. You inspired it, and I will always associate it with you." They talked for several more hours. They talked of the future of France, of politics and religion. They shared stories from when they were little. They talked of everything except their own futures. As the sun started to rise, they stirred off of the couch and went to the window to watch the new day dawn.

Henry led Danielle over to a hidden door. Opening it, he led her into a passageway. He stopped a short way down and opened another door. He peered inside, and then led Danielle into the room. It was her new bedroom, the one belonging to Henry's sister.

"A secret passageway, Henry? We could have explored all night," she teased.

Henry smiled back. "Not so. They do not cover the whole palace. These passageways just connect the royal apartments to one another."

"Oh, do they connect to yours, too?" she wondered.

"Yes. Time for you to still get a few hours of sleep before your maid comes to rekindle your fire, my lady. Goodnight." More than anything he wanted to pull her into his arms and kiss her. The attraction was magnetic. The closer he got to her, the stronger was the pull. But, he was betrothed and she would eventually belong to someone else. He didn't have the right to kiss her. Hold her. Teach her about what she was feeling. Awaken her desires. His mother was right. Now that he knew they would not be able to marry, he had to treat her as the innocent girl she was. He had decided to marry her before that first kiss at the campfire, and now it was nearly impossible to stop what had started that night. "Goodnight," he said again, and then he turned and left by the concealed doorway.

Danielle took off her dress, climbed into bed and cried herself to sleep.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 14 of 35

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