There are three reasons why this update is sooooooooo late. First, the next three chapters had a lot of content that could not under any circumstances be converted for a Roswell story, so I ended up condensing them and writing a small amount of new material.
Second, my other three stories I am writing desperately needed to be taken care of.
Third, I can be spectacularly lazy at times.
None of these reasons excuses this update being so late; they are just an explanation of why things took so long.
Back to the Winter Palace
Lord Michael and Lady Maria didn’t come down from their bridal bedroom until late-afternoon. Liz later found out they’d had a massive lunch sent up to their room, a happening that had been the cause of much mirth amongst the guests, especially the older ones who could still remember that first morning. The older guests had been chuckling and making quiet comments about how Lord Michael was likely going to need that much food to regain his strength if his young bride was keeping him occupied for that long.
Michael and Maria came down from their rooms in time to host another sumptuous evening meal for their guests. This one was a farewell feast since most of the guests were leaving for their homes, or for the royal court, in the morning. Liz and Max were there, but wisely let the married guests lead the teasing of the newly married couple. He was paying close attention as the jokes were coming in fast and furious, and it wasn’t long before he came to the conclusion that he would be damnedif he would allow his bride to be put through the same sort of treatment. In his opinion, Maria’s rougher upbringing seemed to have prepared her to easily return every ribald joke with one of her own, but as for Liz, he could readily imagine the young woman who had fiercely stood up to an entire rebel army blushing the most fiery shade of red at any and all jokes about her wedding night.
And as protecting her would be his role as her husband, he intended to do something about it.
While Max was thinking about protecting his bride, Liz had moved over a few seats to talk to Tess. The two of them had been talking about Maria for some time and had just started in on Kyle. “He has been locked away in his room all afternoon, Liz,” Tess said. “You would think he would be out here trying to win me back. Maybe…maybe he just does not want me that strongly.”
Liz could hear the fear in Tess’ voice, and she did what she could to soothe her feelings without revealing any confidences. “I think he is busy with something important,” Liz said. “Something you may very well like.”
“What?” Tess asked eagerly. “You know something! Tell me!”
“Sorry, Max told me what little I know, and I promised him that I would not tell anyone,” Liz said. “I only told you what I did because I know you are still hurting.” Liz patted Tess on the shoulders. “Trust me. Your Kyle is not done with you yet.”
Once the banquet was over, a servant approached and bowed low before informing Max and Liz that Lord and Lady Guerin wanted to see them briefly in the family quarters. “One last visit to your old residence before we leave; that is very thoughtful of Maria,” Max said. “It seems she is picking up the subtleties of hospitality faster than I would have thought.”
“She has always known how to treat a guest,” Liz replied. “She has just never wanted to play the role of the ‘lady of the house’ before. But while that kind of stuff does not matter much to her, she will do it now because any poor performance on her part…”
“…will reflect poorly on Michael,” Max finished.
“Exactly,” Liz said, glad Max understood. “Maria will do all sorts of things for his sake that she would never do otherwise.”
“That is a very gratifying thing for me to hear. With Michael being new to the nobility, he will be looked down upon by a lot of the more established noble families. They will be looking for him to make the kind of social mistakes that you and I were taught to avoid from an early age. He needs Maria to support him, to be the kind of woman she has never wanted to be, and if she already realizes that, then they are off to a good start.”
Liz snickered then at the idea of two unmarried teenagers passing judgment on the suitability of someone else’s union. Max joined in the laughter for a moment, but then pointed out that they weren’t passing judgment on their personal or romantic suitability, but on how suitable they were in a social and political manner.
“And that is something you and I are qualified to judge,” Liz said.
“Thanks, Max, that makes me feel better.”
“Do not worry about it,” Max said. “You and I are already being judged on how suitable we are as a couple. None of them will ever say a word to us, but it is happening anyway.”
“I bet we get high marks,” Liz said confidently.
“Perfect marks, and yet…” Max said, as he pulled Liz to a stop and kissed her thoroughly right in the middle of the hall, “…I would settle for less than perfect marks in exchange for me taking more time to ensure you know how much I love you.”
Liz allowed Max to pull her body close as his mouth ravaged hers again, and when he finally released her so they could continue to their walk, a happily dazed Liz asked what she had done to deserve that.
“What other people think of what we do should not really matter, as long as I do not compromise your reputation, but I do not kiss you like that often enough, mostly out of fear of what those ‘other people’ might think, and that is stupid.
“I should just be concerned about you and what you think and feel. I promise to focus more on you and less on ‘them’ from now on. If they want to pay attention to us, the one thing I want them to judge correctly is that we are in wildly in love.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Think you can handle more of me?”
“More kissing? More touches? More affection?” Liz scoffed. “That is one challenge for which I was born ready.”
Once they arrived in the family quarters, Max and Liz waited for Michael and Maria to say their goodbyes to the rest of their guests and come up to meet them. When the Guerins made their appearance, the prince and his lady leapt to their feet and applauded the newly married couple before the four of them engaged in a series of ferocious hugs.
Liz ended up asking the question that Max thought was too indelicate for him to voice. “I think it is high time we get to hear about the first day of marriage for you two.”
Michael and Maria looked at each other and smiled. Liz was kind of expecting the big, goofy smile she saw on Maria’s face, but when she saw the exact same smile on Michael’s normally stern countenance, she knew the night had been even more successful than the wedding had been. Max had come to the same conclusion, and knowing that Liz had to be dying for some private girl talk with her sister, he gestured to the door and asked Michael for a personal tour of his castle.
“A knight’s tour, mind you. Show me the defenses, not the reception rooms.”
“A knight’s tour I can give you,” Michael replied, before he turned to his wife and kissed her thoroughly. “Have fun with Liz, Dearest. I’ll be back.”
“Do not be gone too long, Michael,” Maria said. She had a wicked gleam in her eyes that raised his blood pressure all by itself. And then for good measure, she added, “We still have some unfinished business to attend to.” That left Michael tugging at a suddenly tight shirt collar and both Max and Liz blushing furiously, looking at their toes, and sneaking quick peeks at each other.
When Michael and Max finally slipped out of the family quarters, Liz turned to Maria, who was chuckling under her breath. “How long do you think he will manage to stay away after that last comment?”
“Hopefully, not very long at all. I have found I like sharing a bed with that man.”
Liz sighed and said something she’d not let anyone else in the world hear her say. “I cannot wait until Max and I have ‘unfinished business.’”
“I know you have heard stories from the maids about what it is like,” Maria said, “but stories are nothing like the real thing. It is like the difference between reading one of your history books and being there to see things for yourself.”
“Which is why you, with the memory fresh in your mind, are going to tell me what it is like.” Liz looked up at her sister expectantly and settled in to hear a story that she hoped would feed her fantasies for six long months.
Liz was having her first private chat with Maria since the older woman’s wedding and bedding the night before, and she was intent on getting all of the juicy details. She wanted to have some idea of what it was like for a woman to share her love with her man in that most intimate way, because she was deep in preparation for her own marriage six months hence to Max. She wanted to have something specific to fuel her fantasies during those long months ahead, but Maria was going to disappoint her.
“No, Liz, that is why I am not going to tell you what it was like.” When Liz shot Maria a disgruntled look, Maria said, “Did you not hear what I just said? Stories are nothing like the real thing.” Maria patted Liz on the shoulder. “Right now, there is no way you could possibly understand…and after you marry Max, you will not need to be told.”
Liz grumbled again, but she accepted Maria’s refusal in the spirit in which it was intended. “Okay, soooo I have to wonder on my own for a few months longer. This trip has been nice because it has gotten me out from under the sometimes suffocating presence of my ladies-in-waiting for a few weeks, but I am going to be glad to have them with me once we return to the palace.”
“Why?” Maria asked. She thought she die if she had that many ladies hanging on her every word. She really didn’t understand why Liz put up with them.
“They protect me from my basest desires, Maria. They protect me from myself.”
“You want him that much, do you?”
“With every breath,” Liz replied simply.
Maria pulled Liz into a hug, “Liz, Liz, Liz…it is a good thing that man of yours is as crazy about you as you are about him.” Maria rubbed Liz’s back. “You do know those ladies-in-waiting are supposed to be to protect you from men, not the other way around, right?”
Maria adopted a preachy tone of voice that sounded exactly like their father’s former chaplain. Both girls had seriously disliked the man in their younger days, but hearing his voice coming from Maria’s mouth gave Liz a case of the giggles that only got worse with each word Maria spoke. “Well…everyone knows women, especially noble women, are paragons of virtue who would only fall from grace because some wicked man enticed them.”
“Oh, God, Maria, stop!” Liz said, as she was holding her sides from laughing too hard. “Whoever said that had to have been a man.”
“A single man at that,” Maria agreed.
“What am I going to do?”
“What they always tell young ladies to do: if unattended, only see a man in a public place. If attended, be careful anyway.”
The next morning Liz waited in the castle courtyard after a quick but hearty breakfast as she, Max, and Tess waited for the ladies’ carriage to be brought up. Just as the carriage was driven through the open castle gate and into the courtyard, Kyle came bursting through the door to the central keep, looking a bit disheveled and wild-eyed.
He trotted up to the three of them, nodded a quick hello to Max and Liz, and then offered a hand to Tess as he asked for a few moments of her time. Most of the rest of their party was standing behind them in line waiting to board their own carriages, but when Tess looked pleadingly at her sister and future brother-in-law, Max waved her away.
Kyle led Tess just far enough away to be out of hearing range of everyone else and then pulled a folded and wax-sealed piece of thick, creamy paper out of his coat and handed it to her. Both Liz and Max were watching intently, but neither one could tell what was being said.
When Tess opened the sealed paper she began to read it, they could see her eyes brighten almost instantly, but then Kyle began to speak and Tess looked up at him with wonder in her eyes, and avidly followed what he had to say until he reached the end of his speech. Then she returned her gaze to the paper in her hands and continued reading it.
When Tess was done reading, Kyle escorted her back to the waiting carriage and handed her up into it before taking his leave and going off to find his waiting horse. Liz and Max both shrugged their shoulders before he handed her inside to sit across from her younger sister.
While Liz asked Tess about the paper and Kyle’s little speech right away, Max had to wait until the procession got on the road to find Kyle and pull him to one side. “Kyle,” Max asked, “was that thing with Lady Tess what I think it was?”
“A love letter?” Kyle smiled. “Oh yes. I spent hours on that. And then when it was finished, I spent more hours committing it to memory so I could say it to her as she read it.”
“From what Liz and I could see,” Max said, “it looked like she paid the letter no attention once you began to speak. So it appeared that speaking the contents of the love letter touched her more than just the letter itself.” Max smiled widely and reached across to slap Kyle on the back. “That looked like a good start.”
Tess seemed to agree with Max, as the letter and its contents were all she could talk about all morning long. And when the party finally stopped for the evening, the effect seemed to continue as she went off to spend the time before their evening meal sitting with Kyle in the common room of the inn they had rented out for the evening.
As the days wore on, and the spring weather remained decent, Max asked Liz, “How would you and your family like to take the trip that we talked about to see Borussia to and the ducal palace?” He’d only seen parts of the palace when he’d been there during the war, and was looking forward to taking the full tour with his future duchess by his side.
“I would love to, but you will have to get father’s approval before I can go.”
“Do you not think he will say yes? Surely he will want to see his favorite daughter sizing up her new home?”
“I do not think he will be able to resist.”
“Good,” Max kissed Liz’s forehead. “I will go ask him. If he says yes, we can be there in a few more days.”