Pray for Reign (an Anne Boleyn novel) (8 page)

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Chapter 14

H
arry came again after that first day, and again after
that. Each afternoon was filled with hushed speech and quick touches.
Catherine’s chambers had never been so alive. Anne would steal glances at Harry
as he pretended to be interested in her embroidery. Behind the hoop they’d
touch each other’s hands and whisper of longing and poetry. But always there
was that uncertainty, always he seemed more like her Frenchman than the
aristocrat he claimed to be. And it excited her, reminded her of her need so
that with each passing day she grew hungrier for him—for his presence, his
voice, and someday for his touch.

At times, the lust she saw in his eyes reflected her own,
and when he whispered to her that he wanted to see her alone, she thought,
"
Enfin
. At last."

"I want you to meet me by the pond." His hair fell
forward to cover one eye as he studied the chessboard. She knew he feigned
interest, as did she. His King could have been matched long ago. He said it
again when Anne didn’t answer, so pleasantly shocked that words failed her.
There was a tremor of nervousness in the conspiratorial tone, as if he were
afraid she'd turn him down. When she still didn’t speak, his face immediately
lost all of its careful reserve.

With a look of utter regret, he wiped his hair back.

"I shan’t touch you."

She swore her heart stopped, disappointed. He covertly
motioned toward the middle of the room, where the usual entourage of waiting
women gathered, giggling and gossiping.

"I just want to be with you, away from all this
chatter."

She could only nod, but the smile that broadened his face
emboldened her. Whispering, her lips near his ear, she said,

"Yes."

So, on a beautiful mid-afternoon she crept from the castle
and onto the young grass of the royal garden. Irises stood tall and purple
against the deep greens of yews, and sent their aroma over the occasional
breeze. It’d taken a good deal of effort, but she’d finished her duties in time
to meet with him. He stood motionless beside the pond. His light hair pulled
back so she could see the outline of his profile. It looked commanding to her,
a certainty or sureness in it. He hadn't seen her yet.

"Harry?" She thought she’d better say something to
warn him that she was near.

"I wasn't sure you'd come."

"I told you I would."

He didn’t speak. A twitch on his lower lip gave away his
uncertainty. She went to him and took his hand. It tightened around hers, and
she squeezed it back.

"I would have done a thousand things to free myself to
come here. To you."

He let go of her hand, and turned to the stone bench that
rested a few feet from the pond. "Come here." He stood beside the
bench expectantly.

Her wanting squirmed within her.

"Would you call me as you would a dog?" She teased
him with a raised brow.

"Good Lord!" His attitude changed, but when he saw
her smiling he seemed to regain his confidence.

"If I wanted to do to a dog the things I need to do to
you, I'd ask for my genitals to be lopped off."

The word 'genitals' registered in her mind, obliterating
everything else. For some reason she wanted to say it aloud herself. A queer
feeling, this lust. She remembered a moonlit night; the smell of pine and the
sound of another voice, low tones, French, and the feeling of exquisite
pleasure. She wanted to feel that joy again, that wholeness, wanted to share it
with this man. The desire within also made her feel perverse, and somehow
naughty. But there was no shame. She stepped closer to him. The tiny breeze
bore his scent to her. She tasted soap and talcum in it.

He touched her arm.

"Anne," he murmured, pulling her closer still so
that she felt encompassed by his arms. He nuzzled his face against her neck,
sending explosions down her back. She closed her eyes, enjoying the closeness.

"You smell like sage." His sentence had no
meaning, a senseless rambling, which filled a silence that should have been
saturated with moans. He licked her neck, just behind the ear.

"You taste like it too."

"Sit with me." He was already pushing her to the
bench, his knees driven between her thighs. It felt so strange to be with him
like this, allowing him to touch her like this. Strange, but natural, as if
she’d already done so a hundred times. She felt his breath in her ear. She
twisted with it, and groaned deep in her throat.

His lips crushed hers as she turned to him, allowing his
tongue to enter. It jabbed impatiently at hers. She curved her tongue around
the point and sucked hard, releasing the pressure spasmodically, instinctively.
The moan that filled her mouth tasted like her own. His hand rested on her
thigh, the sweat of the palm soaking through the linen of her gown. Oh, how she
wanted to feel it closer than that, under the material, near her skin. And she
no sooner wished it than he lifted her skirt. The draft cut off quickly as he
slid his hand underneath, near her hip.

"I have to touch you." His mouth left hers only
where they needed to form the words.

The warmth of their breath mingled and heated her cheek. She
nodded; he didn't need to explain. She wanted the touch, needed it much as he.
She tried to shut out the thoughts of her father, and of the priests, warning
her of eternal damnation. She took a deep breath as she felt his hand curve
around her waist, smoothing the skin like material, pressing out the wrinkles.
Her lips grew cold as he kissed the skin of her breast, seeking the imprisoned
nipples.

"I have dreamt of this," he whispered raggedly.
"And each night I wake up panting and wet."

In a perverse way she was thrilled that he would dream of
her, and want her so badly that it tormented him. Surely God couldn't punish
her for something this natural. He held tight to her, clasping her shoulders
with such a fierce grip it was maddening. His kiss grew more forceful, no
longer a gentle entreaty pledging with it love and concern, but a fierce need
that hurt her mouth. And all the while she returned it, not caring that it was
daylight and they could be seen. She sensed him shifting nearer. He pulled her
closer so their hips met. The hard flesh that stuck her seemed too big, too
thick, even through the layers of clothing they wore. She reached down and into
his hose, enthralled and curious.

He gasped.

"Should I not?" she asked, afraid her touch revolted
him.

"Yes," he said. "I mean, no!" He pulled
away and the movement froze her blood. She sat still, the feel of that oddly
pliant hardness fresh on her fingers.

"Oh, Anne. I didn't mean to..." He rose abruptly,
raking a trembling hand through his hair.

She watched him pace near the water, scattering the ducks
with his panicked nervousness. He picked up a pebble, threw it squarely at one.
Its outraged squawk pierced the air.

"I told you I’d not..." He turned to her with
features lit by grief.

"
Mais non, mon cher
, it’s all right." She
didn't know what else to say, couldn’t understand how it had been right for him
to touch her, but not for her to do so to him.

"No, it’s not." He walked purposefully toward her
and she pulled at her gown, shame coming as passion left.

"I asked you here to beg your hand, not seduce you as I
would a common whore."

His voice sounded thick with self-revulsion. She thought of
molasses for some reason—slow, thick and sickening. It was a few moments before
she registered his words.

"Marry me?" Next to the sight she must look with
her skirts still hiked up, the shock transforming her face must be comical
indeed.

"Yes." He hurried to her and smoothed her skirt
back over her ankles. I have to say, I want you; like I've never wanted anyone.”

The way he said it made her think he had wanted many women,
but she pushed the thought away impatiently.

"You're more exciting to me than any whore could
be."

So at least there was a bright spot in his statement, no
matter how insulting it sounded. He continued as if he’d said nothing
offensive, "But that's not it; or not all of it. I'm drawn to you. Your
laugh, your spirit. I need it. It fills me."

He looked at her, half pleading, as if unsure how she would
take the words he’d spoken.

"And since your betrothal has failed..."

She wasn't offended at his words, most marriages were based
on much less than desire. And she had to face it, she felt the same way about
him.

"And love?"

"Love?" He shrugged with an offhand motion that
surprised her.

"If love makes me wake shivering in the night with
need—then I love you." His features hardened suddenly, and she thought he
hated conceding the lust he felt, hated that it nagged him. "But, if love
is that thing that conjures your face before my eyes even when my mind is hard
at work—If it’s love that makes my heart feel empty—then love I have for you to
spare."

"Do you love me?" His question clung to the air.

She smiled up into his face, taking his smooth hand in hers.

"Yes, Harry. I do."

He stood. "Then we shall be wed. And now that's over,
let's celebrate."

He reached down and scooped her from the bench, lowering her
with ease to the grass. The kisses that he smothered her with, the intensity
with which they came, possessive, certain. In the eyes of the church and the
law, the betrothal made them one. The voices inside her head quieted.

Chapter 15
Somewhere around 1525

A
nne closed the regal draperies of Catherine’s closet to
cut off prying eyes. She clenched the velvet with white knuckles, fought the
urge to scream. How flushed Harry’s face looked. How white and foreboding.

"I begged them not to separate us." His eyes were
heavy-lidded as if he hadn’t slept the night before, the blue a quiet, dull
gray.

"But how can they deem our contract null? We have
celebrated it, we’ve decided it." The torches that lit the small alcove
spluttered, emitting trails of black smoke that petered to the same gray as
Harry’s eyes.

"The Cardinal called my Father. I met with them just
hours ago." He held her close, and she felt his heart hammering madly
against her own.

"They think you’ve little dowry to offer me, that my
lineage is meant for the betrothal of my childhood." His lips touched the
top of her head; the lingering kiss made her eyes sting.

"I pleaded that we’d already been pre-contracted, that
you’re of noble parentage yourself, and royal descent." He sighed heavily.

"I even stomped my foot like a child when reason would
not have its way with them, said I’m a man of age and may make my decisions
where I pleased."

"And...?" she asked, pulling from his embrace.

"And nothing." He moved away, sat on a hard chair
beneath a beautifully oiled painting of hounds on the hunt.

"By the time the Cardinal called for a cup of wine to
toast his success, I’d even told them that I had gone so far before witnesses
that I could not discharge myself with good conscience."

She went to him, sat on the floor near his leg. He took her
hand in his, stroked the finger with the extra nail. She felt the sting of
tears.

"It’s over, my sweet Anne. I’m to be wed to my
childhood betrothed. My father wishes it."

She gave a soft, sarcastic laugh, ignored his querying
expression. So, the ugly head of the judgmental Lord finally reared itself,
punishing her for her sins of passion and lust.

The Anne who sat in a London garden three years from that
afternoon remembered the meeting, and its sorrow. How she’d wept for months in
the gloom of Hever castle. The banner of a broken heart fluttered in her memory
as she sat next to Mary thinking how she missed Harry, and of how he’d been
banished from court to an unwanted marriage.

She sighed at having been sent away as well—home to Hever:
home of the Boleyns: her birthplace and her prison. Now she’d escaped it and
sat quietly on a hard chair in a garden filled with Londoners, smiling crazily
because she was free. She hated the fates that could deal with her so cruelly,
to find a love, a passion, only to have it swept from her.

While she endured Mary’s bored fidgeting, she lost herself
in her thoughts. God may have been the one to punish her, but he used the
earthly form of the King and his counselors to carry out the penance. Three
long years she’d spent at Hever, isolated from court, and she’d not soon forget
it. The weathering years had eroded her passion for Harry, though the fondness
was still there.

Every now and then, in the quiet of early morning she would
think of his soft, glistening hair, deep resonant voice. She would remember his
touch and how it thrilled her—hands soft as a dove feather, fleeting across her
cheek, or bosom. His laughter ran often through her mind. But she’d learned to
shut it off, closing her memories to his radiance. But the years had weathered
more than her yearning for him, they’d hardened her. Gone was the romantic girl
who believed love could come, and that desire could couple it. Her father had
seen that she would not have love, had decided Henry’s wishes were more
important than his daughter’s future. So she closed her heart to feeling,
wouldn’t allow the smiling faces in the garden to beseech her.

She hadn't realized how determined her father could be.
Though the marriage that would have given Henry peace in Ireland had not
occurred, and though the marriage she’d hoped for had angered him, Thomas
Boleyn still maintained royal favor. King Henry found other ways to appease the
Irish, and now her father would be granted a title for all his endeavors.

The acquisition of the title, however, hadn't come solely
from his own efforts. Anne smiled secretly in the afternoon garden. Promiscuous
Mary; her relationship with Henry had gained some recognition for the Boleyns.
Strangely, her father could not even bring himself to thank her for it, or
acknowledge that her disobedience was responsible for it. She shifted in her
chair. She swore that if the ceremonies took much longer she’d be forced to
plead sickness and tramp up to her quarters. The uncommon heat of the June day
would certainly give adequate excuse.

She didn’t think she could stand much longer to watch Henry
Fitzroy, the King’s illegitimate son, be granted title after title ’til the
final honor—Duke of Richmond be granted. Dull, really, to watch him parade back
and forth, up and down the aisle, exiting with one honor, and returning,
clothes changed, to be granted another. A child he was, too—though beautifully
fair like his father.

It all seemed lost on him as he entered yet again, amid a
fanfare of trumpets that startled him. This time, his clothes had been replaced
by ducal robes of crimson and blue velvet. She could see he would be granted
his final title at last. He walked somberly past the crowd, flanking a group of
lords and flanked himself by a garter herald and then by more dukes. Up to the
front he marched, straight before Henry who waited beneath a golden canopy, a
half-hidden smile on his face.

Anne poked Mary in the ribs.

"Does anyone in court realize the importance of
this?"

"I think even the more common folk do," Mary
replied.

"This must be trying for Catherine."

"Her Grace says it matters not; even she knows she'll
bear no more children."

"Still, it’s pitiful to see her, sitting there so
stoically. It breaks my heart. How can she endure this public humiliation—of
the King telling the world he has lost hope of his Queen providing an
heir?"

"Pitiful, it is, I know," Mary agreed, her gaze
lingering sympathetically on Catherine. "But she suffers it well. And I
think England loves her all the more for it."

"I wonder if she still harbors hope for a son,"
Anne mumbled, thinking aloud. "I know if it were me, I'd rather die than
acknowledge someone else's bastard." She lifted her chin so she could see
over the gentleman’s head who sat in front of her. His hair was matted in the
back, as if he’d had a fitful night.

"Perhaps Catherine fears for the succession as well,
and has seen reason to the ceremony."

"I can't imagine why. There's still hope that his
daughter will have children whilst they both live. I should think the
succession could be secured that way."

From her spot, Anne could see Henry’s smug smile and
Catherine’s uneasy one. A brief clash of cymbals echoed throughout the garden,
and she started.

"I suppose they must not hope only in that; I've heard
rumors that the marriage alliance they've arranged for young Mary bodes
ill."

Anne grimaced emphatically. "Too bad. It would ease her
Grace’s worries." She fanned herself with her hand, taking care to hide
her baby finger beneath the ring finger. With all the spectators, she was wary
of who might see it.

She had a brief memory of lonely days, and gusting drafty
winter nights with no company save her mother and servants. Dreariness was all
she remembered of Hever, and dust-laden, moth-eaten tapestries. She couldn’t
bear to think on it anymore, or that her mother stayed there still, content to
stagnate, happy her husband spent so much time in London.

"At least all this ceremony does me a good turn. Father
has received agreement from the King that I may return to court. And it
couldn't have come at a better time. I was rotting in that isolation."

"I can imagine. I’m pleased to be out of Father's
clutches. Will is a far kinder man." Mary sighed heavily and Anne thought
of Will, puppy of a man, who dared not even speak back to his wife.

"Kind enough to ignore your relationship with the
King?" it was out before Anne could stop it.

Mary gave her a grimace, meaning that it was none of Anne's
business. Anne grimaced back. She’d never let Mary forget that she didn't agree
with what she was doing, but Mary had her own mind, and since Anne couldn't
change it, she contented herself with annoying her sister.

"Sorry. I know we called a truce. It just came
out."

"Umm. By habit, I suppose."

"I suppose honesty forces me to say I understand your
attraction to him, he's very handsome." Anne threw the sentence out like
an apology, but meant it. Henry hadn't lost any of his looks in the three years
since she’d seen him last. He still retained his lithe, athletic physique,
though she could see he’d found a few pounds.

"Yes." Mary's answer seemed preoccupied, then came
the change of subject, characteristic of her when troubled.

"Our George is here, you know."

"George? Why have I not seen him?"

Anne quickly scanned the crowd, eagerly trying to pick out
her brother’s particular shade of sandy hair from the throngs of sandy-haired
attendants. Why did most Londoners have to have that annoyingly mousy colored
hair; no sparkle, no sheen. Just rat pelts, neither blonde nor brown nor black.
It made for frustrating scans of a crowd.

"Oh,
c’est impossible
." She hated
giving up. "I shan’t ever find him among all these people." She
turned instead to Mary. "Will he be at the dance later?"

Mary's eyebrow rose and her head tilted a little forwards—a
sure signal of her rare displays of sarcasm.

"Do you really need me to answer that question?"

Anne grinned. Those rare displays always made her smile. It
was so out of character for Mary, and yet so natural on her features.

"Ah,
non
. I suppose not."

"Oh." Mary's hushed cry interrupted any further
comment. "Look, it’s father's turn."

Anne turned her attention to the front where Thomas Boleyn
stood expectant, and a bit arrogantly, to accept his new title. His greying
hair was cut French fashion, just above his broad back.

She could make out the thickness of his neck even at this
distance. As Thomas bowed to receive his honor, Anne thought of how long he’d
worked in the court, sometimes as liaison, sometimes as diplomat. He was an
intelligent man, with a gift for speaking and linguistics, which made him
valuable as many English could barely read and write, let alone speak a second
language.

He’d been in court service since he acted as Squire to the
body of Henry’s father, had been knighted and aided in planning the Field of
Cloth-of-Gold. Not long ago, he’d participated in the jousts to honor Henry's
first legitimate son, and had mourned when the son passed away, a babe of seven
weeks. He finally received acknowledgement now, and was granted the
long-coveted title of Lord Rochford. But the ceremony was quick and short-lived
with hardly any pomp or circumstance.

Anne couldn't say she regretted the end. She couldn't wait
to get out of the garden, away from the heat. Her attention centered on the
dance that was to follow. She imagined the cool room filled with hundreds of
well-dressed courtiers. Ah, it’d been so long.

"Do you think she came?"

George looked at his wife for a moment, watched the sky-blue
eyes cloud with anxiety that Anne might be present somewhere in the garden. The
tender flesh around them crinkled with doubt. She obviously regretted her
outburst last eve, and might even have been afraid he’d not forgive her.

"Yes, love." He grasped her fingers reassuringly.
"I know it as surely as I know we sit here." He turned his attention
again to the front where his father stood before Henry beaming and silently
gloating. Her voice came again. This time it sounded more certain and he
thought the endearment had been a good response.

"I offer my greatest apologies for last eve,
husband."

He sighed, wondered for a moment how he’d handle the
discussion, gave up in favor of speaking his mind.

"You have to forget this jealousy of Anne. It surely
makes our union worse." He tried to soften his words with a caress, but a
startling blare of trumpets made her jump.

"The only way for us to have a peaceable marriage is
for you to accept that Anne will always be a large part of my life. Sweet Jesu,
if you could only support that, perhaps you would grow to overshadow it."

Her usually meek voice turned harsh and she avoided his eye.
Her stare turned towards the front. "I know the only way for us to have
peace is for her to stay away from you. Why, you went to Hever more often the
last three years than you came to bed with me."

For a moment, George felt a heavy guilt. Truth, she spoke,
but he dared not tell her that he went to Hever not only to see Anne, but also
to escape his marriage. How could he admit that it took great strengths for him
to smile at her, and speak sweetly, and remain polite. it was like living a
court dance, with never the leave to be yourself. With Anne he didn’t have to
pretend—she knew all there was about him, and he need not fear her
condescension. Instead he touched Jayne’s arm and pulled her chin to face him.
He didn’t care that the couple behind had taken to whispering about their
quarrel—his wife’s heart needed balming and if anything, she deserved that.

"Jayne, it’s not as bad as you fear. We’ve only spent a
short time together, surely we’ll grow used to each other’s ways in time. And
for now, if you like, I shall endeavor to make you the center of my
world." She turned away. He wasn’t sure it was enough.

"I should like to hold you to that this eve."

The dance was in full swing. Anne watched bitterly as the
dancers twirled around the floor of the enormous room, chatting to one another,
laughing, flirting. Her old chum, Thomas Wyatt, was at this moment dancing with
a plain, under-dressed woman whose buck-toothed smile could be seen even at
this distance. And from here, Anne could see that Wyatt was ignoring it,
treating that homely girl with as much courtesy or attention he would pay to any
female. Anne sat sulking in a far corner—which was how she had such a good
view. It didn't lend too much detail, but she could see the entire room. An
enviable position for any people-watcher, but a bad spot for picking up
partners. Not that it bothered her, she sulked because she felt like it. She
decided to fully bask in the pleasure of her own company, and to purgatory with
anyone who didn't want it.

BOOK: Pray for Reign (an Anne Boleyn novel)
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