After ten years of marriage, Frances LeSieur has faded into her role as a lady wife and mother. She has no idea who she is as a woman. So Frances joins Queen Elizabeth’s glittering court and discovers a part of herself she never knew existed—and one she’s sure her neglectful husband would never notice.
Henry has always done his duty to family and crown despite his own desires. When Frances asks for a separation then transforms into a confident and vibrant courtier, he’s floored—and finds himself desperate to learn what makes her tick, both in and out of the bedroom. After years of silent alienation, can he woo her back, or will he lose this intoxicating woman to one of the rakes hell-bent on having her?
by Erin Kane Spock
Sensuality Level: Sensual
Erin Kane Spock lives in Southern California with her husband, two daughters, and old-lady dog. She is a teacher and an active Irish dance mom. Find Erin Kane Spock at her blog at courtlyromance.blogspot.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @kanespock.
An excerpt from Courtly Pleasures:
Commons apartment at Parliament, London, 1572
“Pray pardon, madam, but are you requesting a divorce?” The shock stamped so beautifully on Henry LeSieur’s face probably should have worried Frances. He never reacted, never felt anything. Instead, the brief evidence of actual emotion made her smile.
When had she smiled last? Really smiled? Not merely lifted the corners of her lips to appear polite? She closed her eyes, unable to remember.
Schooling her features into the proper vacant, pleasant expression Frances wore so often she no longer thought of it as a mask, she shook her head slowly. “No, my lord husband, I would not wish for something so dishonorable. I was clear, I think, in my words. I would like,” she looked down at the smooth parchment before her, “a separation based on the mutual agreement that both our duties have been fulfilled in regard to our marriage contract wherein you and I both acknowledge that no further conjugal relations would be required.” She looked up again. “Divorce would make our children bastards and, I should think, you would find that abhorrent.”
Frances waited, her gloved fingers absently tracing the beads of the rosary at her belt. It was up to him now. Yes, legally he could divorce her for denying him marital rights, but he wouldn’t. Would he? In their ten years of marriage he had sired five children, three living. Given his obsession with duty, he should recognize the validity of her argument. His duty, and hers, was done. Both their parents had seen the match as advantageous. He came with property, and she came with connections of consequence. She had never expected anything different and made no argument. Neither had he. They were practically strangers then, and, thanks to his constant business in London, still were.
Why would he possibly want to continue the relationship any more than he had to? He’d never professed any affection, never spoken to her about anything other than household accounts and the like. There was no way she had broken his heart. Why the hesitation?
Looking at the fierce blaze in his deep brown eyes, she had her answer.
Frances, not for the first time in her life, knew she had a battle before her to get what she wanted. It might be more fulfilling if she really wanted it, if she actually wanted anything. That wasn’t true—she wanted many things. She wanted to have five living children. She wanted to forget each small coffin. She wanted to want to wake every morning. She was lucky Mother had arrived at her home when she did. Frances had allowed herself to fall into a deep melancholy, so far gone that it had no longer been a matter of choice. She’d lost the will to wake up, to eat, to be a mother. The guilt of the memories threatened to sink her down into that darkness again.
She sat up straight, refusing to go back to that place where no longer existing seemed like a good option.
Thank God for her mother, if not for her own sake, for her children. Her living children. And the choice to leave the countryside, it had to be only for good. At home she was part of the furniture. She no longer had any identity other than approving the menu and the linens when, in truth, the household full of servants would function, had functioned, fine without her.
And as a mother, well, she had failed. She hadn’t been able to keep her baby alive, and you couldn’t fail any worse than that. Her living children had grown to depend on their nurses during her . . . illness. They didn’t need her, and she needed to be away from the constant reminder of how close she’d come to giving up.
Henry sat there, the pulse at his jaw thrumming, and Frances straightened the thumb of her worn glove. She would wait until he had something to say. It wasn’t as if she had anything to lose.
Hours or seconds passed before he looked away. He stood and crossed the small room that served as his lodging when Parliament was in session. He threw open the shutters and harsh sunlight blasted through the room. Frances winced, closing her eyes to the assault, and continued to exercise patience. If this was where he chose to spend almost all his year, his aversion to home must be strong indeed. Parliament wasn’t in session year round, yet he only returned home at the end of each quarter and for special events. She felt honored the birth of the twins a few months ago had warranted his attention.
Finally, finally, Henry walked back toward her and, laying both fists down on the polished desk surface asked, “What else is on your list?”