Disclaimer: This is a story in progress. Sections will be posted as they are finalized. I have done research on this time frame and the political climate. While I tried to stay true to some of the historical trappings, I took liberties with MANY things. It is fiction first. I apologize to any history buffs and to the people of Spain and France for my lack of knowledge. When I get paid to write these things, I promise to get it exact, but until then, I have a day job and not enough time or money to hire a research assistant.
Copyright This is an alternative uber tale. No copyright infringement is intended. This is not to be used for profit.
Subtext and Sex- Yes and yes. If the idea of two women loving each other is not your cup of tea; go get a glass of milk and skip this. If you are under the age of 18 years of age or this type of story is illegal in your state or country, please do not read it.
Violence and Language There are scenes of fighting. The language is pretty mild.
Credits: This story line is completely my own, but the poem that is found as a journal entry in Section Three is by a very talented poet. I inquired if she would lend her beautiful words to this story and she accepted. I cannot tell you how honored and grateful I am. Thank you Renotta. Your poetry is always a source of inspiration.
Thank You: Big hugs to Cindy at ForevaXena, Jude, and Tracey for beta reading and for your words of encouragement. Kisses to the ex-Guards for all the wonderful feedback and for giving me a home in your talented community. A big thank you to Mary D for the Xippys on Written in My Days and My Cup of Tea. Im a beginning writer and these awards have encouraged my to write on.
The princess was invited to Spain, or so her father said! Danielle knew this was an arranged visit. It was inevitable. She would be twenty-one years old in a fortnight, and after already turning down two of the suitors her parents had chosen, she was to be given only one more chance. Being twenty-one, a princess and unmarried in 1703 was unheard of in France. The vision of her mother fainting if she refused again came to her mind and she chuckled lightly to herself.
It would serve her right. I know she loves me, but all this marriage talk has darkened my soul, Danielle thought, as she turned her green eyes toward the open window and peered out at the dying of the day. The soft, low light outside cast a purple glow across the gardens. The twittering of a bird caught her attention and she watched it swoop effortlessly across the sky.
Oh little bird, what I wouldn't give for those wings. Danielle mused, thinking that taking flight may be her only option.
I'd gladly give up my title and all the spectacle of these riches to freely choose a love that was based on more than just what was appropriate and good for my country.
A knock at her door caused Danielle to jump slightly and jolted her from her romantic notions.
Who is it?
It's your mother darling . . . we need to talk.
Danielle slowly made her way to the large wooden door, dreading the conversation that would follow.
Hello mother, some words of advice I presume. Lets see if I remember from our last talk, behave in a ladylike fashion, be courteous and above all ACT like I am head over heals for the Spaniard, Danielle spat out sarcastically.
Danielle, what am I going to do with you? You know how hard this is on your father and I, and yet you do nothing but sabotage our efforts. her mother said brushing the folds from her gown and adjusting her oversized ruby necklace.
Really Danielle, we almost died from embarrassment at your last display in Italy. Honestly child, your father still hears about how you loaded your plate at the welcoming meal not twice but three times, and dont even try the I was only hungry line on me again. We know you did that on purpose. The only conclusion that young man could draw was that he would be marrying a woman who would triple in width in no time. her mother finished.
Danielle couldnt help the smirk that came across her face. She remembered very well the eating display she put on for the royal family. Wide eyes stared in amazement when she devoured three plates and then asked about dessert. She started laughing outright as the memory came to the forefront of her mind. Try as she might, Danielles mother couldnt help but join in. At first her chuckles came out in half spurts and coughed gasps as she tried to cover her amusement with her handkerchief. Finally, upon watching her daughter remembering the event, she joined her in a contagious laughter. Both women gripped hands in their entertained state.
As the women slowly composed themselves, Danielles mother gently reached up and brushed back the blonde strands of hair from her daughters cheek. She studied the beautiful face before her and felt a twinge of sadness.
Cherie, I know this is hard. Being born into royalty carriers with it a burden and an obligation that mustnt be taken lightly. We have had this conversation before, and as much as your father and I love you, we must ask you to remember your position in France. She finished solemnly, bringing the conversation back to a serious tone.
We leave tomorrow morning dear. Do I have your word that you will not disappoint us again?
You have my word, mother. Danielle said.
Thank you. Goodnight dear . . . I love you. Her mother said kissing Danielles cheek.
As the door closed Danielle felt her hopes and dreams vanish, replaced now with the sense of responsibility and tradition. This was her duty to her family and country.
Danielle rarely prayed for herself, but tonight she needed strength that was not her own.
Lord, if you see fit to give my life true meaning, then please let this man my parents have chosen be strong in will but gentle of heart. Let him understand my independence and embrace my differences. If there is a chance that he could be the holder of the blue eyes I have dreamt of for years Lord, I would be eternally grateful. But, if my life will be one of honor not desire, of loyalty not happiness and of pretenses not passion, then Lord . . . I pray you give me strength to live it.
Blowing out the candle she lay down in bed and brought forth the vision of the crystal blue eyes that had been visiting her in her dreams since she was fourteen years old. Never being able to put a clear face to the eyes didnt stop Danielle from fantasizing about them. She knew if she were ever actually looking into them, she would be seeing her true love. All she could do was hope upon hope that those eyes were waiting for her in Spain.
Falling into a relaxed and dreamy state, she thought about those blue eyes once more. She had an inexpressible sweet desire to find this one true love. Danielle slowly put her hand to her mouth, nipping and sucking the tender piece of flesh between her thumb and forefinger as she imagined kissing the holder of those eyes. She imagined being pulled down on silk sheets as her dress was eased open with those blue eyes settling in, kissing her neck, collarbone . . . breasts. Slowly her hands moved lower as she gave into her desire and the vision claimed her soul.
Maria woke in an overheated state, sitting straight up in bed.
No, no, no, don't wake up, not yet. She quickly flopped back down and covered her head with a pillow, willing herself back to sleep.
Arrgh . . . it's no use! she bolted from bed and went to the window. Cora, a springer spaniel and her furry companion was at her side in an instant.
Sorry girl, I didn't mean to wake you, she said scratching the spotted, curly long ears. Cora trotted across the room and stood next to the rifle propped by the door.
No Cora, its not time for hunting girl. Its even too early for the pheasant to be up. she smiled at her anxious hunting partner. Dejected but clearly understanding, the dog jumped back on the bed, made two circles and settled back into sleep.
Maria watched the stars and thought about the green eyes that she had been kissing in her sleep. Why do I always wake before I see the face that belongs to those eyes?
The princess and her entourage, which consisted of her mother the Queen, her handmaid Anne, the Queen's handmaid Sophie, the Captain of the Guard Luc and twenty of the most highly acclaimed regents of the French army, made a grand parade across France and marched into Spain.
Along the way, Danielle and her mother discussed the Spanish family they were going to meet and the political climate that existed in Spain. A marriage to a high ranking Spaniard would help continue the alliance that was formed when the Bourbons came to power in Spain in 1700. Danielle was well aware of this.
Philip V, the first Bourbon ruler of Spain, was chosen by Danielle's father King Louis XIV the great from direction of the Pope himself. While this decision was favored by some, many Spaniards were upset with the transfer of power back to the French. Fighting from Spanish dissidents was intense. Three years into Philip Vs rule, opposition was starting to wan but small raiding parties could still be found.
King Louis XIV the great produced many offspring by maidens of the court in his younger years. However, when he married Danielles mother, his exploits stopped. The Queen, 14 years younger than Louis, bore him additional, legitimate children. Danielle was his youngest daughter.
King Louis handpicked the gentleman that Danielle was on her way to meet. Fredrick Cordoba, son of the Minister of Spain, was set to take his father's place in the royal court. Spanish dissidents scouring the land in 1701 had mistakenly killed Fredericks father.
Fredrick, 21 years of age, was dark skinned with blue eyes and broad strong shoulders. He was the perfect political match and secretly, the King had left him for the last arrangement with Danielle. He knew his daughter would turn down the first two suitors, or so he had hoped. Now Danielle, left without a choice, would be forced to marry the man that Louis had wanted to begin with.
Looking out of the windows of the horse drawn coach, Danielle dreamily commented on the Spanish countryside.
Spain is like a great castle that rises from the sea. Danielle began slowly, rhythmically, like the beginning of a poem.
The air is crisp and spicy. It reminds me of sweet hot cider on an autumn day, and look, the entire perimeter of the country is marked by ranges of mountains.
Pointing, Danielle excitedly called out. It's beautiful. Look! Many of the peaks are still snow covered.
The handmaids, drawn into the vision Danielle painted, rested their heads close together peeking out of the carriage as a group. Anne was half sitting on Danielles lap and all three women held each others hands. Danielle had made up her mind to enjoy this trip, even though the outcome might lead to unhappiness. As always, Danielle lived each day finding something good and beautiful to be thankful for.
You've always had a way with words. Finding beauty in almost everything is a special gift you have, the Queen said looking lovingly at her daughter and the ladies.
Danielle looked back and smiled at her mother. She snapped her head back when Anne pointed out a rabbit darting for the bushes.
Danielle was a friend to everyone in the French court. Anne and Sophie were more like sisters to Danielle than hired help. Danielle treated everyone with respect and dignity. She was a breath of fresh air in the castle and the Queen knew she wouldn't be the only one to miss her youngest daughter.
Watching the women laughing together, sadness crept into the Queens thinking. I hope Danielle doesn't loose this special quality after her arranged marriage. she mused lost in her thoughts.
The Queen looked down to her folded hands and closed her eyes as Anne, Sophie and Danielle continued to point, laugh and enjoy a sunny day in Spain.
Cora, wake him. Maria ordered softly to her companion as she swung the door open.
Cora jumped up on the bed and with one long stride, stood atop the sleeping form. Tongue poised for a morning kiss, the springer spaniel looked back at her master for the command.
Maria nodded and with a cold wet, slap in the face, the sleeping form awoke.
Good God! Get that mongrel out of here. Who let her in? the irritated voice demanded as a quick hand wiped a wet dog kiss from a stunned cheek.
Cora growled softy at the choice of words used to describe her and jumped down.
Sleepy eyes focused on the head hovering above his bed. I should have known!
Maria, what are you doing in here so early, and didn't I tell you to keep your dog away from me in the morning? Cant you let your poor brother sleep? You know I only have so many days of my freedom left. Do you plan to torture me to the bitter end? Fredrick said sternly to his sister.
Now that you mention it . . . yes. Maria said sarcastically as stepped over and pulled open the heavy drapes.
Actually baby brother, I thought you might like to go hunting with us this morning. From what I hear the French Princess can eat her weight in gold. Maria placed another dig in. There may not be enough fish and fowl in all of Spain to satisfy this girls appetite. Cora and I are getting a jump on it; mustnt let the Princess starve now can we?
Oh sure, go ahead and make your fun. Who appointed you court jester today? Fredrick moaned. Please, I beg of you, leave me to what little peace I have left. Fredrick rolled over and covered his eyes, too tired to continue these games.
Are you sure you wont come then?" Maria half laughed. She was waiting for a response but none came. Walking back and leaning down, Maria saw the slow rise and fall of her brothers chest; she placed a small kiss on his forehead and quietly walked out. Cora was one step ahead.
Maria was extremely close to her only sibling. Even though she teased him, it pained her to see him forced into a marriage of convenience, but tradition and family name came at a high price. Maria knew her brother as an honest and decent man. He would treat the Princess kindly no matter what kind of person she turned out to be. Marias job was to make her brothers life livable and she planned on doing anything in her power to comfort him.
She better treat him well Cora, Maria said following the wagging tail ahead of her. Anything less than respect will end in a Royal Princess with a black Spanish boot up her butt. Maria finished toughly as she headed to the kitchen to prepare for her hunting trip.
Since her fathers death, Maria was friend and guardian to her brother and mother. She naturally stepped in as head of the household and kept things running just as smoothly as her father had. Maria 30 years of age, was never an ordinary Spanish woman. Her father indulged her passion for horses, hunting and sword fighting. Most men were too intimidated to approach her, and the men who had tried, Maria found boring and a complete waste of her time. Marias mother had all but given up hope that marriage would ever be a part of Marias life.
Good morning mother. Maria addressed the yawning woman by the window.
Good morning and good morning to you little one. the woman said bending over and placing a small piece of sausage in front of Coras waiting mouth.
Where are you two headed so early this morning? Marias mother questioned.
A little hunting to prepare for the arrival of the French Princess. Maria said laughing as she winked down at Cora.
Thats very thoughtful of you. I'm sure Fredrick will appreciate that. The elderly woman commented.
Maria laughed louder as her mother looked on confused at the amusement in her daughters response.
Oh Im sure hell think of some way to thank me. Maria joked as she grabbed a couple pieces of sausage and wrapped a piece of warm bread in a cloth.
Maria and Cora headed out the door and down to the stables.
The Queens head snapped up with the sudden stop of the carriage.
Why have we stopped? the Queen questioned Danielle.
Before she could answer a single shot rang out. The sound of running horses and shouting broke the silence. More shots were heard.
The Captain of the Guard, appeared before the open carriage window. "Your Majesty, keep these doors closed and the curtains tightly pulled!" he commanded. "There are bandits afoot. Do not leave this carriage under any circumstances. Ill let you know when its safe!"
Be careful Luc! Danielle yelled out as her mother pulled the curtains together firmly.
The Queen grabbed Danielles hand, her worried expression conveyed the truth; they were under attack.
Luc quickly rode to the front of the fighting, leaving ten of his men as a wall to guard the Queen and Princess. There appeared to be at least twenty Spaniards dressed in black and armed with swords; six of whom carried single shot muzzle-loading weapons. A round whistled past his head as he jumped down from his horse.
The stench of gunpowder hung in the air. He heard moaning from men in obvious pain. Turning in the direction of the cries, he saw one of his men on the ground clutching his stomach. Blood spilled through his fingers. Another of his men lay motionless a few feet away. Only he and eight of his regents were now left at the front of the fighting. It would only be matter of time before many of the Spaniards made their way towards the carriage.
Drawing his sword, he engaged a bandit running his way. He did not like the odds of this situation and was hoping he could dispose of the man quickly and move on to another adversary before the other Spaniards advanced. Suddenly, behind him, he heard a womans voice.
What do we have here? Maria yelled. Is that you Ortega? What cave did your soul crawl out of today?
The man in front of the Captain pulled away and was moving backwards at a slow pace, staring at the woman approaching.
Stay out of this Maria. You should be on our side and you know it. You do not honor your country by supporting the French. Ortega spat back at her.
I see Ortega, and you call murdering innocent people an honorable action. Funny, but that has all the markings of the coward that I know you are. Maria drew her sword as she moved forward.
Call off your men or I will run you through right now. Maria said as she eased forward, stopping at the side of the French Captain.
Glancing over, Luc saw a figure that left him speechless. This woman was over six feet tall, a cape covered her broad shoulders and black hair fell loosely from under a black rimmed hat. Crystal blue eyes scanned him for an instant and then retrapped her prey. A medium sized dog flanked her on the left.
Welcome to Spain. Maria said softly out of the side of her mouth. Her eyes never left Ortega. Is the Princess safe?
She and the Queen are in the carriage behind us mademoiselle. Luc replied just as softly.
Cora, protect! Maria commanded her companion and motioned with the tilt of her head.
Cora sprang into action. As fast as her four legs would carry her, she was past the fighting, leaving a small trail of dust and with a single jump dove through the curtains and into the window of the carriage, landing right between four startled women.
The women jumped off their seats. "Oh my!" yelled the Queen. Its a . . . its a . . . its a
Its a dog mother. Danielle said with a calm voice, looking over at her mother and rolling her eyes.
The Queen had her hand on her heart and was trying to get her breathing back under control. Sophie had fainted and Anne was busy fanning her in an attempt to revive her.
Reaching down, Danielle spoke, Hello little one. Arent you the brave soul.
Danielle scratched behind the dogs ears and then patted her on the head. Cora looked up wagging her tail. Danielle continued to pet the adorable dog as she struggled to hear what was taking place outside. A womans voice seemed to be yelling something barley audible. Danielle couldnt make out what she was saying, but it sounded like she was engaged in the fighting.
Cora continued wagging her tail but never took her eyes off the window she just sailed through. Outside the fighting grew nearer. Hearing steps coming closer, Cora began to growl; her teeth were showing from behind arched gums. Danielle removed her hand and along with Cora watched the carriage door.
I wont repeat myself again Ortega. Call these men off or this will be your last day of fighting! Maria stepped closer to the retreating figure in front of her.
Luc heard footsteps behind him. Whirling around he raised his sword catching the man off guard. A thin red line appeared across the Spaniards cheek letting Luc know that his sword had found its target. The Spaniard put one hand to his cheek but kept on fighting. Another assailant soon joined the bleeding Spaniard and the Captain had his hands full.
Your father would be disappointed in your actions Maria! He was a true Spaniard. Ortega baited Maria. Bourbon rule will be the end of Spanish tradition. Stand up for what is right and fight with us.
My father would curse your misguided deeds. No true Spaniard would go against his King. Maria spoke from behind clenched teeth, her anger was building quickly.
Hoping to catch Maria in an emotionally charged state Ortega shouted, Your father would call you a coward! as he spat on the ground.
No more talking! Maria lurched forward with her sword extended, arm bent at the elbow and legs in a wide stance.
Ortega lunged at her as metal hit metal. Each move Ortega threw at Maria was matched and with as much force and resistance. Her skills were legendary in Spain. Ortega knew he had to find an opening. He lunged at her chest with his sword, and with lighting fast speed dropped to the ground making a sweeping move with his legs. Maria jumped in the air and flipped forward completely untouched. Ortega jumped to his feet and felt the slice of a blade tear through his shirt as a crimson line appeared quickly.
He knew Maria could have killed him in that instant, but she chose to wound him instead. If he stayed she wouldn't give him a second chance.
With her sword still pointing at Ortegas chest she raised her left hand wiggling her fingers back and forth. Come on, you want some more? My blade is just getting warmed up! Maria snarled, her left eyebrow raised and lip curled up at the corner.
Ortega knew better, he was hurt even if it was mostly a flesh wound and the mood Maria was in scared him enough to call a retreat.
Ill meet you again Maria! Ortega breathed quickly as he headed for the trees, holding his chest. RETREAT!
Luc ordered his men to regroup and check on the wounded. He then turned to the dark-haired woman.
My name is Luc mademoiselle. Your intervention was greatly appreciated. Without your help, Im afraid to think what the fate of the Queen and the Princess would have been. Thank you. The Captain held out his hand.
It was the least I could do senoir. Youll have no more trouble on this road, of that Im quite certain. Your destination is only five miles to the South. Maria said as she replaced her sword, wiped her hands and shook the extended hand of friendship. You'll find a doctors home just three miles ahead. Its a large farm. Stop there and see what can be done for your wounded. Tell him Maria sent you.
You know of the Cordoba family then? Luc inquired.
Yes, . . . yes I do. Maria finished.
Cora, come! Maria raised her head and yelled in the direction of the carriage.
Inside, Cora stood rooted in place. The Princess continued to pet her and scratch her ears. Her touch was gentle and comforting and even though Cora heard her command, she lingered for another pat. The women inside could tell the fighting had stopped but the Captain had been adamant about staying in place until he returned. Since the voices outside were muffled, the Princess decided to follow his command.
Cora! Come! Maria said with more authority in her voice.
I think someone is calling you little one. Let me get the door for you. Danielle cracked the door just enough to let her protector out and then closed it right behind her. Cora pranced to her masters side and sat.
If there is nothing more I can do here, Ill be on my way. Maria said as she mounted her horse tipping her hat in the direction of the Captain. Be safe Luc.
The captain bowed his head at her gesture and watched the mysterious figure ride away. The dog was right behind her.
Luc moved quickly to the carriage. Your majesty, are you all right in there? the Captain inquired, standing just outside the door.
Yes, quite fine Captain. The Queen called out.
Opening the door and pushing back the curtains, Luc poked his head in, making certain his precious cargo was indeed all right.
Captain, what was that all about? the Queen asked, her hand was still held closely to her heart.
It appears not every Spaniard has taken to the idea of French rule, my lady. Luckily for us, at least one very brave Spanish woman has. he concluded.
So it was a womans voice I heard? Danielle asked.
Yes, Princess. Quite unbelievable really. This woman is truly remarkable. Her fighting skills would rival the best in the French army, and her appearance . . . well, it would stop you dead in your tracks, he remitted. I've seen nothing like her.
Can you tell me more about her? Danielle asked, she was intrigued by the captains response and what did he mean about her appearance?
Im sorry my lady it will have to wait until later, we really must have our wounded attended to and we shouldnt sit here any longer, Luc said with urgency in his voice.
Of course Luc. Later then. Danielle nodded and closed the curtain.
The women inside sat in silence as their journey continued. They were all shaken from their experience. Danielle was thinking about the Spanish woman. She wished she could have seen her in action. She was impressed with such bravery. Even more importantly, she couldnt wait to hear about what the woman looked like. Danielle silently wished she would get a chance to meet her.
By the time the Royal carriage found its way to the Villa of Cordoba, it was late in the afternoon. Two of the courageous Frenchmen lost their battle with life on the way to see the Spanish doctor and three others were left behind for treatment. Luc was grateful for the assistance of the doctor, who promised to do all he could for the injured and send word of their prognosis to the villa.
As the carriage came to a stop, Danielle pulled open the curtains for a closer look. The grounds were immaculate and the villa itself beautiful. Fountains that spewed single streams of water cascading high into the air framed a long walkway, surrounded on either side by rows of pink and yellow roses. It was truly a remarkable site. The villa itself was a long two-story structure that was covered in a white textured exterior. Balconies enclosed the entire second floor. Luscious green trees accented the sprawling estate and magnificent arched doorways gave the villa an open and airy appearance.
This is beautiful mother, Danielle said, as Luc appeared to help the ladies out of the carriage.
The noise of the entourage brought forth a stream of activity from inside the villa. A woman a little older then Danielles mother was the first to step up and greet them. High cheekbones and a strong jaw set off her dark skin and graying long dark hair.
Welcome to my home your majesty. My name is Rosalinda Cordoba, The Spanish woman curtsied.
Thank you Mrs. Cordoba, the queen began.
Please call me Rosa your majesty. Everyone does.
In that case you must call me Catherine, this is my daughter Danielle and our Captain of the Guard, Luc, The queen added.
The elder Spanish woman lifted her head up and smiled in Danielles direction.
Such a pleasure to meet you Danielle.
You are too kind, the pleasure is all mine, Danielle said.
Luc stepped forward, bowing and taking Rosas hand in his, he placed a small kiss on the back of her hand.
Captain, Rosa said acknowledging him. We are honored to have you as our guests.
Rosa motioned them to follow her.
I heard of your troubles on the road, Captain, Rosa said leading the group up the walkway, past a line of attentive Spanish staff. I will do everything in my power to see those men are brought to justice.
Turning away from the Captain, Rosa cheerfully addressed the rest of her guests. You must be exhausted from your travels. Anything at all you need, please ask and I will see it is taken care of. My staff will show you to your rooms. We have a wonderful meal planned for you this evening and some merriment, Spanish-style, that will be sure to lift your spirits. Rosa said, winking at Danielle.
As the Princess stepped through the arched doorway her eyes fell upon the man descending the staircase. He was handsome and tall. Danielle caught a glimpse of blue eyes that carried a hint of something familiar.
Ah, Fredrick, Rosa began, excited to see her son. I want you to meet the Queen of France and her beautiful daughter Danielle.
Danielles heart started to race. She needed a closer look at those eyes.
Fredrick stepped forward, bowing to the Queen and Princess. He lifted Danielles hand and placed a small kiss on it.
A pleasure to meet you Princess. Welcome to Spain, Fredrick said as he looked up into green eyes of the Princess.
Danielle said nothing and stood staring at the blue eyes in front of her.
Everything okay Princess? Fredrick inquired feeling a little uneasy at the look that seemed to be measuring him.
What . . . um . . . yes, thank you. Everything is fine. Im just a little tired Im afraid. Its very nice to meet you also, Fredrick.
Fredrick stepped back slightly.
There will be plenty of time for you two to get acquainted later. You need some rest now, Rosa said.
Until later, Danielle, Fredrick said.
Yes, later then, Danielle said, still searching his eyes.
The Princess sat in her room mulling over the event that had just transpired. Fredrick was handsome; there was no doubt about that. She knew shed been staring at him but she couldnt help herself. His eyes were so close to her dream, yet there was something missing that she couldnt put her finger on.
I thought I would know the instant I saw you! Danielle was thinking to herself. Is it possible you are the one? Am I looking too hard? Danielle put her hands in her head, swallowing hard.
Danielle decided to take a walk to clear her mind. She was getting too caught up in her dreams. I just need to take it step by step and settle down. Danielle thought to herself. She was trying to talk herself out of the self-imposed panic attack she was on the verge of having. Some fresh air would surely snap her out of the state she was in.
Walking down the stairs and out of the back entrance, Danielle found herself in a sprawling garden. Rose bushes covered black wrought-iron fencing. The gardens were lush with flowers and flowering trees. She knelt down to smell the aroma of the over-sized rose blossoms. Closing her eyes, Danielle drew in a long, deep breath.
Suddenly startled, Danielles eyes snapped open from the feeling of a cold wet tongue sliding across her cheek.
Well, if it isnt the courageous little dog from earlier today? Danielle said as she placed both her hands behind the spotted ears and scratched gently. Im so happy to see you again, little one.
Cora! a strong voice called from behind Danielle. Im so sorry for that seŇorita, she doesnt usually warm up to strangers that fast.
Thats quite okay, were not strangers, weve met before. Today in fact, Danielle said still petting the cute dog that gave her another quick lick.
Danielles eyes left Cora, looking up at the figure now standing before her. Her heart stopped.
Its you, was all Danielle could say. Her mind was moving in a million directions. The eyes she looked up into were exactly the ones shed seen so many nights in her dreams. This was not at all what she expected. Her mouth was dry and her head was swimming. The eyes belonged to a woman. This woman, God help her, was breathtakingly beautiful and like no other woman shed seen before.
Danielle tried to stand and fell square on her behind. Her trembling legs were too weak for the attempt.
Are you okay? Do you need help? Maria asked with concern as she brought her hand down to help the woman up.
No . . . I mean yes, God Im so clumsy. Danielle said. Reaching for the hand extended to her, Danielle grabbed hold and was lifted effortlessly by the strong arm. Still feeling weak in the knees, Danielle fell helplessly into the beautiful woman as she tried to stand.
Maria caught her, one hand on her waist and one on her shoulder.
Ive got you. You okay now? Maria asked, holding the young woman out at arms length.
Their eyes meet and for the first time Maria saw the magical green orbs that visited her at night in her dreams. Both women were lost in a questioning gaze. Blinking her eyes, Maria shook her head slightly trying to focus. She forgot that the women in her arms had not answered her last question.
What . . . what did you mean by, its you? Maria asked at last, very slowly.
Neither woman was quick to break from the touch. Their eyes were locked on each other. Maria thought she saw a blush forming on the attractive face she was mesmerized by.
I . . . I . . . I simply meant that it was you who helped us against those bandits today. It was you wasnt it? Danielle asked through dry lips.
Yes, it was me, but . . .
Maria! a jubilant voice called out.
The women stepped away from each other and turned to see Rosa coming toward them.
You have met the Princess of France? Rosa questioned, assuming because of their close proximity that they had been introduced.
Not not formally mother, Marias breath caught in her throat for a second as she realized that this was the woman that was meant for her brother!
Well, let me do the honors then. Rosa said. Danielle, Princess of France, meet my daughter, Maria.
Princess, Maria said as she removed her hat and bowed before royalty. Her mind was racing along with her heart.
Please dont do that, and call me Danielle. Everyone does, Danielle said winking at Rosa, trying to ease her nerves. Rosa winked back, recognizing that the Princess had stolen her line from earlier.
Very well . . . Danielle. Maria said standing and looking into the eyes she had fantasized about.
The smile on Danielles face melted away as she felt her own name burn like kerosene on a path from her ears to her heart. Like a flickering flame that kept the same beat as her heart, the burn intensified. True she had heard her name many times, but not like this. Her heart had been waiting to fall and in an instant everything she thought she knew to be true about love was shattered. This was uninvited.
Mother . . . Im sure you need help with this evenings preparations. Maria said, snapping her head to look over at Rosa. Shed been staring at the Princess a little too long. The silence unnerved her, making her feel uncomfortable and exposed. Ill follow you in and give you a hand.
Thank you Maria! That would be most appreciated, Rosa smiled, and headed back inside the villa.
Safely away from the eyes of her daughter and the Princess, Rosas smile turned to a look of concern. She sensed something new in her daughter. Maria was flustered for lack of a better word and that was something shed never seen before. What had her daughter just said? Let me help you with preparations? No, this was not her daughter.
Sweet Mother of Mary, Rosa prayed to herself, please tell me what I just saw has nothing to do with love?
Youll excuse me, Princess . . . I mean Danielle? Maria backed away slowly, stumbling over her own feet. She finally turned, picking up the pace to follow her mother.
Cora tilted her head in a lop-sided glare, looking at her masters miss-steps. Even Cora recognized a difference in her. Cora glanced back at her new friend and flopped her head to the other side. The dog let out a soft whimper and trotted toward the villa.
Lost in her own thoughts, Danielle watched the dog scamper away. She understood exactly what Luc had meant earlier about Marias looks. She had her mothers coloring, cheekbones and strong jaw, but she stood many hands taller than the older woman did. There was nothing at all frail about her. Her shoulders were at least as wide as her brothers and her beauty; well, Danielle couldnt begin to describe that, accept to say she was stunning.
Whats happening to me? I shouldnt be feeling like this, Danielle cursed herself for the emotions she couldnt stop. Inwardly she groaned and headed back inside to dress for the evening hoping she would live through it.
The Queen and Danielle were escorted into the dining area. The table was lavishly set. Hand woven baskets held flower arrangements that combined the prettiest roses with multi-colored fruits. Large, oversized candles were placed on top of a red velvet cloth, centered down a long wooden table.
Platters of exotic food were staggered down the table. The smell was a mixture of spicy and sweet and filled the room with its aroma.
Fredrick greeted the woman as they entered. He extended his elbow up and as custom, Danielle placed her hand lightly on top of his outstretched arm. Fredrick held Danielles chair and helped her to her seat. Luc did the same for the Queen, placing her to the left of the Princess.
Danielle looked across the table and saw Maria, who returned her gaze steadily. Maria was dressed in a black silk blouse. Black looped braids fastened the buttons on the shirt. The top two buttons were left open exposing tanned skin. Her hair hung loosely down her back. Marias hands were resting in her lap but Danielle could still make out the strong muscles of her biceps that clung to the silk shirtsleeves.
Fredrick moved to seat his mother and then returned to sit to the right of Danielle.
Courtly conversation was supposedly one of the ten arts shed mastered as a French Princess, but right now Danielles voice was silent. Maria was looking at her and the intensity of that burned brighter than the golden candle in front of her and blinded her to anything or anyone else in the room.
Rosa silently watched the exchange and decided to get the conversation started. Tell me Catherine, are your accommodations to your suiting?
Oh yes, Rosa. Everything here is lovely. I must compliment you and your staff. This dinner looks exquisite. Doesnt it Danielle? Catherine smiled looking lovingly over at her daughter whose attention was drawn away from the conversation.
Danielle? Catherine said softly. When she didnt reply, Catherine gently took her laced-boot and stepped on Danielles foot underneath the table.
Whats that? Danielle said, slowly turning her head to look at her mother.
I said this dinner looks exquisite, Catherine smiled.
Oh yes mother, absolutely mouth-watering, Danielle agreed as her eyes went back across the table to the woman on the other side.
This time it was Marias turn to blush. Whether or not it was intentional, the Princesses remark struck Maria as referring to something totally other than food.
Tell me I did not just turn red, Maria was thinking to herself. Shes staring at me a little too intently. God please let this be nothing more than an intrigue for her.
Maria needed to believe that the attraction she was feeling was nothing more than a game for the princess. God, help her if it was real. She couldnt allow herself to want for anything more than friendship. This was the woman whom her brother was to marry. Maria chastised herself for allowing her heart to over-ride her head. Her brothers happiness must come first.
Maria bit her lip hard, determined to get the upper hand in this situation. She pulled her gaze away and looked over to her brother.
Danielle, did you know that Fredrick is a master swordsman? Maria began as she smiled lovingly at her brother.
Really, it must run in the family, Danielle replied. Luc tells me your moves today rivaled the best in the French army.
Im confident of that, Fredrick interrupted. Maria is by far the better skilled. In fact, she has taught me much of what I know.
So much for moving the attention back to my brother, Maria thought and ground her teeth in frustration. She decided to keep quiet.
Fredrick turned to the princess and began telling her stories about Maria and their childhood together. Danielle gave him her full attention. She was after all, extremely interested in this mans sister.
Upon seeing the warm exchange between her son and the princess, Rosa relaxed a little. They seemed be enjoying each others company.
Throughout the remainder of dinner, Rosa and Catherine talked about their children, while Danielle and Fredrick smiled and laughed with each other. Maria exchanged stories of war with Luc and whenever possible stole glances of Danielle. Maria noticed that Danielle was living up to her reputation. The young woman was eating more than most of the other guests, yet weighed the least. She loved the young womans smile and her laughter was almost contagious. Her long blonde hair looked pretty arranged in a braid, and her green eyes seemed caring and vibrant.
Marias mind was questioning her heart. She didnt seem the type that would play with someones affections. Maria let out a deep breath as her thinking continued. Why did it have to be this woman that my heart is opening up to?
At least I have you, Maria thought, looking down to pet her faithful companion that always sat next to her while she ate. This time however, Cora was missing. Maria looked around the room and became a little concerned. A movement from the princess caught her attention.
Maria watched intently, as Danielle talked with Fredrick. Every so often, her left hand would disappear under the table. Maria was pretty sure that something was cupped in her hand, and each time it reappeared, the hand was empty.
Slowly bending down, Maria peeked underneath the table. Cora was just taking another morsel from the small fingers. Cora saw movement and looked over at her master as she greedy gulped down the food. Cora titled her head to the side, looking over at squinting eyes. I see shes won you over too, Maria thought as she rolled her eyes and sat up.
Danielle saw Maria sit back in her chair. She looked across and smiled at her, slightly raising her shoulders and lifting her eyebrow in an apologetic motion. She mouthed a silent sorry. Maria couldnt help but smile back and shake her head.
As dinner finished, Danielle and Catherine thanked their hosts for a wonderful dinner. Rosa announced that the evenings festivities would continue in the patio garden.
The entire dinner party moved in a long line through the dining room.
Fredrick escorted Danielle through the arched doorway to the patio. Numerous torches illuminated the area. Colorful paper decorations hung from threads, swaying in the breeze.
Music filled Danielles ears. It was vibrant and passionate and cut through her like a knife. The guitars were not plucked, but strummed. Spanish women dressed in black and red dresses danced to the beat. Their black thick-heeled shoes stomped out every note. Their tightly hung skirts flared at the bottom and swayed as their arms waved seductively through the moist nighttime air. An unfamiliar instrument to Danielle was clicking in their hands. Danielles heart was beating in unison with the music. Absorbed in the rhythms, Danielle closed her eyes.
Fredrick leaned down and whispered into her ear. Does this music suit you seŇorita?
Its magnificent, Danielle said as she slowly opened her eyes and smiled.
Maria was standing across the patio, watching the interaction. Her brother seemed happy and showed signs of true enjoyment. She watched his lips move close to Danielles ear and whisper something. The ache in her heart grew stronger. This was a torture she had never planned on. Her body was darkened in pain but her eyes were bathed in light the light of the smile that formed on Danielles lips sung to her soul.
The music suddenly changed. The tempo was more rhythmic and the beats more pronounced. The tones resonated strong and sultry.
What is this Fredrick? Danielle asked.
This Danielle is music to Tango to, Fredrick replied. Do you know about the dance called the Tango?
Im afraid not, Danielle said.
Well, Danielle, Fredrick drew closer. Maria is magnificent at it. Lets see if we can talk her into showing you how the Tango is done.
Maria! Fredrick shouted over the music. The princess would like to see how the Tango is danced. Please dance for us. You are the most talented dancer among us.
Maria saw the look of honest pleasure in her brothers eyes. His request was innocent, but Maria didnt feel much like dancing this evening. She hesitated to answer.
Come on Maria, you must show our guests the proper way to Tango, Fredrick pleaded, smiling at his older sister and waving his hand motioning her out of the shadows and onto the dance floor. Everyone joined in with words of encouragement.
All eyes were on her. Maria walked to edge of the dance floor. One of the young Spanish dancers came to her side.
Isabel is a hired dancer. Maria taught her the Tango, Fredrick said softly to Danielle. They will show you the Tango at its best. Watch closely Danielle.
Danielle swallowed hard. Watching closely wouldnt be a problem as far as she was concerned.
Maria and the young woman walked to the center of the floor. The woman stood in front of Maria, her back pressed against Marias chest. Maria brought her hand down and rested it flatly against Isabels stomach. Her other hand held Isabels hand.
Danielles breathing changed immediately. She sat as silent as possible but noticed her chest rising quicker.
The motion that started the dance was quick. Maria whirled Isabel in a quick turn, bringing her around 180 degrees. Their faces were inches from one another.
Danielle wasnt sure if it was the wine, the spicy food or the humid night air that was causing her to feel hot. She felt a small drop of perspiration roll down her back.
The dancing continued. Marias hand was on the hollow of the other womans back. Hidden in its soft spot. The steps were wide and exaggerated and the two women were hardly ever more than inches from one another. The dance was cheek to cheek and legs intertwined. Many times during the dance, Maria reached her hand around Isabels back pulling her closer to the beat of the music. It was the most seductive dance Danielle had ever seen.
Danielle felt weak, almost faint. Everything disappeared. Her eyes were focused on Maria, whose skin glistened as her hair whipped back and forth in rhythm of the steps. Marias tight black pants clung to her thighs. Danielle closed her eyes lost in the music and her own dreams. She saw Marias eyes inches from her face and fantasized that it was she in Marias arms. A moan escaped her lips as the music came to an end.
Danielles eyes popped open and immediately came to rest on the blue eyes of Maria who was holding the young dancer in her arms. Everyone was clapping. Fredrick walked out to thank his sister for the beautiful display of the Tango. Danielle sat still. A small tear fell from her eye. She longed to feel Marias strong arms hold her and the realization of that overwhelmed her. She was helpless to this desire and it frightened her.
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