Hey, kids. You know how I feel about feedback, so definitely write me. Schuydncer@aol.com And, as always, heaps and buckets of thanks to Mike, my faithful editorial committee (whom I forgot to thank in the last chapter). If you need another recommendation, I still adore Wooing My Beloved.

The Disclaimer : I’m a big fat liar. Ignore everything I say.

King and Country 3 - The Plan
by Schuyler

The Thames sparkled under the morning sun, like the dew on the rolling hills of Norfolk or Oxford or Dorset. And the castle was already bustling with activity, except for one sleepy, slow chamber. Justin, Prince of Wales, woke to find himself wrapped tight in his lover’s arms, Joshua’s nose buried in his honeyed locks and Joshua’s lips pressed against his head. Justin felt safe and warm, a smile spreading across his face. He heard a tiny moan, then Joshua’s legs moved and his lover was awake. Justin shifted and then turned to face the groggy gentleman. Joshua opened his blue eyes to see Justin staring back at him and smiled. “Good morning,” Joshua whispered.
Justin kissed him, a brief, welcoming kiss, then rested his head again near Joshua’s chest. “Good morning.” They lay together for a few minutes, enjoying the silence, Joshua’s hand stroking Justin’s back. Joshua only heard Justin’s calm, even breathing, only felt his chest rise and fall. Justin finally spoke. “Thank you for being here with me.”
“I wouldn’t have been anywhere else.” He kissed the top of Justin’s curls again, his neck, his jaw, until Justin’s rosy lips met Joshua’s silken ones in the first of a series of long, slow kisses.

Lance entered the King’s private dining room while the birds were still singing to find the table spread with food. “Lance!” Chris seemed genuinely delighted to see him, though he’d invited Lance not ten hours before.
“Your Highness,” Lance sat at the small table, a cautious spring in his step. “Any news today, my Lord?”
Chris waved Lance off. “No talk of news this morning, it is too gorgeous for it. Did you sleep well, Lance?”
“Yes.” Lance dared not speak his next thought. “I was dreaming of you.” “And yourself?”
“I’ve slept better.” It was true, Chris had been up half the night thinking of the graceful, elegant way Lance spoke and moved. “Fresh milk. Would you care for some?”
Lance half-breathed a “yes” and his hand went for the jug, bumping into Chris’ there. Lance gasped and they froze for a moment, fingers touching. Lance blushed when he realized that he was smiling. He looked up from the table into his monarch’s sparkling chocolate eyes to find that Christopher was smiling too.

As her voice squealed at him, rising again and again in anger, Kevin struck his head against the back of his chair and remember why he’d built her a palace so far away. “I don’t think that you’re actually listening!” Queen Kristin, tied tight into her black bodice, stamped her tiny foot.
Truth be told, he wasn’t. His eyes were focused on the young lady whose eyes peeked around the door. Kevin waved her inside. She bowed her head as she entered the door. “Your Highness...”
“Out!” Kristin screamed. In a flurry of rose colored skirts, the girl was gone. Kevin missed her already, the supple, pale curves of her breasts above her dress. How he’d like to feel her long, elegant fingers touching his face, running across his lips. “Kevin!” He jumped a little, then focused again on Kristin. “You’ve lied to me, you’ve lied to my son,” she gestured at Nickolas, smirking at his father behind her back. “You’ve sent away Lance, who means the world to poor Nickolas, and what are you going to do about it?”
Kevin was struck dumb. A confidant voice replied from the rear of the hall. “Perhaps I can help.”
Kevin leaned around his wife to see Alexander Cardinal James standing in the doorway. “Good Lord, deliver me!” he moaned and fell slumped into his chair.
“Have heart, Your Highness. I have a solution to your troubles. To all of them.”
Kevin looked at Kristin, holding him in on one side, and Nickolas glaring at him from the other. “Sit down.”

“Tell me that I am not insane!”
Christina poured him a cup of tea and sat down. She had that sweet, reassuring, slightly bemused smile on her face. “You’re perfectly fine.”
This placated him for a moment and he had a sip with her. “He’s just so handsome.”
“I know.”
“So smart, so charming, so sweet.”
“I know.”
She sighed. “I know.”
“That I’d be a fool not to fall in love with him.”
“Is that true?” Her voice was calm, never accusing. “Are you in love with him?”
Christopher sighed and smiled a dreamy smile. “Yes. I am.”

“The idea then is to attack the great marriages and, in doing so, destroy King Christopher’s base of power.” Kevin looked, at best, disbelieving, but the Cardinal was off. “The plan is three-fold. Warn King Nicholas of France that Christopher is coming to repossess his sisters, the Queen Jessica and the Duchess Amanda. Warn the Pope that his niece Christina is to be hung for espionage. Finally you, my Lord, charge Sir Lance with high treason and order him returned to Spain for trial. King Christopher will look for support and find that all his allies have turned. He will have to send Lance back.”
“And if he does not?”
“Then we enter England and take him ourselves. With the French and Papal forces against him, he will not dare risk a war.”
It was all too ludicrous to work. “Thank you, Cardinal. I will send for you with my answer.”
Alexander bowed to the King, then again to the Queen. Kevin let out a loud, self-indulgent laugh. Kristin gasped and struck him across the arm. He looked at her, shocked. “You have no reason to laugh! He presents a good plan. And unless you have another...”
Kevin’s brow furrowed in thought. If successful, the Cardinal’s scheme would end this annoying (if petty) argument with Kristin and quiet Nickolas for a time. It could also destroy the friendly alliance between England, France, and Rome and turn the Papal favor his way. But it was a very big “if.” Though the last thing that Kevin felt like dealing with was Kristin, not with the power of Portugal and her own acidic temper behind her. And he didn’t have to be happy about it either. “Nickolas!” he bellowed. Nickolas’ head snapped around, unused to being yelled at or ordered about. “Find the Cardinal. Tell him that he has the backing of Spain.”

Joshua walked thorough the courtyard towards the throne room, greeting those he passed. Everyone knew at court knew him, Joshua had elevated him to their positions at court, that was his position. He stopped at the side of Lord Wainwright, an incorrigible gossip. “Good morning, Rufus.”
“Joshua.” He smiled slyly. “The halls are buzzing with a new opinion this morning.”
Joshua smiled back and leaned in conspiratorially. “Do tell.”
“Sir Lance has charmed all of London, he’s terrifically handsome, and has an unsurpassed skill for international politics.”
“That said, he’d make the perfect lover for the young Prince.”
Joshua swallowed hard and blanched. No one knew about his relationship with the Prince, but... “If you will excuse me, Rufus, I was on my way to see the King.”

“I feel silly imposing on you, Christina.”
“Nonsense.” Christina poured him a cup of tea and sat down. She had that sweet, reassuring, slightly bemused smile on her face. “Just tell me what’s wrong.”
“I’ve been having these feeling that I’m sure are only admiration, but sometimes I’m not sure.” He paused, leaned forward a bit, lowering his voice. “I’ve never said this about anyone before, my lady, but now I feel sure.”
“Just tell me what it is.”
He took a deep breath. “I think I’m in love.”
The Duchess of Oxford sighed and smiled as she raised her cup to her lips. “Oh, Lance.”

A servant had rushed into Joshua’s chambers while he was at work and insisted that the Prince required him immediately. His heart beating double with fear and worry, he threw open the doors to find Prince Justin laying in bed. “Justin, angel, what is the matter?”
“Calm yourself, Joshua. I just thought we might rest together before supper.” Joshua took a moment to drink in the sight, his young, beautiful, blonde lover, curls spilled against the pillow, naked flesh surrounded by white linen. And Joshua melted. He stripped off his clothes, leaving behind a pile of velvet and silk, and folded himself into bed beside Justin, held Justin close. Justin snuggled up to him, laying his cheek on Joshua’s chest. He sighed. “This is heaven. These are the days when I don’t want anything to ever change.”
“But things will change, Justin. Someday I’ll be old and you...” Joshua trailed off, then felt his mouth go dry. “You will be king.”
“Shh,” Justin tried to crush closer to the older man, but Joshua half turned away. “Josh?” But Joshua was lost in his own thought now, wondering if maybe, just maybe, the gossips were right.

Life was well. Cardinal James stood in the courtyard of the palace and listened to hooves retreat. A messenger was on his way to Rome to deliver Alexander’s warning and Lord Howard, though reluctant, was on his way to Versailles to speak with King Nicholas. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” Alexander turned quickly to see King Kevin lurking in the shadows on a balcony above him. “If this plan of yours fails, it will be your mess to clean up.” Kevin slipped through the doors and vanished. The Cardinal swallowed hard.

Tonight, Lance had requested a warm liquor instead of his usual cup of tea and Christopher had joined him. Now he stood to go, face to face with Christopher in front of the fire. And he could feel himself sweating. Christopher smiled at him, gentle and sweet. “What’s wrong? You look nervous.”
“Lady Christina...she...”
“Come on with it.” He smiled, looking up at the young man.
“You must forgive my impertinence, my Lord, but the Lady suggested this.” He laid his trembling hand on Christopher’s cheek, bent a touch, and pressed his lips to the other’s for just a moment. Chris’ eyes went wide in surprise. Then both slowly exhaled.