The Sin of Seduction

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Sex was his weapon.


Joan Larke is everything a Tudor virgin should be; she has beauty, innocence and piety. But her ambitious brother throws all this away without a moment’s hesitation when the up-and-coming Tom Wolsey casts his lustful eyes on her.


Being little more than a mere chattel to the men who should protect her, Joan is thrust into the intrigues of the salacious Tudor court, where virtue has no value and ambition is the order of the day.


Her lover, Wolsey, knows how many secrets are passed in the bedchamber, and shamelessly enlists any woman who comes within his influence as his spy. He turns each one, under duress, into an informer who brings him information from her pillow talk with the movers and shakers of the early 16th century. But he needs love, too, and he keeps Joan to himself—for a time.


When Joan finds that she is no longer wanted and in peril of spending the rest of her life in a convent, she turns to Lady Anne Boleyn, who is rapidly supplanting Queen Catherine in Henry’s affections. But treachery is a double-edged sword, and the betrayer often becomes the betrayed in the shadowy world of Tudor court intrigue.


Although many before her have ended up disappearing or going under the headsman's axe because their usefulness was over, Joan hoards secrets she can trade, for her life is on the line as the would-be queen and the ruthless cardinal battle behind the scenes to secure the favour—and love—of their king.


 


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Date de parution 23 juin 2020
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EAN13 9781682598092
Langue English

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THE SIN OF SEDUCTION
ADRIENNE BLAKEPublished by Blushing Books
An Imprint of
ABCD Graphics and Design, Inc.
A Virginia Corporation
977 Seminole Trail #233
Charlottesville, VA 22901
©2020
All rights reserved.
No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher. The trademark Blushing Books is pending in the US
Patent and Trademark Office.
Adrienne Blake
The Sin of Seduction
EBook ISBN: 978-1-68259-809-2
Print ISBN: 978-1-64563-307-5
Audio ISBN: 978-1-64563-304-4
v2
Cover Art by ABCD Graphics & Design
This book contains fantasy themes appropriate for mature readers only. Nothing in this book should be
interpreted as Blushing Books' or the author's advocating any non-consensual sexual activity.C O N T E N T S
1. The Two Toms
2. The Royal Almoner
3. The First Time
4. A Midnight Tryst
5. A Sign
6. The Threat of Exposure
7. Bridewell
8. Seeking Solace
9. A New Home
10. William Pike
11. His Spies
12. Forbidden Fruit
13. A Strawberry Mouth
14. A Fresh Appetite
15. Home at Last
16. The Secret Book
17. A New Danger
18. Double-Crossed
19. Raucous in the Vestry
20. Henry Fitzroy
21. Tom Arrested
22. Trouble At Home
23. A Change of Policy
24. Field of Cloth of Gold
25. Those Dangerous Eyes
26. A Passage Across the Channel
27. A Public Burning
28. Thwarted Ambitions
29. Comfort in Grief
30. A Final Adieu
31. The Battle for Hampton
32. A Trip to Rokeby
33. A Walk on the Embankment
34. The Temptress
35. A Letter
36. An Impossible Task
37. The Muddy River Pub
38. A Life's Work
39. Betrayal
40. The Whim of a King
41. An Old Flame
42. The Hurricane
43. Confrontation
44. Restoration
45. Christ Church
46. Little Henry47. He Is Dead
48. Epilogue
Notes
Adrienne Blake
Blushing Books
Blushing Books NewsletterTHE TWO TOMS
oan watched in horror as the small piglet ran under the grocer's feet, knocking both himJ and his tray of produce into the air.
"Curse you, you little swine."
The growing crowd of villagers burst into shameless laughter at the poor man's plight. The
determined piglet screeched and squealed, running hither and thither, desperate in his latest bid for
freedom. While Agnes chased it, the grocer, Able Withers scrambled to his feet, dusting the dirt off
his clothes. His eyes were scathing, though more from shame than any real injury to his person.
"Damn you, Miss Joan Larke. Get that bloody pig under control or it won't be the only thing on
the chopping block tonight."
"Sorry, sorry." She must have looked a picture herself, bent over and running in shallow circles in
her attempt to get the creature back under her control. "It escaped its pen, you see."
More spontaneous laughter. Able Withers was as red as an apple, and looked like a pot about to
boil. "I'll be talking to your brother, have no doubt about it. That was my best produce, that was.
What will I tell the king's cook now?"
"Oh, save your breath to cool your porridge," said John Barrow, the fishmonger. "The girl
couldn't help it. And you've plenty more stock to send King Hal's way, I've no doubt." He jumped, as
the small creature circled round to his stall, and scurried under his feet. "What now? Heavens above,
someone catch it!"
A well dressed clergyman appeared out of nowhere and, in an instant, had the screaming piglet
safe in his arms.
"Such a raucous over such a trifle!" He turned the piglet about and stared in its face. The animal
immediately became calm under his care. "Come, come, now there's a handsome fellow if ever I saw
one. Whose pig is this?"
Joan stepped forward to claim her prize. For some reason she was suddenly uncomfortable,
standing in front of this impeccably dressed man of clear means. Indeed, though they lived within a
shadow of King Henry's court, she had rarely met someone with such commanding presence. He
oozed authority from his buttoned cap to his cassocked toes. She was not the only one to feel thus,
for the mob, who just a moment ago were a thriving mass, seemed to slip away into obscurity.
Perhaps they knew who he was. She did not. She lowered her eyes, and brushing the loose cabbage
leaves from her gown, blushed deeply.
"The pig is mine, sir."
"Indeed."
The stranger looked her up and down appraisingly. There was no shyness in his gaze, indeed, she
thought him rather rude for it, churchman or no. Her courage rallied at his impertinence.
"I am Joan Larke, the daughter of Peter Larke of Huntingdonshire. To whom, sir, do I have the
honor of addressing?""Tom Wolsey, at your most humble service."
"Well then, would you be so kind as to return my pig?"
"Oh, yes, of course."
He stepped forward, and ever so carefully transplanted the distressed animal into her arms. The
once placid pig seemed none too eager to be so disposed, and at once set about kicking for freedom
with its hind legs. Whereas a moment ago she was calmly dignified, Joan at once bent double with
the effort of keeping it under her control. A snicker went out among the crowd, who were primed and
ready for a repeat performance of the animal's mischief.
The young man looked about them, a wicked leer on his face, and seemed eager to join in the
frivolity. But then his good manners took charge, and he stepped forward once again and relieved her
of her burden. At once the animal grew calm again.
"Perhaps you are not well adapted to animal husbandry, but it is of no consequence. I doubt a
pretty face such as yours will spend too much time in squalor with pigs. Which is just as well, for the
sake of the pig."
The crowd burst once more into laughter, and feeling the full shame of his impudence, she
moved to recover the pig again. Tom stayed her with an outstretched arm. "Do not trouble yourself,
madam. Clearly it is my destiny to save you from such a wild beast. Where were you headed?"
"It is no concern of yours."
"And yet I make it my business. Come, child. I am expected at court, but the hour is yet early and I
have a little time to tarry. I assume you cannot have far to go, for I can't imagine you were long
getting here with this little one."
The crowd waited with bated breath for her answer. Perhaps to argue with him might expose her
to more censure. Her stance softened and she took a step back.
"I am staying at my brother's house under his protection. It is less than a mile away, near the
palace of Whitehall. His name is Tom Larke."
"Ah, I know the man well. You are his sister you say? Then allow me the honor of walking you
and your charge back home, since I head in that direction myself."
How could she refuse him? Indeed, almost the second the words escaped his lips, he turned
westward and set off, and she had to scramble to keep up with him. The amused crowd watched them
leave, but soon resumed their daily business.
They walked in silence for a moment, but seeing as how he was doing her a service it seemed
rude not to make some enquiry about him. She cleared her throat. "May I ask, what brings you to
town?"
"I have business at court."
"You seek employment there? I understand the new king and queen are hiring many men at this
time."
"No, not I. I am already acquainted with His Majesty. Indeed, it was his business that took me
from court today."
Her eyes narrowed. Is he trying to impress me? "Pray tell me, what business might that be?"
He turned and looked her up and down once more, as if she were some object of disdain. His eyes
were as hard as flint. I hate how he does that.
"Let us just say the king's business is his own. I can say no more than that." After a while he gazed
up at the sky, and appeared to admire the gentle clouds as they drifted above them. "Forgive my lack
of information. I mean no offense and I respect your politeness. You must understand that I believe
the king values my discretion as much as my usefulness to him. That is the thought behind my
silence, and nothing else, believe me."As he gazed at her she thought that at this precise moment he had the most gentle, even playful,
gray eyes. How changeable they were. And all in the space of a second. She wondered what kind of a
man such as he might be.
"Have you been long at court?"
The pig shifted a little uncomfortably in his arms, then settled down again. "Several years. I was
engaged by the late king as his royal chaplain."
She glared at him in surprise. "Oh, indeed. Should I be impressed?"
"Most are."
"And yet here you are, carrying my pig like any humble courtier. If you are who you say you are,
then would it not be beneath your dignity to carry on thus?"
"Perhaps. Or perhaps, like any red-blooded man, I am helpless under the spell of a pretty face."
She stopped and rounded on him. "Man of the cloth or no, do not forget yourself. I am no wench
for the taking. My family is well-connected and respectable, and you will do well to remember that."
The corners of his mouth twitched in amusement. "Duly noted. Forgive me. I am your chastised
humble servant. Will that do?"
The fire in her abated. "For the present." She resumed her pace beside him. Looking ahead, her
brother's abode loomed just a little farther down the road. She pointed it out to him.
"I am there."
He nodded. "I am familiar with the place, though I have not had the honor of an invitation within
its walls. Perhaps one day I may hope for such an invitation?"
Not if I can help it, fine eyes or no. "Perhaps."
As they reached her yard, she removed the animal from his arms and set it down in its pen. "No
more escaping, you troublesome little swine, or I'll make sausages out of you before supper."
Tom laughed. "Tis a pity the way of things, for I have cause to thank the animal who has done me
a great service."
"Oh? Pray, what service would that be?"
"He brought me to you."
Joan could not see her own face but she felt the glow of her cheeks. Is there no end to this man's
audacity? "You are too free with your words, sir. I would forgive much of a man of the cloth, but
not the liberties you take. Good day to you."
She was about to turn in, when the door to the house opened and her brother stepped outside and
marched loudly across the graveled path to join them. Her brother was a slender man, with
strawberry-blond hair and an easy, if somewhat effeminate manner. Right now he had a broad grin on
his face and seemed most eager to join them.
"Wolsey, my friend. To what do I owe the honor?"
"One of your piglets was a little too eager to get to market. And judging by his size I would say
long before his time. I assisted your sister in returning him home."
Her brother's jaw dropped in wonder. Clearly he thought such a kindness beneath the man's
dignity as well. He turned from one to the other in surprise. "Then it seems you have met my sister,
Joan."
"I have indeed."
"Thank the man, Joan, for his kind attentions." Joan stood stubbornly silent. "Forgive my mule
sibling, for she does not know the elevation of the man to whom she is indebted."
Tom Wolsey smiled his most disarming smile. "Believe me, it is no matter. I owe your sister an
apology for the rudeness of my former address."
Her brother looked even more baffled than before. "Perhaps I could tempt you inside? My houseboasts some fair mead and wine; the latter just arrived from Italy. I would welcome your discerning
word on the vintage." He turned to Joan. "No man in England can boast a finer palette than my friend
here. He is famed for his appreciation of all good things, and his cellar is reputed to be as
wellstocked as even the king’s."
"Idle talk, Tom, idle talk. But I say yes to your kind invitation. Though I can stay but an hour or
so as the king expects me in court by midday."
"Wonderful." Her brother held out his arms, ushering them both back to the house. He looked at
Joan appraisingly, in a way he had not done before, and his look left her unsettled. Her brother was an
ambitious man, and she would do well not to get mixed up in his aspirations. He skipped around
them both, and soon had the front door open wide to receive them. "Come in, come in."
Theirs was no grand house. Her brother kept few servants, but he put them in such a spin it
seemed there was twice as many as there really were.
"See at once to my Lord Wolsey's comfort."
"Bring the new wine and glasses."
"Add more wood to the fire."
"Make haste. Make haste!"
Joan went to assist them, but her brother called her back.
"Stay with us and entertain my dear friend."
Odd. He had never encouraged her so before. Quite the contrary. Usually when he had company,
he preferred her immediate absence. And he called him his dear friend. It was strange then, that he had
never mentioned him before this day.
She moved to a seat in the corner of the room, and took up her embroidery hoop, hoping they
would soon forget she was there. The two men sat at her brother's table, and her brother began
speaking most animatedly.
"How are things at court? I understand the new king is most enchanted with his beautiful queen,
and cannot bear to be long from the bedchamber. The whole nation anticipates a quick heir. I almost
pity the poor woman, for I fear she will not be often without a royal offspring in her belly. Still, I'm
sure they are making the most of things as they are, before the royal nurseries are too swollen with
heirs of the blood."
She lowered her eyes. It was not fitting for her to hear such a conversation. Her heart swelled
with embarrassment, and though she willed her brother to stop, he would not.
"And we hear such jolly things of court. And of such licentious behavior! The king wanted a
renaissance; well he has one, of sorts. I for one am glad of his policy on courtiers. Such handsome
faces can only elevate the spirits, don't you think? And he has engaged the best musicians and poets.
Truly gay times are ahead for all. It is especially pleasing considering the policy of the late king, who
as we know, was as avaricious as they come."
The wine arrived, and the servant poured out three goblets. Joan looked up, only to see Wolsey's
eyes were burning into her. She was grateful for the distraction of the wine, and sipped it quietly.
"Still, with all this playfulness and gaiety, one wonders who exactly is managing the affairs of the
kingdom."
Wolsey turned the conversation, almost as if he hadn't been listening at all. "I wonder that your
sister sits so far off from us. Is she always this modest? Or does she have a particular aversion to
me?"
Her brother, who had not stopped prattling from the moment they had stepped inside, laughed
nervously, and shot her an imploring look. "No, no, of course not. She is merely a good example of
modest femininity. She rarely speaks unless spoken to.""Really?" He looked amused. "I did not find her so earlier. Indeed quite the opposite. When I met
her in the market she was running around most decidedly."
"Oh, let me apologize to you on her behalf."
"There is no need. It was very diverting. And I am in ever great need of such sweet diversion."
Her brother's shrewd gaze narrowed. "Come, Joan. Join us at the table. I insist upon it."
What sister could disobey her brother? But how she wanted to disobey him at that moment. She
put down her hoop most reluctantly, and sat down at the far end of the table.
"Good gracious, child. We don't bite. Come hither. Sit next to the good chaplain. He would like
to converse with you."
Her cheeks were burning with shame, but what could she do, so directly summoned? Why was I
cursed with such a brother? She was so close to Wolsey she could hear him breathe. He smelled
strangely of oranges, but it was not an unpleasant smell.
"You never told me you had a sister, Tom."
Her brother looked lost for words, but then recovered them quickly. A false grin distorted his
handsome features. "Was I supposed to? You're always so serious at court."
"I am a man of business, as you know. But as you also know, I have a reputation for enjoying the
finer things." He held his goblet to his nose and sniffed it carefully. "And may I say your sister, rather
like this wine, is exquisite."
She wished the ground would swallow her whole. How could they be so uncouth and
unfeeling? Was she not sitting right there, inches from them both?
"Though I fancy she would taste more like French rosé than an Italian wine at this moment. Look
at her blush."
She rose from her seat so quickly it scraped loudly across the stone floor. Her curtsy was
awkward; she would run from the room if she could. "I beg your leave, sirs. I must go to my room."
But she could not get away so easily.
"You will return to your seat until you are dismissed, Joan. And not a moment before. Do not
embarrass me thus in front of the good chaplain. Remember where you are."
With a heavy heart she sat down again, but she could not look at either one of them. Instead her
gaze remained fixed on the oak table. She folded her hands and toyed nervously with her late mother's
ring. Please, God, save me from the ambitions of men. Even the holy ones.
"I fear we have made Miss Joan uneasy. Come, Tom, let us not be barbaric. Though we have
grown used to the wickedness of court, it does not follow your sister appreciates the humor." He
took another sip of his wine and closed his eyes in appreciation. "I must say I've rarely tasted a better.
Such a vintage would do well in my cellars. Where did you acquire it?"
"There is a new merchant in Greenwich. I would gladly recommend him to you."
"Indeed, I would welcome it."
Though her eyes were lowered she could see her brother cast a cunning look in her direction.
"Perhaps I could tempt you with an offer of dinner, when you are less engaged, perhaps? Then you
may taste the hospitality of my home at your leisure."
Wolsey also glanced over her way, but whatever thought lurked behind those gray eyes was now
much less fathomable. "I would be delighted. Though I can't vouch for my engagements now. Let me
send a man to you this afternoon to name a suitable date. Regrettably I must take my leave now, the
hour grows late and the king's business will not wait."
"Very good. I look forward to our next meeting."
"As do I."
They all rose from the table and the two men shook hands warmly. Joan kept her head down andhoped he would be in too much of a hurry to embrace her formally, as was the custom.
"God keep you, Mistress Joan," he said.
Then Wolsey clasped her shoulders, and kissed her on the mouth. She had been kissed thus many
times before, but there was something in his manner of his parting that left her uneasy. Perhaps he
had lingered on her lips a little longer than he should, or perhaps she simply imagined he had done so.
Either way, she trembled from head to toe, and could not now raise her eyes, even if she wanted to.
She was aware of the two men brushing past, and somewhere in her brain she heard the door
close, but she was not herself. She folded her hands nervously in front of her velvet gown and walked
to the window. Though Wolsey looked anxious to leave, her brother could not stop his endless
prattling, and she doubted he would ever let him go. But Wolsey's command of the situation was
greater, and with a raise of his hand, halted her brother mid-sentence. She watched with wonder as he
marched quickly up the lane. What a strange man. And then he turned a corner, and was gone.
Her brother waited until the good chaplain was out of sight before returning inside.
"Well, that was a fortunate encounter."
"Tom, how could you? I have never felt so ashamed in my life. You practically threw me at him.
Are you so determined to ruin my prospects for a respectable marriage?"
"Hold your tongue, sister. Do you not know who that great man is?"
"He is a chaplain, like yourself."
"Yes, but he also has the ear of the king. The whispers at court are that he trusts him with all his
affairs. All of them."
"What of it?"
"Are you still such a child?" Her brother rolled his eyes, as if he were explaining the simplest of
things to a total idiot. "Wolsey is a coming man. They say that despite his humble origins, his estate
has grown rapidly, and that he is destined to be one of the most powerful men in all of England. They
say he is a man to be reckoned with."
"They say, they say! Well, what is all this to me? He is a man of the church, a servant of God. He
cannot marry me. So there is nothing to it, and you're wasting your time, brother."
"The Lord gave them eyes yet they do not see. Wake up, little sister. This is an opportunity for us
all. We would be foolish to shirk it."
"We, we, we. What would it be to you? If I understand you correctly, there would be little for
you to do at all."
Tom stepped over to the window, and though Wolsey was long gone, his eyes looked wistfully
after him. "The Lord works in mysterious ways, my dear. And who are we to interfere?"THE ROYAL ALMONER
olsey prided himself on his attention to detail. He examined the parchment closely,W and was greatly satisfied with the result.
"You've done well, William. See this gets to the abbey as quickly as may be." He handed the
parchment back to his secretary and returned his quill to its stand. "Is His Majesty ready for me?"
"He is, sir."
The royal chaplain rose, and genuflected before the statue of the Holy Virgin. He crossed himself
thoughtfully. After all, he might have need of her compassion, for the king's summons had been most
formal. That never boded well. The court was bustling with noise. Minstrels and artists from all over
the world had descended on this new king's court, all eager to seek favor. He pushed past the masses
of courtiers and commoners and made straight for the king's apartments. I might as well get this over
with.
He passed through into the king's privy chambers, where he was greeted by Sir William Compton,
the king's newly appointed groom of the stool.
"How fares the king, William?" he asked.
William was perhaps the most handsome of the king's groomsmen, and a wicked smile lit up his
attractive features. "Very well, I think. He and the queen have been at sport all morning, and I doubt
he will give much time to statecraft. Do you have much to discuss?"
Wolsey lowered his eyes and smiled, warily. "You know I would not discuss His Majesty's affairs
in open court. He would not thank me for it."
"Yet none are as close to the king as I. Henry hides nothing from me. Why should you?"
Considering the intimate nature of his post, Wolsey had nothing to argue with. "All the same, I
would not be accused of having a loose tongue, for fear someone might later choose to cut it off."
William looked away. Wolsey did not press him further, for he could well guess his thoughts. No
matter how high in office he rose, they all despised him for his low birth. They called his kind new
men, and would do so not just to his back, but often to his face. It mattered not. Henry has assured
him of his love, and with his king to protect him, these elitist courtiers couldn't touch him.
"I wonder, has the king mentioned anything to you of our business today?"
William laughed so hard it drew curious glances from several men. "Is there some business the
illustrious royal chaplain knows nothing of? But you have spies everywhere, do you not? Has your
dread network of thieves and vagabonds failed you? Ha! God is merciful and good."
"It is true, the king's new business is for now unknown to me, but I trust that will shortly be
remedied. Good day to you, sir."
Inside the royal chaplain squirmed. He hated not knowing the king's business, for it gave power
to his enemies and made him look foolish. He would take care not to let it happen again.
After a very brief delay, Wolsey was summoned to the king. He passed an array of Spanish
dignitaries, who appeared uncommonly jovial, and more merry than normal. He soon discovered thecause of their revelry.
"Ah, Thomas, there you are, come forward, come forward, we have much to discuss."
King Henry looked very pleased with himself, and though always attentive to his wife, he seemed
even more so than usual. It was no hard leap to imagine the cause. He bowed low, in reverence.
"Your Majesty."
"Come, come, Thomas. Can you not guess my good news? Does not the queen's bloom herald it
for all? She is carrying my son, Thomas, my son. What say you to that, eh?"
This was most excellent news indeed. "Congratulations, sire. No doubt the first of many boys to
come."
"No doubt." The king turned to his wife and somewhat crudely grabbed at her belly. "Early days
though, so we must have a care for the queen's person. And we just lately married. There is no prince
in Europe to boast of such speed in the bedchamber." He took his wife's hand and kissed the back of
it. "You are a prize indeed, my lovely Catherine. Now, Thomas and I have business to discuss.
Perhaps you and my son should retire to your chamber to rest. It has been an exciting morning, and it
is my greatest wish you calm yourself."
The delighted queen rose in obedience and bowed before her husband. "As you command, Your
Majesty. My will is yours."
Henry watched the tiny woman until she disappeared from the chamber, then turned to his
chaplain.
"Tom, Tom. I expect thanks to be said in vespers tonight. I will not let it be said the Lord's most
catholic of princes neglected his duties at such a time."
"It will be done." Wolsey wondered if this was all the news the king had. Yet from the tone of his
earlier summons, he suspected not.
The handsome king kept his broad grin, but he took in a deep breath, signifying it was time to
turn to other matters. "Now, Thomas, let us quickly turn to the business of this land, for I have a
great appetite, and my cook is even now preparing a sumptuous feast in honor of the occasion. But
you see, even at so great a time, I am a diligent king, and can spare some of my happiness for the
welfare of this nation."
"I see."
"Good, good. I called you to court because I wish you to accept the position of almoner. Does
such an appointment please you?"
Does it please me? Wolsey could not believe his preferment. The position of royal almoner
would bring in revenues beyond his imaginings. And Wolsey could imagine vast amounts. He bowed
in humble servitude.
"Your Majesty is most generous."
"It pleases me to be so, Thomas. The position ensures a seat on the council. I can think of no
minister now serving so deserving of the appointment. Your industry, your connections, and your
loyalty to me have been commendable, Tom. Serve me well, and I shall reward you accordingly.
Don't let me down."
"I am speechless, sire."
"Well, as to that, we all have much to be thankful for, do we not? The palace cook has prepared
us a succulent feast. You would enjoy the peacock I think."
"I am very partial to it, Your Majesty."
"Good, good. Then let's celebrate both our good fortunes by making merry this evening. I trust
you are not otherwise engaged?"
"Not in the least, Your Majesty.""Then it is settled. Enough of statecraft. I trust there is nothing else that need keep me from my
table?"
"No, sire. Everything is in hand."
"Excellent. Well then, you to your business, me to mine. I must go to Catherine to see if she is
well and you shall join us later at our table."
And with that final word, the king swept from his chamber, and with his hands raised in
excitement, went off in search of his queen.
Before his mind returned to business, Wolsey thought how pleasant it must be for a man at such
times. To anticipate the birth of a son must bring a man a great sense of fulfillment. But as a man of
the cloth, such a joy would surely be denied to him. Then Joan Larke's pretty features came to mind.
Perhaps even a clergyman deserved a little distraction from time to time. He smiled. After all, even a
chaplain could succumb to the charms of a pretty face. And hers was exceptional.
Yet he was a man of discipline and now was not the time to indulge in such fancies. While the
young Tudor king made merry, there was a country to be run, and Thomas Wolsey was just the man
to do it. As he left the chamber, he saw young Compton looking curiously his way. He nodded
deferentially, but then went off in another direction. Let the arrogant bastard sweat a bit. It was
none of his business anyway. He would hear the good news soon enough.THE FIRST TIME
he had dressed with considerable care. Despite her protestations to her brother, Joan wasS deeply intrigued by this powerful man, and that he should be interested in her excited her
immensely. As she dressed at her table, she took great care with the dressing of her hair, and chose the
better of her two hoods. She gently pushed a loose strand back under it; it would not be fitting to
appear too brazen.
Her choice of jewelry was limited. Her mother had left her little, but her maid tied her necklace
on, and chose the finest rings from her meager selection.
"Thank you, Alice. Do you think I will do?"
Alice smiled at her mistress, though was busy retying a loose ribbon on her lady's sleeve. "You
look well enough, mistress, as you always do."
Joan brushed her playfully away, then lowered her head to tie a ruby pin to her bodice. "Be off
with you then, you vile creature. If the chaplain has any complaints I shall send him to your door."
"From what I saw of him, I'd be most willing if you did."
"Wanton trollop."
Her maid smiled, but did not bite.
She rose, and looking down her gown one final time, went downstairs. Wolsey was due shortly,
and she would not shame her brother by being unprepared. She found him waiting in the great hall,
looking anxiously toward the door and jumping at every sound.
"Are you afraid he will not come, brother?"
"The good almoner will be here at the precise hour of our engagement. He is famed for his
punctuality, almost as much as his excellent taste."
"Then why do you fidget?"
Tom stiffened. "I was not aware that I did."
"Dear brother, calm yourself. He will be here soon enough."
And within a few minutes they heard the familiar sound of horse hooves on the gravel outside
their door. It was Joan's turn to stiffen, and she took her place by her brother's side and waited for
their guest to be announced. Yet when the door was finally opened there was a strange look on their
servant's face.
"Forgive me, sir, but Almoner Wolsey is here."
"Good, well show him in. Don't keep the man waiting."
"But there's another man, sir. John Cuthbert is dying. They have called you to administer last
rites."
John Cuthbert was a member of the household where Tom was chaplain. He looked confused.
"Last rites? But the man was hale and hearty last time I saw him. There must be some mistake?"
"I'm sorry, sir, there is not. Should I send the almoner away?"
"No, you will not. Send him in. I shall make my apologies here."His man immediately ushered Wolsey inside.
"Distressing news, sir, but I am this very moment called away on church business." Wolsey, no
doubt used to such interruptions, barely raised an eye. "Would it be asking too much for you to dine
with my sister until I am able to return? I hope I shall not be long."
Dine alone? With the almoner? Joan's heart skipped an awkward beat. Say no, say no. Excuse
yourself and make an arrangement for a more convenient time.
Perhaps Wolsey could guess at her feelings, but when he answered, she thought perhaps not. "I'm
sure that would be delightful. After all, my dear, are we not old friends now?"
"Indeed we are, sir."
"Very good, Tom. And do not rush on my account. God's work should never be rushed. Let the
man meet his maker in all dignity. I shall be well entertained here."
A knowing smile passed between the two men. Have they arranged this? Her brother was an
ambitious man for sure, but not even he would sacrifice her honor for preferment. Would he? She
could hardly ask him there and then. Instead she kept her thoughts to herself as her brother pushed
past her.
"Have my horse made ready, as quick as you can, man."
Tom stood, an apologetic smile dripping across his face. He was so awkward, she almost wished
him gone in spite of herself. But then his servant put his head around the door.
"Ready, sir."
Tom mumbled his goodbyes, and with a final apology, disappeared through the door.
And then they were alone.
Wolsey was the first to break the silence. "You look well, Mistress Larke. Very well. Pray, what
have you been about since our last encounter?"
"Managing my brother's household keeps me busy enough, sir. There is no idleness in this house."
"Indeed. I would not have thought it in any case. How well do you like the business? Do you not
long for an establishment of your own?"
"Of course. What woman does not? But I am content for the moment. At least until my brother
procures me a respectable marriage. Until that time, I will manage his affairs with a good heart."
"Quite right."
"Shall we go in, sir? Our table is ready."
They walked through to the dining room, and as the almoner sat down, he scanned the table, then
returned to give her his most appreciative smile.
"Excellent. I have a tremendous appetite. My responsibilities at court are such that I rarely find
time to eat, so when at last I'm reprieved, I often find myself ravenous."
"I am glad to hear it, for I went to great trouble to please you. But it is fortunate, I think, that you
have such a sturdy physique."
"Yes. I share his majesty's great fortune in having an athletic frame. I doubt that good eating will
ever slow down either of us. I have a healthy abhorrence of fat. Let us pray."
I shall surely go to hell. For as the churchman spoke the words of thanksgiving, her heart was
too excited to listen to them.
The servant poured wine, and as he did so, Wolsey reached for the pheasant and gaily ripped at the
wing. She watched as the bird's juices dripped down his chin and he chomped with gusto. He had a
great appetite indeed. He looked up to see her watching him.
"Are you not eating, Mistress Larke?"
"But of course." She took a little woodcock, and nibbled slowly on the leg. His eyes remained on
her the whole time, and she could barely swallow for self-consciousness.