One of my favorite scenes in the book is the encounter between Minuette and Dominic on the night of her 18th birthday. It was one of the first scenes I wrote when I conceived the story, and it is one of the few untouched scenes to survive from the original long manuscript I finished in 2005. Hampton Court is one of my favorite places on earth and when I visit it next week with Jake, you can bet I will be wandering the kitchen lanes imagining that Dominic is about to come around a corner. (Note to self: Must. Not. Frighten. Normal. Tourists.)
I've always wondered what Dominic was feeling during this emotionally-laden encounter, so I finally wrote it for my own pleasure. I hope it brings pleasure to one or two of you as well :)
(And for the musically inclined, the inspiration song for this scene is AFI's Silver and Cold)
Dominic’s Point of View
28 June 1554
When Minuette disappeared with Jonathan Percy, Dominic only kept himself from following by dint of pasting himself against a tapestry on one of the great hall’s long walls. Several people tried to speak to him; he rebuffed them all equally without even troubling to distinguish one flatterer from another.
He knew the moment she returned, his nerves alerted almost before his eyes caught her coronet of golden hair. She met his gaze and, without hesitation, headed straight for him. Like a homing pigeon. Or a friend who has good news to share. He knew his stare was uninviting but when did such things deter Minuette?
She did not immediately speak of Jonathan’s proposal. Rather, with a shy smile, she said, “Come dance with me, Dominic.”
Dominic shook his head, knowing that if he opened his mouth he would be lost. And when Minuette laid a hand on his arm, he stepped away abruptly from the contact and, with the briefest of bows, escaped into the crush.
Without knowing where he was headed, Dominic simply walked. Perhaps the movement would drive away the desire to seize her by the shoulders and shake her until she came to her senses. Except she wasn’t the one who was being suffocated by possibilities and the echoing taunts of ‘too late’ and the wish to hit someone very, very hard.
Instinct led him away from crowds and courtiers, from the false brightness of drunken voices and the dazzle of multi-coloured silks and velvets, until he was deep in the servants’ section of Hampton Court. The stables he knew, but these lanes wound through domestic buildings: enormous kitchens belching with fire and steam and storehouses reeking of everything from fresh game to salted fish. There were plenty of people here, as well, but unlike the court they were unimpressed with Dominic. If they even knew exactly who he was. As thunder rumbled nearby, he drew one deep breath to relax.
And then he heard her footsteps.
The click of heels and swish of skirts was unmistakably that of a woman in court dress and who else would come after him when he was doing his best to look menacing and unapproachable? Dominic rounded a corner by the pastry house and turned, arms crossed to confront her.
She came around the corner ten seconds later looking suspicious and irritated and heart-stoppingly lovely. His only hope was attack. “What do you think you are doing traipsing around these lanes in a dress that cost more than these people will see in their lifetimes?”
“I wouldn’t be traipsing around if you hadn’t run away from me as though I had the plague.”
“I didn’t ask you to follow.” And please, he thought, please go away before I say or do something I regret.
“Dominic, why are you angry?”
He opened his mouth to argue and she said impatiently, “Yes, you are angry at me. What has happened?”
“You’re imagining things.”
He saw the flare of temper in the set of her chin. “You’re a rotten liar, Dominic. However did you manage as a diplomat?”
Because he wanted so desperately to drive her away, he said the worst thing he could think of. “I hear you’re betrothed to Eleanor’s brother. I imagine you’ll quite enjoy family gatherings with Giles Howard.”
She looked at him as though he’d struck her and he instantly apologized. “That was unforgivable. My temper got the better of me.”
“Then you admit you are angry.”
With my father and my mother and the world and Jonathan Percy—especially Jonathan Percy—“Only with myself. I wanted something and, in my arrogance, made no effort to secure it. And now it is too late.”
Her eyes were enormous and filled with an expression Dominic had never seen from her before. “What did you want?” she whispered.
It was beyond his ability to stay still another second. He uncrossed his arms, which were as tight as though he’d been restraining someone else, and moved forward one deliberate step at a time. She stepped back as he came, until the wall was behind her and she couldn’t go further. Dominic did manage to stop moving then, but let his hands come to rest against the rough brick, so close to her shoulders that he could feel the warmth of her skin.
Leaning down so that her face had to tilt up to his, Dominic asked, “Do you love him?”
“What?” She sounded rattled. “Who?”
“The Percy boy. Do you love him?”
He hadn’t known he was going to ask that. What the hell was he doing? She must think him mad, looming over her in the rain that had finally begun to fall, demanding an answer to a question he had no right to ask.
With a wrench, he stepped back and dropped his hands. She continued to stare at him with a wary intensity that suggested she thought he had lost his mind.
“Forgive me,” Dominic said, in a voice that passed for normal. “You need not answer that. He, of course, is in love with you. A desirable quality in a husband.”
He saw her swallow and braced himself for her to tell him the news, to ask for his gladness at her betrothal. But before she could speak a servant came around the corner and stopped short, eyes darting between them once and then making a hasty retreat.
Dominic knew he had to get away from her, which meant first seeing her safely returned out of the kitchen lanes. “Do you wish to return to the dancing?”
“No, I . . . my chamber will do.”
Dominic concentrated on two things as he walked: navigating the maze of a mostly unfamiliar part of Hampton Court, and not touching Minuette. The latter was by far the most difficult.
There were torches burning at each end of her corridor, just enough light not to trip over anything but not enough to illuminate subtle expressions. He was glad she could not see his face as he bowed goodnight. He let his breath out as he turned away from her, then stopped breathing entirely as she once again laid her hand on his arm.
For once in his life, Dominic let himself stop thinking and act as instinct drove him. Slowly—ever so slowly—as though she were a bird that might take to flight with too sudden movement, Dominic curved back to her as though she were his lodestone. He focused on her hand, coaxing it gently off his sleeve until it rested in his own hand. Her fingers were narrow and pale in his battle-roughened palm.
With the kind of attention he had previously reserved for field tactics, Dominic cupped his hand over the top of hers and turned it until her own palm lay face up in his. She shivered and there were warnings in the far distance of his mind, but they were buried by the urgings of his heart.
He had only ever kissed Minuette’s hand in jest, but he had never been more in earnest as he bent his head and let his mouth linger on that vulnerable spot where her hand narrowed into her wrist. It was the most intimate act of his life.
Minuette gasped softly, a completely different sound than her earlier shock and anger. Though his mind was afraid to categorize it, his body knew the meaning of it and responded in kind. And finally—finally—still cradling her hand, Dominic looked at her.
He had thought it too dark for the nuances of expression, but he could swear he traced every thought in Minuette’s eyes and knew that in this moment he held her by far more than just her hand. Her hair was damp and her lips parted and Dominic knew that in a moment his last shard of control would be kicked aside and all he could think of was the bed waiting just beyond her door. Minuette shivered again and the reasonable part of him almost begged her not to do that, because surely it was a shiver of passion and if she wanted him in the slightest he would not able to stop . . .
The tolling of bells echoed through him like the warning voice of God—or, in this case, king. Dominic dropped her hand as though he’d been caught in a crime and tried to pull together the shattered fragments of himself.
“Damn,” he said, not sure whom he was addressing. Then, to Minuette, “I have to go.”
There was only way possible he could go—to walk fast and not look back.