Charlek’s wife was having tea with the King and didn’t have the decency to tell him about it. He knew why though. “Having tea with the King” was code for something much less innocent. The King had a reputation of being a womanizer longer than the train draping from his shoulders.
Tea indeed! He would like to have his own private “tea” with the King. “Tea” being code for “duel.”
He paced up and down the length of the richly colored rug, his quick motion wrinkling the fine cloth of his shirt and trousers.
What was a fellow to do? It was the King after all. Which made everything ridiculously unfair. One couldn’t challenge him to a gentleman’s duel. The only thing to do was sit back and let the King take your wife like she was a common bar maid.
There was nothing more degrading than not being able to defend your household. It was downright unmanly.
Perhaps he chose his wife because Charlek was so popular among the other lords. It was his way of reminding Charlek who really had the power. He probably threatened her.
“Power-hungry maniac,” Charlek muttered.
Charlek stopped pacing and looked at the portrait of Serina and himself on the mantel.
Serina was lovely. Perhaps it was her beauty that caught the King’s attention and not Charlek’s growing popularity.
Still, Serina did agree to meet him, and if she weren’t threatened…. Did she actually want to go?
Neither one of them had a choice in the marriage, but he thought they got along amiably. They weren’t a passionate couple perhaps, but they’d never argued in the two years of their marriage. He let her spend what she wanted on gowns and jewelry. What else did she want?
“Baffling things, women,” he huffed.
They were a good-looking couple in the portrait. Surly, it wasn’t his looks she found lacking. Though he had put on a few pounds since the wedding. There was a little paunch around his middle that wasn’t there before.
Besides, the King had twice the girth Charlek had. What did he have that Charlek didn’t?
He looked at the portrait: Serina sitting, Charlek standing behind the chair. She was sitting as to not draw attention to the height difference.
That demandable half inch. Charlek’s one flaw; he was a bit short compared to some.
But he wasn’t that short. It was nothing worth running off to “have tea” over.
The door opened, and in stepped Serina.
Charlek drew himself up, almost standing on his toes. “How was your ‘tea?’”
“My what?” She sounded too innocent.
“Your ‘tea with the King?’” Charlek squinted at her watching her reaction.
“Who told you that?” Defiantly defensive.
“Never mind how I found out. Did you want to go?”
“Want to go?” She looked confused. Or was that an act? Women were such confounding creatures.
“I know what it stands for, your little code.”
She paled. That wasn’t an act. “You do?”
“Yes. So, did you go willingly?”
She gave that confused look again. “Willingly? I did go on my own, so yes. I guess it was.”
On her own? What did that mean? Did she mean she approached him?
“Were you thinking at all? How do you think it will make me look if anyone found out?!”
“There are actually quite a few other woman doing it. Notable women. It’s becoming quite acceptable.”
“Acceptable? Acceptable! When is taking another man’s wife acceptable?”
His wife blinked. “What are you talking about?”
“’Tea with the King’ madam. I’m talking about tea.” He threw his hands up.
“I don’t think ‘tea with the King” means what you think it does.”
“Don’t insult me, madam. I know exactly what—“ He stopped himself. Serina was wearing that look. The same look she had when he was ranting about the duke not showing up at the party he held. When he was done, she told him that the duke was ill with a fever. There was something she knew that he didn’t.
He tugged at his rumpled coat. “Why don’t you put it into less obscure words then. I may understand what they imply, but you know that explaining these ridiculous terms people come up with is not my forte.”
“Of course, husband.” She gave a smile that bordered a child’s mischievous smirk. “It’s a discreet term for having tea with someone quite below your social station. As a good deed. It’s becoming quite fashionable.”
Having tea with someone below you? What nonsense. Why waste your time with someone who couldn’t do you any favors? But then, the baron did say that his wife had this strange new notion that spending time with those beneath her made her appear more caring to the lower classes, and would increase her and her husband’s popularity.
“Was that what you understood the expression to mean?” his wife asked.
“Of course. I just wanted to hear you explain it. It’s such a strange new fad.” And a strange thing to call it. It must have been a woman who came up with the name, determined to give her husband a heart attack.
“Does it bother you that I do it?”
“It doesn’t matter to me what you women do.” He waved a hand.
“I’m pleased to hear that. I was under the impression that you were greatly disturbed at my outing.” She gave that smirk of a smile and glided out of the room.
Charlek sank into the cushioned chair and took a deep breath. Ridiculous women and their silly names for things. He’d almost looked like a fool.
A serving maid came in balancing a tray in her hands. “Would you like me to serve your tea in here today, sir?”
He closed his eyes and leaned back against the chair. “I’ll have to decline. It seems those in fashion only drink tea with the King.”
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