Excerpt: Winter’s Bees

“No.” Gilbert paced back across the floor of the small library.

“I thought you would be pleased.” Henri-André V leaned back, making his desk chair creak under his weight. His tone was mild and slightly amused as he regarded his youngest son. “I have tried to take your feelings and wishes into account in every step of this process. I am not necessitating that you marry a woman, as you prefer men. The Marquis de Montespan is a good friend of yours, someone you have known for a very long time, someone you like. I do not understand why you would object so stringently to the match.”

Gilbert stopped in front of his father’s writing desk. I am not ready to marry, much less marry someone I don’t love, seemed like such a childish thing to say. He wanted to nonetheless. “He already has a lover.”

Henri-André gave him a look that clearly meant do not act the fool when I know you are not. “This is a political match, dearest.” Henri-André spoke as if Gilbert were still a very young child. “I am well aware the Marquis de Montespan and the Duke de Broglie are lovers. But Gilbert the Marquis de Montespan is a very good-looking man who, when he is in the capital, never misses a chance to attend the latest ball, party, or soiree. He most likely will always have a lover or even more than one. Is fidelity something you really desire? Because if so …”

“I know.” Gilbert turned away and paced to the window, looking out. It had begun to snow, dusting the stones of courtyard in white. “This is a political match, any marriage I am apart of will be a political match, and within an arranged marriage I have no legal right to demand monogamy from my partner.” His hands clenched at his sides, memories of Tristan and their last fight threatening to rise up and engulf him.

“Nor social right either,” Henri-André said. “The ideal is for you to be cordial with each other, but these are not love matches.”

“I know,” Gilbert said again.

“I want my children to be happy.” Henri-André stood and moved around the table to stand beside Gilbert at the window. “I want all of you to marry men and women you consider friends. Those you will be happy with, will be able to build strong households with, be able to sit and talk and laugh with. But I cannot promise you love; I can promise you your husband’s fidelity in politics and business, but not in your bedchamber and not in his heart.”

“I don’t love Marcel.” Gilbert held up his hand before Henri-André could object. “He is one of my best friends, but I don’t love him in a romantic way. Marcel and Julian, though, they are both from good families, and titled. If they were to marry each other it would be a good political match, and a love match. I’m not denying one of my best friends that. Especially when I can’t offer it in return.”

“His mother has already agreed to the engagement.” Henri-André turned away from the window. “If the Marquis objects, or if you can think of a better reason why this would be a poor match for you, I will reconsider my decision.”

Gilbert stared at his father’s back for a few moments and then bent in a small bow. “Of course.”

Henri-André sighed and went to sit back at his desk. “Be happy, Gilbert. There are a lot worse marriages you could be facing.”

“I know.” He felt like that was all he’d said today.

Henri-André waved his hand in dismissal, head already bent over the stack of papers on his desk.

Gilbert let himself out and headed down the hallway from Henri-André’s wing of the palace towards his own.

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