Excerpt from "Desire's Detective" by Desirée Cronson and Manuela Cardiga
Desireé bounced out of her bed, and onto her knees. Closing her eyes, she gave herself over to her prayers. She missed the quiet routines of the convent; the safe patterned life. Mostly she missed Matins: the morning prayers that seemed somehow to cleanse her soul and affirm her faith; her strength for facing life’s daily challenges.
She rose to her feet and stripping off her nightgown, proceeded to wash herself vigorously with the cold water in the laver by the bed. She was washing off the last of the soap when a tiny noise behind her made her spin on her heels. She was face-to-face with Jean, the King’s brother!
He stood with one hand on the door, his mouth opened; his eyes riveted to her body, on the small high virginal breasts, the taut pink nipples pearled with water. With a cry, Desireé grabbed for her gown where she’d left it at the bottom of the bed, and pressed it to her chest. Something fell from the gown’s silken folds: a box.
A red lacquer box inlaid with mother-of-pearl rolled across the Persian carpet, spilling its contents at the Duc d’Orleans feet. Jean bent down gathering the box and its contents, using the moment to mask his perturbation at the sight of the girl’s nudity.
Desireé ducked behind a Chinese screen and quickly pulled her gown on over her wet skin.
She heard an exclamation and peeked out to see Jean bent over the desk, examining the box: her curiosity was definitely stronger than her embarrassment. She slowly approached the table and peered around Jean’s bent back to try and catch a glimpse of what he’d found.
He looked up at her, black eyes snapping with excitement. “Where is Noelle? Quick, call her.”
Desireé crossed the sitting room and knocked on her cousin’s door.
“I don’t think she’ll be up at this hour…” To her surprise Noelle opened the door immediately. She was fully dressed, immaculately made up and coiffed, and with a feverish gleam in her wide eyes.
“Good morning Desireé, Jean…I thought our meeting was set for 10 o’clock…I was about to go to her Majesty’s sitting-room to help serve her morning chocolate.”
“Forget the chocolate.” Jean’s eyes glittered, “Look at this… Declarations on the birth of a Royal child, a Diploma signed by the Court Midwife, who reports that the Royal Tattoo was placed as is usual on a presumptive heir, but the date…This was eight years before Louis’s birth.”
“The child obviously died…” put in Noelle.
“You don’t understand! There was no other male child. Only three girls, one born dead, one dead at four, and one who is supposed to be deformed, she was sent to St Cyr (we have an aunt there too); then two years later Louis was born, and then last, (but not least!) myself.”
The three stared at each other in bewilderment: another Royal Heir, and older than the King. He would take precedence; he could overthrow Louis XV and take the throne…