Excerpt: 'The White Queen'

He flashes a smile at me, and I catch my breath. "Because I have never lost a battle," he says simply. "I never will. I am quick on the field, and I am skilled; I am brave and I am lucky. My army moves faster than any other; I make them march fast and I move them fully armed. I outguess and I outpace my enemy. I don't lose battles. I am lucky in war as I am lucky in love. I have never lost in either game. I won't lose against Margaret of Anjou; I will win."

I laugh at his confidence, as if I am not impressed; but in truth he dazzles me.

He finishes his cup of ale and gets to his feet. "Thank you for your kindness," he says.

"You're going? You're going now?" I stammer.

"You will write down for me the details of your claim?"

"Yes. But—" "Names and dates and so on? The land that you say is yours and the details of your ownership?"

I almost clutch his sleeve to keep him with me, like a beggar. "I will, but—"

"Then I will bid you adieu."

There is nothing I can do to stop him, unless my mother has thought to lame his horse.

"Yes, Your Grace, and thank you. But you are most welcome to stay. We will dine soon...or—"

"No, I must go. My friend William Hastings will be waiting for me."

"Of course, of course. I don't wish to delay you..."

I walk with him to the door. I am anguished at his leaving so abruptly, and yet I cannot think of anything to make him stay. At the threshold he turns and takes my hand. He bows his fair head low and, deliciously, turns my hand. He presses a kiss into my palm and folds my fingers over the kiss as if to keep it safe. When he comes up smiling, I see that he knows perfectly well that this gesture has made me melt and that I will keep my hand clasped until bedtime when I can put it to my mouth.

He looks down at my entranced face, at my hand that stretches, despite myself, to touch his sleeve. Then he relents. "I shall fetch the paper that you prepare, myself, tomorrow," he says. "Of course. Did you think differently? How could you? Did you think I could walk away from you, and not come back? Of course I am coming back. Tomorrow at noon. Will I see you then?"

He must hear my gasp. The color rushes back into my face so that my cheeks are burning hot. "Yes," I stammer. "T...tomorrow."

"At noon. And I will stay to dinner, if I may."

"We will be honored."

He bows to me and turns and walks down the hall, through the wide-flung double doors and out into the bright sunlight. I put my hands behind me and I hold the great wooden door for support. Truly, my knees are too weak to hold me up.

"He's gone?" my mother asks, coming quietly through the little side door.

"He's coming back tomorrow," I say. "He's coming back tomorrow. He's coming back to see me tomorrow."

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