His true queen, p.12
His True Queen, p.12Jodi Ellen Malpas
Kim enters, standing by the open door. “Her Royal Highness Princess Helen, Your Majesty.”
The fact that this woman has a royal title is even more laughable than me having one. Her crime, trying to cheat the line of succession in her own favor, is beyond my comprehension. Here I am, conflicted between fighting my royal status and embracing it, often thinking of ways out of this hell, and there is Helen, who so desperately wanted to take on this madness, who got pregnant by another man to secure her position.
She appears, as pristine and well-turned-out as always, every hair on her pretty head perfectly in place. She’s in black, a demonstration of her continued state of mourning. The bow of her head is minimal and forced, no graciousness in sight. And she doesn’t address me, not by title nor by name. Impudent woman. Although she does wait to be invited to sit.
“Please,” I say, waving a hand to the chair opposite me, which she takes, quietly and calmly. I’m attempting to understand her intention but failing terribly. “You asked to see me.”
“Yes, I wanted to clarify my position within the family.” Her chin lifts in an act of confidence, which I determine rather quickly is fake.
I sit up straight, never taking my eyes from hers. It’s a bit of a staring deadlock, something I would never usually engage in, but with Helen, I cannot resist. Every word this woman has ever spoken to me has been drenched in disdain. Now is no different. “I believe the Queen Mother already clarified your position.”
“She told me nothing more than my secret was safe. You were there, if I recall.” She’s stoic, deadpan, completely emotionless.
“You recall correctly.” I collect the glass of ready-poured water to the side of my desk and drink half, moistening my parched mouth. “So am I to assume you are here now to establish what privileges you will retain?” I should strip her of everything, yet the message that might give won’t be welcomed by anyone.
“For my silence, yes.”
“Your silence?” I all but cough. “You mean the matter of you betraying the Heir Apparent?”
“I did what was necessary to keep the Monarchy stable. The King made it clear I was to produce an heir.”
And once again I am reminded of the pressure my father ruthlessly inflicted in the name of his throne. “I think he meant with his son, Helen.”
Her jaw pulses steadily. “Don’t you think we tried? For years I’ve waited each month in the hopes it would be the news I wanted. It never was. I was desperate. What would you have done?”
“We are not talking about me.”
“Oh, probably sensible. We could be here quite a while if we were to go over every detail of your crimes. And now you’re Queen? It’s a mockery to the throne.” She snorts her disgust, waving a deranged hand in the air. The cool, calm woman who walked into my office has long gone, and I fear I’m heading toward unhinged as well. “And Eddie’s deeply affected by his military service? Since when? There’s something more to it, there has to be, and Lord knows it must be something serious if they’re prepared to let Eddie step aside and hand you the crown.”
I’m not quite sure what happens, but I’m up from my chair quickly, leaning across the desk. “Enough,” I grate, outraged, but not in the least bit surprised Helen would hit below the belt. “Matters of this family are no longer any of your concern. Edward is struggling with readjusting on homeland, and we support him.” My words are spoken for the sake of it. Helen will know a lie has been fabricated to mask a monster scandal. Of course she’ll know, but it is not her concern. My fierce need to protect Eddie overwhelms me, not only from Helen, but from the world. “You may have taken great pleasure in bringing me down over the years, may have gotten away with it, but you will not get away with it any longer. I am your Queen, and you will treat me as such.” I don’t think I’ve ever taken greater pleasure in saying those words, and I seem to be saying them an awful lot.
Helen retreats in her chair, her surprise obvious.
“Who is the father?” I question, turning her surprise into squirming.
“That is not your concern now, is it?”
Not my concern? “Am I to be prepared for any unexpected stories from unexpected men to hit the media?”
“Let’s just say he has a lot more to lose than I have.”
I cock my head, but she remains silent. She won’t tell me. Do I care? No. Whoever was stupid enough to fall victim to Helen’s scheming, probably some high-profile businessman, deserves to sweat. If he even knows the child she’s carrying is his. “I’ll ask you kindly that if there is a risk of anyone crawling out of the woodwork with some surprise news, you advise me immediately. And for this silence you speak of, for your cooperation,” I continue, “you may retain your title as Duchess of Oxfordshire, but your love child will not have one. You will be given an allowance justified by what I, as Queen, deem appropriate based on the advice of my closest aides. You will be given accommodation, the Gatehouse in the grounds of the Holmestead Estate, and when you remarry, you will be required to vacate the premises. All of those gifts will be withdrawn should you decide to share your secret, but be warned, Your Highness, it will be you who will be scorned should that eventuality arise. You betrayed my brother’s trust. You are lucky you are getting a thing from me.”
Her eyes scream shock, though she’s doing a better job of masking it from her face now. She didn’t think I had it in me. Honestly, neither did I. But now I have truly grasped the gravity of the lies that have shaped my life.
“When did family become so important to you?” Helen practically hisses.
“When it became clear they were depending on me to protect their name and dignity.” My answer comes too naturally, like an instinct I never knew I had. “Do you have anything further to say?”
Her long inhale tells me she has plenty more to say, yet I know Helen, and she knows what is good for her. Challenging me wouldn’t be good for her. I’ll make sure of it, take her title and her privileges, because I know how much she values them. Helen is not the kind of person to cut off her nose to spite her face. She wants security and recognition. So backing down, she clears her throat. “No, ma’am.”
“Then we are done.” I push my hands onto the desk and stand up straight, my furious eyes nailed to my sister-in-law. “Goodbye,” I add, reinforcing the end of our conversation.
Helen slowly stands, looking a little shell-shocked. She turns to leave, and I just can’t help delivering one last jab to her stinking attitude. “You will address me appropriately from this moment on, Helen. And as is required, you will bid me farewell and thank me for my time. Now.”
She swallows, possibly ingesting her pride with it. “Thank you for your time, Your Majesty.”
“You may leave.”
She’s probably wondering what has happened to me. Lies, that’s what. Mountains of them that she and the rest of the world will never know about. But those lies will rule me for eternity.
When the door closes, I take a seat for a few moments and breathe through my own shock. I didn’t know I had it in me either, but I keep demonstrating small signs of strength and power. The question is, are these bursts of authority my instinctive nature to do what I am supposed to do as a Royal, or are they acts of revenge on the people who buried me alive for so many years? Am I being dictated by bitterness and resentment? I drop my head back and close my tired eyes for a moment, contemplating just that. “Who are you, Adeline?” I ask myself, because I really do not know.
Mine. Josh’s voice tumbles through my tangled mind. You are mine.
Yet there is no voice claiming that I should be the Queen.
THE SCENERY IS DIFFERENT AS I’m driven from Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, but my thoughts are the same, my mind spinning around the endless questions, as it has done this entire past week. My life hasn’t been absent of busyness, but there is one absence I have felt the most.
The man who claims to love me fiercely. I have not heard from him. T
I can do this. I can’t do this. I can live without Josh. I can’t live without Josh. I am supposed to be Queen. I am not supposed to be Queen.
My mind has constantly wandered to Josh, but each time, as if by magic, or maybe because God knows I am distracted, I have been presented with something to do, someone to see, some place to be. And each time I have fulfilled my obligations, I have felt drained and disheartened. No one who carries the crown should begrudge their duties, and I begrudge mine somewhat terribly. And then I have those waves of defiance creep up on me when I am feeling low, hearing my father’s curt words.
You are an aberration, Adeline. A disgrace to the Monarchy.
That may be so, but without question, the public has embraced me. Endless reports in the newspapers, the monarchists singing my praises, and even the republicans backing down. At least, that is what I’m told by the PR team and communications. Apparently, reading the tabloids isn’t on my priority list. On that note, I take my eyes to my lap and the magazine Kim got for me for the journey to Washington, the one I am yet to turn the first page of. And as soon as I do, I wish I hadn’t. “Good grief, why can’t he just go away?”
“Pardon, ma’am?” Kim looks at me in alarm, and I slam the cover shut on the exquisite shot of Josh on a red carpet in a tuxedo.
“Pesky fly,” I mutter, swatting the window with the magazine. “It’s been buzzing in my face since we left the airport.”
“It has?” Kim scans the window while I smack my magazine all over it, mentally shaking my head at myself. I’m surprised my brain was so quick to think, since it has been thumping for weeks. When was that picture of Josh taken? Where in the world is he right now? Stop!
“I got it,” I say, catching Damon’s smiling eyes in the rearview mirror. He can stop with that mockery right this minute. I’m holding him entirely responsible for my heartache. Had he not plotted with Josh to get me to his hotel, I would not be feeling so despondent. Of course, I’m passing the blame, but I will only admit that secretly. Nothing could prevent this hopelessness other than the disappearance of all my woes, and that is not likely to happen. Ever.
“The St. Regis, ma’am,” Damon announces as we pull up to the hotel. I admire the frontage for a few moments while Damon gets out and calls on his men, and Jenny starts faffing with my hair and makeup, ensuring I don’t look like I feel. A wreck. When Damon opens the door, he looks at me with a fond smile. “Ready?”
“No,” I admit wryly, taking a deep breath and sliding out. Men move in from every direction, shielding me from the cameras. My visit to the States has been wildly anticipated, the news endless. This scene outside the hotel is not a surprise to me. There are railings in place, police guarding them. I pull my smile from nowhere and keep my chin high. “Thank you,” I say, making it into the lobby unscathed.
“This way, ma’am.” Kim motions to the elevators, and I’m soon safely inside being whisked to the heavens.
Sir Don and Dr. Goodridge remain quiet, just as they have for most of the journey here. If I’d had my way, I would have left them in London. But it is unheard of for the Monarch to travel without their private doctor and closest aide. I did, however, get away with leaving David Sampson behind, thank God. I’m still feeling disheartened that Davenport didn’t report for duty the morning after I paid him a visit. But did I really expect him to accept my offer? Or, more to the point, heed my demand? Deep down, I didn’t. But I certainly hoped.
“The itinerary for this evening,” Kim says, flashing me her phone. “We are due to arrive at the White House at seven. We must leave by six thirty to ensure our prompt arrival.”
“Six fifteen,” Sir Don says to the elevator doors, not gracing Kim with his attention. “If we are to arrive promptly, we must leave at six fifteen.”
Kim’s nostrils flare, her eyes narrowed on Sir Don’s back. “Six fifteen,” she confirms, giving me her attention again. “Jenny and Olive will be with you by three to help you get ready.”
“Three?” I question. Jenny’s gotten me ready in an hour before. Why such a long haul?
A small shrug from Kim. “It’s America, ma’am. Your dress for the state dinner this evening is highly anticipated. I don’t want to disappoint your fans.”
“Oh, you funny thing,” I say, letting Damon lead when the doors open and Sir Don and Dr. Goodridge have opened the path for me. “So what you are saying is, I have to knock them dead?” I ask over my shoulder. I catch Sir Don’s tired eyes, and I take the greatest pleasure from it.
“Your face will be on every magazine, newspaper, and television tomorrow.” Kim grins. “So, yes, let’s knock them dead. The world is watching, ma’am. It’s your first state dinner and with the most powerful country in the world.”
“Quite,” I muse. No one ever told me twice to pull out all the stops when it comes to my attire. “Then we will do just that,” I say, breezing into the suite, feeling a little . . . powerful. And it isn’t because the whole of America is watching me. It’s because I know Josh will be. Being Queen of England is not my calling? We’ll see about that.
I take one of the bags from Olive. “Make sure this is sparkling brightly for this evening,” I say, handing the case to Kim.
“What is it?” She rests the bag on a nearby table and flips the catch. I don’t answer and instead let her discover for herself. As soon as she’s seen what is in the case, she darts her eyes to mine. But she doesn’t get to voice her concern.
Sir Don steps in. “Ma’am, you must wear the Sovereign’s crown. That tiara is a Spanish Royal Family heirloom.”
“I’m wearing my grandmother’s tiara.” I dismiss his concern and head for the bedroom, not prepared to be told what to do. Not today. Not by him. I’m in control.
I STAND IN FRONT OF the mirror while Jenny perfects my tousled waves, telling myself off when I realize I’m nibbling my bottom lip. I’m nervous, and I’m a little mad with myself for being so. This is my first official engagement. This is the first time I’m officially representing my country as Queen. “Good grief,” I murmur, circling my swishing tummy with a clammy palm.
“Everything okay?” Jenny asks, and Kim looks up from her phone where she’s sitting on the couch in the window. Olive, bless her, remains quiet, waiting for another order from Jenny. She’s taking her new role very seriously.
“Yes, fine.” I brush them off with a little wave of my hand. “Do I look okay?” I ask, making all three women frown. Never before have I asked that question, and it is a huge giveaway to my internal doubt.
Kim shakes her head mildly, going back to her phone, and I can’t help but smile. She’s wearing a dress. She never wears a dress. “You look particularly lovely this evening,” I say as Jenny smooths down the back of my floor-length, strapless, black satin gown.
A tired eye peeks up at me from her phone. “And?”
“And you look lovely,” I repeat on a miniscule shrug.
Jenny rearranges the diamond choker that’s circling my neck and adds dangling diamond-encrusted earrings to my lobes. “Can you walk okay?” she asks, nodding to where my dress fits tightly until it splays mid-thigh and pools on the floor.
“Well, I made it from the bathroom to here without stumbling. Goodness, could you imagine that? Me taking a tumble in front of all those people?” My nerves escalate, and Jenny dabs my cheeks, probably blotting away the nervous sheen of sweat that’s just sprung up on my face. My heels have held me up all my adult life. They won’t fail me now.
“This is very unlike you.” She goes to her makeup case and pulls out a tray. “What’s happened?”
“What’s happened?” I laugh. “Do you really need to ask that question, Jenny? A few weeks ago, I was Princess Adeline of England. Defiant, reckless, and lightyears away from the throne. Today, I’m standing in the suite of the St. Regis prep
She doesn’t say a word, just holds up two lipsticks. One red, my signature color, and the other a subtle nude. My eyes jump from one to the other, torn. It wouldn’t usually cause me such a headache to pick a color for my lips. Red. Always red. But today for some unknown reason, I’m gravitating towards the pretty, non-scandalous nude. Why? “Nude. No, red.” I nod, and Jenny pops the lid and twists the color up. “No, nude,” I blurt. “God, whatever is wrong with me?” I pace to the bed and perch on the end, feeling at the heavy choker decorating my neck. “No, red.” I stand again. “I’m not changing my lip color to appease the stuffy institution. This dress needs red, therefore it shall have red.” I put myself back in front of the mirror. “Red,” I affirm.
“Red it is.” Jenny gets to work painting my lips, and once she’s done, she steps back and assesses them. “Lady Danger. Perfect.”
She holds up the MAC lipstick. “It’s called Lady Danger, ma’am.”
“How ironic,” I muse, rolling my lips and pouting them slightly, deciding that Jenny is right. The red is perfect. And there’s no question I am a lady of danger.
“And now this.” Jenny approaches, holding my grandmother’s elegant tiara, a small smile on her face. “You really are going against the grain, aren’t you?”
“They’d have me in a horrendous suit in a heartbeat if I allow it. Could you imagine?” I bet Sir Don is out there right now, waiting to see if I meet his approval. I laugh on the inside. I’m glad I chose red lips.
Jenny laughs and slips the tiara on my head, fixing the hair framing my face once she’s done. On a small nod of approval, she steps back and opens the way to my reflection. “It’s really very stunning,” she muses.
His True Queen by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4.6 out of 5 / Based on41 votes