His true queen, p.14
His True Queen, p.14Jodi Ellen Malpas
“I think that’s a very good idea.” Kim has a quick word with the nearby curator, who is keen to show us personally to the restrooms.
“Please, excuse me,” I say to the President. “All that water I drank on the flight to keep hydrated is catching up with me.”
He chuckles. “Take your time, ma’am.”
I nod my thank you and follow Kim, my ladies-in-waiting close on my heels to help with anything I may need help with. Can they locate my composure? Set my mask back in place? The crowds part for me as we make our way through, nods and smiles pointing my way. I try my hardest to return them, but with my drastically depleting equanimity, there is an increased urgency to hide myself until I can be sure I have got myself together.
“In here, ma’am.” Kim opens a door for me and runs a quick check of the stalls. Once she’s satisfied there are no other guests occupying the space, she lets me in. As soon as I pass the threshold, I turn and take the door, halting Olive’s intention to follow me in. She jolts to a stop and looks at me in confusion. “I just need a moment,” I tell her, ignoring Kim’s disapproving look as I shut the door in Olive’s perplexed face.
“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness.” I rest my palms on the door and let my forehead meet the wood. I’ve been here for little over an hour. I have the whole evening to get through, all the while smiling and concentrating on my conversation and duty. I can’t possibly think of anything else other than him at the best of times, but when he’s lurking in the background? He could have declined his invite this evening. He didn’t have to be here. The whole wretched world knows I’m at the White House tonight, so I can’t even conclude that perhaps he was unaware. He knew. He knew I’d be here, but despite each conclusion I am reaching, I need to perhaps spend a little time on wondering why he is here. Our last encounter was perfection followed by horror. He said things that were both unreasonable and incomprehensible. Whether he realizes it or not, he threw an ultimatum at me, and despite part of his speech being somewhat accurate, his selfishness struck me hard. How self-centered he sounded, how unthoughtful and inconsiderate. How he doubts my ability, too. He was thinking only of himself, not of what I would be faced with. Not the backlash my family would be forced to endure because of me. And tonight, coming here knowing I’d see him, shows his selfishness again. It’s as though he’s taunting me for the lack of choice I have, throwing it in my face. I hadn’t thought him capable of such a thing. And I feel so very disappointed. What the hell am I going to do? I can’t face him. Can’t look at the man I thought I knew so well.
I pull my forehead sharply from the door when a knock vibrates through the wood and sinks into my head. “Yes?”
“Need any assistance?” Kim calls.
I don’t know. Do I? Pacing to the mirrors, I take one look at myself and conclude that yes, I do need assistance. Perhaps an escape vehicle to get me away from here. Oh, how I would love to get away from here, and if I were anyone else in the world, I would. But I’m not anyone else in the world, and as I’m continuously reminded, the world is watching. Like hawks. “Come in,” I call.
I’m quickly joined by Kim, Olive, and Jenny, and while Jenny tops up my makeup, Olive ensures my tiara is straight. And Kim? She’s silent. Worried. Disapproving. I bet she is ready to put the PR people on standby. And I bet they’re all waiting in the wings for me to put one foot wrong. I bet my father is looking down and shaking his kingly head at his poor excuse of a daughter. That thought alone has me straightening my shoulders and standing tall. “I’m ready,” I declare, taking myself in. I expect Josh saw my barely hidden meltdown. I expect he relished the thought of being the cause.
Chin high, a smile in place, I break away from the hands still working on fixing me and leave the restroom. When I open the door, there is a line of people waiting to get in. “My apologies,” I say graciously, heading back to the East Room. “What’s next?” I ask Kim as she keeps up with my determined strides.
“Reception drinks, a speech from the President, and then from you. Do you need a refresh, or is it all saved?”
“I read that speech one hundred times on the flight. I could say it in my sleep.”
“Good. Put emphasize on the finale, passion in your voice. We reserved British need to let go a little when we’re with the Americans.”
I wince a little. “So since I’m here celebrating our diplomatic ties, I should sound pleased about it? Is that what you mean?”
“It would help,” Kim replies dryly. Well, I was pleased to be here. Until I noticed a certain guest. Now, I’m not pleased at all. Just worried. And hot. “Then after the speeches, dinner and conversation.”
“Where is Sir Don?” I ask, knowing he’s never far, lurking, waiting for me to trip.
“He’s chatting with the mayor of New York. I believe they know each other from their military days. They’re being given a tour of the Oval Office.”
I breathe out, relieved. “Okay.” As we enter the East Room, I don’t look for Josh, but focus on the President when he moves in, having been waiting for my return. “I think it may be time to get you a drink.”
Yes, a drink. “A man after my own heart,” I say, linking arms with him when he offers. I like Ed. Unlike the previous president, he seems a little more real, therefore likable. Mature, distinguished, and charming. “Tell me,” I muse as he leads me through the crowds, “how are you finding the demands of leadership?”
“Well.” He smiles, nodding to people as we pass through, all of them following our path to the far side of the expansive room. We stop and a waiter steps forward. The President takes a flute of champagne and places it in my hand. “It is demanding, as you would expect. Fulfilling yet draining. But since I signed up for it, I can hardly complain about it.” He chinks his glass with mine. “And you? The life is no different, I expect, but the duties more demanding.”
“And I didn’t sign up for it,” I say without thought, ridiculing myself the moment I utter the stupid words. “What I mean is, it was a little unexpected, of course, and one must take the time one needs to adapt.”
“If my opinion is of any value, I would say you are doing a fine job so far.”
I laugh lightly. “That is very kind of you, if a little untrue.”
Blimey, what am I doing showing my weaknesses so freely? Yet Ed has an aura of friendliness so rarely found in my world. “If I’m honest, Ed,” I say cheekily, moving in a little so I’m not heard, “all this queen business is a little out of my depth.”
“I don’t believe you.” His smile only enhances his genuine persona. “The world loves you.”
“Maybe so, but that does not mean I have the first idea what I am doing. So you must be nice to me.” I grin a little, and he laughs.
“It’s easy to be nice to people who are genuinely nice themselves.”
My smile now is broad, and for the first time in my reign, I feel like I’ve found a friend. Someone who understands me. “So does that mean I can continue to class you as an ally to my country?”
“I think it does.”
“Splendid. The Prime Minister will be pleased when I debrief him on my trip. He’s mighty hard to please.”
“Oh, Your Majesty, you are really something else.” The President takes some champagne, smiling over the rim.
“Why, thank you. I quite like you, too.”
We chuckle together, and I gaze around the huge room, spotting Damon on the far side, his presence large but subtle. His discreet thumbs up is returned by myself, and then I give the charming president my attention once again.
And die on the spot the second I see him. “Your Majesty, allow me to introduce you to Josh Jameson.”
The vision before me is enough to put me on my knees. The most handsome man alive, as proven in polls the world over, is staring at me intensely. Dressed in an exquisite black suit, the base of a tumbler sits in his palm. His hair is a little tamer today, roughed up carefully with some wax. His ski
My brain mush, I offer him my hand. He stares at me for a long time, not accepting, and I glance to the President to see if he’s noticed the delay. The First Lady has moved in and is talking to him, so, thankfully, no. My hand is still hanging between us when I force my eyes back to Josh, and like it takes every morsel of his strength, he accepts, defying protocol and dropping his mouth to the back of my hand. I don’t know what comes over me—a misplaced power, perhaps, or a need to keep control—but I push my hand to his mouth firmly. “How ironic,” I murmur quietly, “that it is now you who is bowing to me.”
His lips stretch across the back of my hand as he tightens his hold, slowly lifting his eyes as he straightens. The sparks colliding between us could set the White House alight.
“You may have a crown upon your head, Your Majesty,” he whispers, his thumb now moving in slow circles across the back of my hand, “but remember who your king is.”
My chest expands, and I quickly snatch my hand away, remembering where I am and who is here. “It is very lovely to see you again,” I say calmly.
“Oh, you’ve met?” the President asks as he joins us again, seeming pleased by this.
“Yes, I’ve had the pleasure before,” Josh muses, the increasing blaze of his stare threatening to reduce me to dust at any moment. “I attended Her Majesty’s birthday garden party with my father.”
“Of course. Terrific.” The President looks past me when a man approaches, advising him that it’s time for the speeches. “Ah, yes. Shall we?”
I smile and rip my eyes away from Josh, ready to be escorted away, but the curator is now talking with the President, and my escape is delayed. It also means Josh gets his opportunity to move in, which he does swiftly, crowding me. “You wore that tiara on purpose.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I sniff, refusing to look at him.
“Oh, I think you do.”
I’m not fooling him, I realize that, but I would never admit what he already knows. I expected him to see it in a picture tomorrow, or perhaps on television. I certainly didn’t expect to be facing him.
Braving confronting him, I smile, that simple gesture saying it all. All smugness falls from his face, his chest expanding beneath his suit on a deep, controlled breath. “You have an uncanny ability to render me stupid, Your Majesty.”
My head cocks naturally. “I do?”
A lazy, provocative smile creeps across my lips, and it’s not something I have the desire to stop, no matter how suggestive it may seem. I’ve never relished rendering a man stupid as much as I relish rendering Josh stupid. Knowing he’s as thunderstruck as I am by our blazing chemistry somehow fills the void inside me with confidence. With power. With smugness. “How very inconvenient.”
“I think we need to talk.”
“I think you said everything perfectly clearly the last time we spoke.”
“And I think you’re being stubborn.” His jaw takes on an edge of tightness. Angry looks good on him. Sexy. Thrilling. Because it is me who is making him angry. Good. Perhaps now he knows how I was feeling when I left his suite over a week ago.
“I’m not being stubborn, Josh,” I state quietly. “I am being strong, and one has to be when in my world.”
“Are you saying I make you weak?”
“Bullshit. I make you who you really are, Adeline.”
My composure falters. His words sting terribly, reminding me that, of all the people in this world, Josh is the only one who really knows me. Yet if he really knew me, wouldn’t he realize that simply being here on such an important moment in my new reign would destabilize me? Of course he knows he would make me wobble. Maybe that’s his plan, to prove something. Whatever that might be. Unlucky for Josh, I have a bigger point to prove, and it seems I have to prove it to him now, too.
I flit my eyes left and right, catching Kim’s apprehension and Damon’s caution. Both are ready to move in. “I believe it would be a good idea to avoid each other for the rest of the evening.”
“And what about after that?”
“There is no after that,” I say calmly, breezing past him when the President gestures the way. How I got myself through that confrontation is a mystery. The ache building inside me is borderline unbearable, and every reason why I love Josh Jameson is quickly monopolizing my head. His passion, his drive, his unapologetic approach to life. And the fact that when it comes to me, he just doesn’t give a shit about my status. Although right now, that lack of deference has made me terribly uncomfortable, and I don’t like it at all.
I SAID THE WORDS I remembered from my speech, but I fear I was robotic rather than passionate. I’m now sandwiched between the President and the First Lady at the head table, and my wine is being kept to a minimum. Honestly, I could grab the bottle from the server and drink the entire thing in a few glorious seconds.
Thankfully, Josh has been seated at the far end of the room, so catching his eye during dinner hasn’t happened. That is, until he stands and watches me as he pushes his chair under and fastens the button of his jacket. I look away.
“You know,” the First Lady says from beside me, pulling my attention to her. “That Josh Jameson is sinfully handsome but an utter rogue.”
“I beg your pardon?” I splutter, startled.
She stills in her chair and looks at me with worried eyes. “Oh God, Your Majesty, please, forgive me. My mouth sometimes runs away with me. It’s just, you’re so young, and you seem so relatable. I should remember you’re the Queen.”
My startle wasn’t because what she was saying was highly inappropriate, not in the least. I was surprised because she sounds like she knows Josh on a personal level. “There’s no need to apologize,” I assure her. “Please, go on.”
Melitza looks at me, unsure as to whether she should indulge me in such taboo dinner conversation. She shouldn’t, no doubt, but my curiosity is raging. So I do a truly despicable thing and use my position of power to get the information I want. “I might be the Queen of England, but I’m still a woman.” I take my half-full wine glass and have a tiny sip. “And women talk.” I give her a friendly smile. “Just because we take on a job of this magnitude doesn’t change the fact that we are women.” Am I hearing myself right? “So, you dated him?”
I nod, trying to appear nonchalant. “For long?”
She laughs mildly. “Not at all. I ended it rather swiftly.”
She ended it? Damn it. Why does that annoy me? Goodness, is he here for her or me? Are women in high-powered positions his thing? Is it a sick game to him, to nail the most famous woman he can? Well, he’s hit the jackpot with me. Reason after reason spirals until my head hurts. “Why?” I ask.
She smiles and looks past me to her husband, and it all becomes clear. Or does it? Ed Twaine is a handsome man, but he has nothing on Josh Jameson. “Josh wouldn’t commit. Avoided exclusivity at all costs. Ed gave me what I wanted. Was a safer option.”
Safer. Oh, I bet. And if my memory serves me correctly, Melitza got her claws into Ed Twaine very soon after he was tipped to become President. Did Josh spank her? Tie her up? Oh goodness, I can’t even ask those questions, and I despise myself for wanting to. I feel like my heart is being scratched.
“Although I have to say,” she goes on, “Josh Jameson is an animal in the bedroom.”
The woman has no filter. None at all, and I’m not taking responsibility for encouraging her, because I definitely didn’t encourage that much information out of her. Not out loud, at least. Realizing I truly didn’t want to know, I smile tightly, probably confusing the poor woman, and turn away from her, catching sight of Josh once again. His eyes. There is determination in his stare, and it’s making me feel uneasy. Because he is the one and only person in this world who will not respect my position.
“Did you enjoy your dessert, ma’am?” the Preside
“Delicious,” I answer, fighting back the pangs of anxiety attacking me. I need distraction. Anything to divert my mind from . . . him. We’ve talked politics and all things official. Maybe some light chitchat. Something easy. “So how is married life?” I ask, holding my hand up to stop the server pouring more wine into my glass. Sir Don has been watching my wine glass more closely than he has been watching me.
The President’s nod is sharp and short. “A whirlwind romance, I believe the press deemed it.”
“Oh, take no notice of the press. They don’t know high from low.”
“Very true,” he says softly, and I smile, prompting him to go on. “I know what they say. My age, her age. That she married me for status and power. But what they don’t know is that Melitza is a very wealthy woman in her own right.”
“Her father was a private oil tycoon. Billionaire. He passed away when Melitza was a little girl, only two years after she lost her mother.”
“Oh, how terribly sad.”
“Very. She can be a little ditzy now and then, but she’s a very smart woman. Beauty and brains, an absolute whizz on the stock market.”
“Then why does the press have such an incorrect misconception of her?”
“Because I’m knocking on fifty and she is twenty-nine. Because she is beautiful. Because despite being intelligent and driven, she doesn’t have the time for politics.” He smiles across at her fondly, and I can’t help but mirror it. Twenty-nine. One year younger than me. Melitza also has a huge responsibility on her shoulders. “I knew marrying her might hamper my chances in the election campaigns, but I wasn’t about to let the American public choose who I should be with. I wasn’t going to marry someone out of pressure and obligation.”
I inwardly flinch. “Why does she not set the record straight? It must hurt to have the press judge her so very wrongly.” I can’t help the twinge of guilt I have, because I did the same. I judged her.
“She would rather let them get on with things than have them prying into her fortunes and past family tragedies. In her words, she and I know the deal, so what does it matter? I do my job well. The public is happy with the progress we’re making during my time in office. Melitza is here to love me and support me, not to win the public’s approval.
His True Queen by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4.6 out of 5 / Based on41 votes