His true queen, p.21
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       His True Queen, p.21

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  Her face drops. “I’m trying to do my job. To advise you.”

  “Your job is also to support me. I have enough people advising me.” I glance up to see Damon and Josh have almost made it to freedom. Thank goodness. “Kim,” I return my attention to her, “your job may be somewhat different, but I am not. I expect I will run into many brick walls during my reign, be told exactly what I must do. Some things, I won’t have a choice. Others, I will stand my ground as long as it’s not detrimental to anyone going forward. Whether you agree with me or not, I need you in my corner. I need a friend, and you have always been a friend to me.”

  I watch as she softens in her chair, and her lip definitely quivers. “I just want to do the best job. I want to impress, show I’m capable.”

  For years, Kim has been by my side. I have never seen her falter or look vulnerable. But seeing her concern reminds me that it’s not only me affected by my new position. Damon has handled my role change seamlessly, as I would expect. Yet clearly, Kim is feeling more pressure than I understood. Until now. She is capable but needs to be bolstered and trained. Davenport needs to return. God, I so wish he would return. I silently accept that that isn’t going to happen. I haven’t heard from him, which I guess is his answer without formally answering me. So I need Kim to understand she is my confidant, and I need her to rise to the level required. “Who do you want to impress, Kim? Who do you want to do the best job for?” I ask. “Them, or me? And since your future is in my hands, I suggest you consider your answer wisely.”

  Her elbows hit the table, her hands holding up her heavy head. “Of course, you.” There is nothing but sincerity in her tone, and maybe a little regret.

  I reach across the table and take her hand, giving it a thankful squeeze, and I am just drawing breath to voice my thanks, when a huge clatter sounds.

  I look up and find Damon on the floor and Josh standing over him, an array of various luggage items caught up in his legs. “Shit,” Damon curses as Kim swings around. “Missed those.”

  Josh snorts, Damon shrugs sheepishly, and Kim slowly turns back toward me, her head tilted in question.

  Oh shit. What fools.

  “Oh look.” I smile sweetly and pop another small pastry into my mouth. “Josh Jameson is staying in the same hotel as me.”

  “And the plot thickens,” Kim sighs.

  “WHAT DUMB ARSE PUT ALL these bags here?” Damon grumbles as Josh helps him up from the floor. “Hasn’t anyone heard of risk management?”

  “I have,” Kim quips. “Apparently it’s not necessary around these parts.”

  I shoot her a tired look and get up from the table, holding up the coffee pot. “Caffeine?”

  “God, yeah.” Josh moves in quickly and seizes the goods from my hand, surprising me with a hard, chaste kiss on the lips before pouring and downing his coffee.

  I press my lips together and flick Kim a cheesy, nervous grin. “It seems someone is thirsty.”

  “And me.” Damon moves in and gets his fix, too. “Jesus, my head is banging.”

  “What’s going on?” Bates appears, taking in the scene. “I thought this was a stealth mission? No one mentioned coffee breaks.” He paces over to the table and takes the pot from Damon. “Give me that.”

  Kim’s head hits the table. “Oh my God.”

  “Oh, calm down,” I breathe, pouring them all more coffee, which they drink down ravenously. “It isn’t the end of the world.”

  “Yeah.” Josh backs me up and stuffs a pastry in his mouth. “No laws have been broken,” he waffles on, his mouth full.

  I can’t help my grin.

  Kim shakes her head. “I can’t even appreciate the fact that I’m so close to Josh Jameson. And, for the record, royal laws carry serious penalties.”

  Her words sting, though, begrudgingly, I cannot deny that she is right. The consequences of my actions could not only ruin my own life, but that of the people closest to me. “You are such a pessimist,” I mumble, lowering back to the chair. “I fell in love. So bloody hang me.”

  The room falls silent, and everyone stills. Staring at me. For a second, I wonder why. Then I rewind though the past few seconds and realize why I’m being gawked at like I could have risen from hell. My lips twist awkwardly as I drop my gaze to the table. I can’t take that back.

  “Yeah,” Josh says quietly, discarding his half-eaten pastry and rounding the table to me. On a grin so large it could possibly split his handsome face, he braces his hands on the table and gets up close to me. “Say it again.”

  My eyes narrow on him, causing his stupid grin to widen. “I will not.”

  “Oh, you will.” He grasps my cheeks and squeezes. “Louder. So there’s no misunderstanding.”

  The egotistical pig. “I love you.” I relent to his demand, and rather than worry about the fact that Kim may have just passed out across the table, I let Josh kiss me. And it isn’t just a peck. It’s a full-on tongues and moans thing.

  My surroundings are so easy to forget in times like these, and I scramble to grab my equilibrium once he’s relieved me of his mouth. The satisfaction shining at me isn’t something I can ignore. He’s thrilled. So pleased with himself, and, apparently, with me.

  “How bad did it hurt?” he asks cheekily. “You proclaiming your love for me?”

  “You’re stupid.”

  “You make me that way.” Turning to Kim, Josh helps himself to another pastry and tosses it into the air, catching it perfectly before ripping off the edge with his teeth. “Breathe, Kim. You look like you’re gonna pass out.”

  He’s right. She’s white as a sheet. “Kim, this isn’t as bad as you think.” I’m lying, of course. For her, it is terrible.

  “And how did you fathom that?”

  “We’re careful,” I tell her. “And I trust my closest aides.”

  “Ma’am?” Olive’s unsure voice drifts into the room and Kim closes her eyes to gather patience.

  “It’s fine,” I tell Kim. “Olive knows.”

  “Great. Am I the last?”

  “No, Sir Don doesn’t, and he can’t.”

  “Give me a break,” Kim mutters. “You think the picture of you and Haydon splashed in every online news publication this morning was a coincidence?”

  I flick a wary look to Josh. He’s stopped chewing. He looks savage again. “Regardless of what he suspects, I will work tirelessly to never confirm.” I have to if I’m going to keep Josh safe from their retaliation. I look across to Olive, who’s patiently waiting for my attention. “Everything okay, Olive?”

  “I was just packing your things, ma’am, and I can’t seem to find your Spanish tiara.”

  “Oh, it’s on the—” I freeze in my seat and dart my eyes to Josh, who has resumed munching his way through his breakfast. “My tiara.”

  “Oh.” He points to the bedroom with his pastry. “It’s on the—” His arm drops. “Oh fuck.”

  My eyes widen as I pray he isn’t about to say what I think he may be about to say. “No,” I plead.

  “I left it in the bar.”

  “No.” I drop my head to the table.

  “You’re careful.” Kim mimics my words and gets up from her chair. “I’m going to hunt down a priceless Spanish tiara.” She turns to Damon, who is definitely still drunk, rocking back on his heels looking rather vacant. I smile to myself as Kim throws an arm in Josh’s direction. “You get him out of here before anyone else sees him.” She stomps off, exasperated, and slams the door behind her.

  “Come on.” Bates grabs Josh and starts to manhandle him out of the suite. “We’ve way outstayed our welcome.”

  Josh breaks free and rushes over to me, landing me with a forceful peck. “I love you, too.” He bites my nose and lets Bates reclaim him and wrestle him away, leaving my lips pressed tightly to stop my smile. He doesn’t take his eyes off me until he’s out the door, stumbling clumsily as Bates tugs him along.

  I glance around me, to the chaos I have caused.

  This is
my life now.

  My face could split with my epic grin.

  WHEN WE PULL UP AT Kellington the next day after hours of travel, I’m utterly exhausted. I’ve held off from confronting Sir Don on his underhanded move, wanting to wait until I’ve restocked on energy and grit. Josh has wiped me out, albeit in the best possible way. I slept for most of the flight, though I don’t feel any better for it.

  Kim was only mildly appeased when she tracked down my tiara. Thank heavens, a cleaner found it early in the morning and handed it straight to her superior. No explanation for it being in the bar in the first place was given, and I’m pretty sure Kim’s face told the member of staff not to ask. She ranted for a little while about the potential backlash, but I don’t see the risk that Kim does. The manager knows that an anonymous person paid obscene amounts of money to hire the bar privately. Why couldn’t that anonymous person be me? Maybe I just wanted a peaceful drink in a regular bar. I went to argue my case, but Sir Don had turned up at my suite, shutting us both up about my disappearing priceless family heirloom.

  Damon opens my door and I slide out, straightening and moving my bag to the crook of my arm. He still looks terrible. One of his other men had to drive, and I could tell once Damon had sobered up, he was embarrassed. “Feeling okay?” I ask.

  “Very good, ma’am.” His face is deadpan, and mine is anything but.

  “You’re funny when you are intoxicated,” I say, taking the steps to the doors, my amusement dropping when I spy David in the foyer. Oh God, what is he doing here? I should rip strips off him for his part in the latest news, but again, I’m too tired to take them on right now.

  “Welcome home, ma’am.” He smiles a most sincere smile as I pass him, pulling off my gloves.

  “Thank you.” I hand my bag and gloves to a waiting maid. “I do believe it was a very successful trip.”

  Sir Don’s smile tightens as he joins us. He doesn’t agree, of course.

  My bags all pass me, various footmen carrying them. “No unpacking just yet,” I tell Olive as she follows them all. “I’d like to have a few moments alone in my suite.” I promised Josh I would call him the moment I arrived home, and I’m desperate to talk to him.

  She nods and continues as I wriggle out of my coat for Jenny. “Anything else, ma’am?” she asks.

  “You get home.” I start taking the stairs, my feet set to burst out of my shoes. Taking them off during the flight was a dreadful mistake. When it came to prepping me for landing and the media who would be waiting, I could barely get them back on, my ankles a little puffy. Dehydration, Kim had claimed. And lack of sleep the night before. I had silently grinned as Olive stuffed my feet into my heels, remembering my time with Josh second by second.

  “When may I expect you to be ready for your debrief?” Sir Don calls as I reach the top of the stairs. “There is much to discuss, ma’am.”

  I stop and stare forward, my eyes narrowing somewhat. Yes, there is much to discuss, and first on my priority list is the report on Haydon and me. Which, come to think of it, I must speak to Haydon about, too. I don’t want to believe that he was privy to the devious stunt my aides pulled. Yet now I wonder why he hasn’t called to assure me if that is the case, since it must have been news to him, too. “When I have rested, Sir Don.” I leave him with only that.

  When I enter my suite, I sigh and wait for my bags to be set down and everyone to leave me in peace. Then I collapse on the bed and call Josh. He answers after just one ring, and I relax at the sound of his rough voice. “Tell me you found the tiara.”

  “We found the tiara,” I confirm, and he breathes out. “I know. It could have been a disaster.”

  “You’re telling me. It’s my favorite sex toy.” He is so serious, and I snigger down the line, though talk of the tiara reminds me that behind my ears are still sore from wearing it for so long. “Hang up,” Josh says.

  “What?”

  “I want to see you.” He cuts our call, and the next second his face is on my screen.

  “Oh, FaceTime,” I muse, accepting. I don’t prime myself ready for him to see me, don’t check my hair or face. Josh has seen me in all states, and now he is about to see me jetlagged. When the connection is made, his face appears, his gorgeous, rough handsomeness dominating my screen. “I look a fright,” I warn him quickly.

  “Shut up.” He’s outside, the blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds in the background.

  “Where are you?”

  “Just leaving the hotel to head to the airport.” He turns, looking to someone and nodding his thanks. “It’s a bit chaotic.” Turning his camera, he pans it onto the street a few yards away from the hotel where masses of people are crowding the pavements, photographers as well. “See?”

  “All for you?” I tease, hearing fanatical women screaming his name.

  “Well, the Queen of England left yesterday so they needed someone else to hound. I’m the next best thing.”

  “Wait.” I sit up, suddenly comprehending that if I can see all of those people, perhaps they can see me. On Josh Jameson’s phone. “Josh!” I grab a pillow and hide behind it, as well as turning my phone down onto my bed. “Turn your phone around.”

  “Oh, shit.” When I peek at the screen, I can see him again. He gives me a sorry smile. “I dropped that ball, huh?” He looks away for a second, then lowers into the back of his car. I just catch a glimpse of Bates. He still looks rough. “They’re too far away. Don’t panic.”

  “You need to be careful.”

  “Yeah, yeah, so I’m told. Although your bodyguard dropped the ball first.” He laughs, pulling the door shut, and his eyes shine. “You do realize he owes us.” Hitching an eyebrow, he slips some shades on, depriving me of the sight of his swirling blue eyes.

  “Owes us how?”

  “Well, it’s his fault a few more of your people now know about your dirty little secret, therefore he is obliged to assist in future secret meetings.”

  “I hadn’t thought of that.”

  “Well, do think of that because I’ve changed my schedule.”

  He has my undivided attention all of a sudden, and the mild grin of his face tells me he’s enjoying the sight of me getting excited. “You said you were in LA indefinitely.”

  “There’s a week’s hole in the schedule. Something to do with the permit we need for a few locations.”

  “And?” I question, willing him to get to the point, my excitement building.

  “And I thought I might pay my girlfriend’s country a little visit.”

  My smile could split my face. “When?”

  “Next week. We’re spending this week filming on set at a local college. Then I have a clear week. I’ll let you know when I’m flying in, so get that pretty queenly head thinking about how the fuck I’m going to be able to spend that whole week with you and your tiara.”

  Good heavens, I would have to disappear off the face of the earth in order for that to happen. My excitement is dampened by a nasty dose of reality. But then something comes to me. Maybe I would like a timeout at the Evernmore estate. A slow, cunning grin forms, stretching my cheeks.

  “I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Josh says as he watches me mentally plotting, “but I like the look of it.

  “I think I have an idea.”

  “Good. Now get some rest, my Queen. I have a call with Tammy.”

  I grimace. “Good luck with that.”

  “I love you.”

  “I love you, too.”

  Josh hangs up and I spread myself across the cool sheets, content and happy. One week. I can get through one week until I can be with him again.

  “YOUR MAJESTY.” THE CALL OF my name sounds distant, carrying across miles of space until it is just a whisper in my ear. “Your Majesty.” I try to ignore the irritating, albeit quiet sound, and find my dreams again. “Your Majesty.” If I hear my title one more time, there is a possibility I’ll start screaming. “Your Majesty.”

  “What?” I snap, my eyes springi
ng open. I find Olive looking a tad startled, standing at the side of my bed. I blink a few times, registering the daylight pouring in from the windows. Confused, I push myself up against the headboard. I’m still dressed. Olive is here looking all bright and breezy. And there’s a tray with morning coffee set on the table in the window. “Did I miss a day?” I ask, rubbing at my sleepy eyes.

  “Kim wouldn’t let them wake you last night, ma’am,” Olive says as she starts pouring my coffee. The thought of Kim holding Sir Don and whoever else back from disturbing me makes me both appreciative and amused. “But it does mean you may be super busy today.”

  “I bet,” I sigh, pulling the covers back and wandering across to her, taking the coffee on a thankful smile. “Are they all here already?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Right.” I sit myself in the chair by the window and gaze out across the grounds. “Call my mother, Olive,” I say, thoughtful. I need to check in on her. Make sure she’s okay. “Ask her to join me for breakfast.” Sir Don and David Sampson can wait. If I’m going to be challenged all day, I need some energy first. As well as a pep talk from my mother.

  “And Sir Don?”

  I cast my eyes to Olive. “You can tell Kim to advise him I will be available from ten o’clock.” I would love to see his face. “And tell Eddie I’d like to see him for breakfast, too.”

  Olive falters for a split second, and my head naturally tilts in question, a little worry creeping up on me. “I don’t think Prince Edward returned to Kellington last night, ma’am.”

  “Then where on earth is he?”

  “I’m afraid I don’t know. I overheard Damon telling some of your protection officers to visit a place. The name escapes me.”

  I sigh. She doesn’t need to tell me the name. Oh, Eddie. “Thank you, Olive.”

  As Olive leaves to fulfil my requests, I sink into the chair, trying my hardest not to let myself drown in the water slowly rising. Eddie, Sir Don, David Sampson, all pushing problems my way. Problems I don’t want. I have spiders in my head, all scurrying around spinning tangled webs. I need to straighten out those tangled thoughts and find my poise before I let Sir Don and David find me.

 
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