His true queen, p.23
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       His True Queen, p.23

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  Her eyes widen, and David practically twitches in his chair, as well as Sir Don. Kim and Felix, however, look plain stunned.

  Clearing his throat and his surprise, Sir Don sits forward in his chair. “Forgive me, ma’am, but—”

  “Forgive me, Sir Don, but I am your Queen and you will back down.” I give him a look that dares him to challenge me, watching in silent satisfaction as he shrinks into his chair. Good. He needs to know that if he wants to throw fire at me, I will fight with fire. Fire hotter and wilder than his. I’m not above correcting the public’s misconceptions. He will soon learn that any morsels he feeds the press will be dowsed down with fact from me. “Now that is settled,” I go on, “let us please discuss how we plan on handling His Royal Highness Prince Edward.”

  “I’m afraid he has gone AWOL again, ma’am,” Felix says, not telling me anything I didn’t already know.

  “He needs help,” I declare, not prepared to let them constantly trail Eddie so they are there to clear up his messes and hide his misdemeanors from the media. Because they will trail him. Not to protect Eddie, but to protect the Monarchy.

  “Help?” David asks, clearly interested.

  “Rehabilitation. I would have thought that was obvious.”

  “Out of the question.” Sir Don snorts, and David laughs. “They claim discretion, but there is always someone ready to leak the identity of patients. I don’t know how, but we can’t risk it.”

  “Oh, Sir Don,” I purr, a half-smile on my lips. “You do yourself an injustice. You are so very well versed with knowledge on how things are leaked to the public, are you not?”

  Silence. Good.

  “So you propose we leave him to self-destruct, do you?” I ask. They would rather lock him in the tower than truly help him. “I won’t hear of it.” I look to Kim again. “I want Edward to have some help.”

  “I’ll look into it, ma’am.” Kim scribbles down more notes.

  And the last thing on my agenda. “I will be taking a holiday in Evernmore.”

  “Out of the question,” Sir Don argues, with no hesitation whatsoever. In fact, he almost laughs at the mere suggestion.

  I fix my dropping shoulders. “How so?”

  He slides a sheet of paper across my desk, before sitting back, hands resting on the arms of his chair. “Your schedule for the next few weeks, ma’am. Two of the engagements are annual events that have never been missed by the Monarch since their founding.”

  My eyes drop, as does my stomach. “Royal Ascot,” I breathe. “Of course.”

  “I’m sure Your Majesty is keen to see your royal colors paraded for the first time,” David intervenes.

  “Not to mention your annual visit to the Royal Opera House for the opening night of the Royal Ballet,” Sir Don adds. “I believe the performance this year is highly anticipated in the ballet world.”

  “And you have a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster,” David goes on. “The order of service needs to be finalized.”

  My righted shoulders soon start dropping again, as I slowly realize I’m going nowhere in the next few weeks, and, by all accounts, I will not have any room in my schedule to sneak some time in for Josh. “Order of service for my coronation, I assume.”

  “Indeed.” David looks so bloody excited I could vomit. “A date has been set.”

  It has? “For?”

  “August.”

  “That’s less than two months away,” I blurt, slowly sinking. “Was it not deemed appropriate to consult me on such a decision?” I am truly deluded. I do not get a say in such decisions. A date is agreed by these twits and the government, and whether or not I may be available isn’t a concern. Of course I am available. What else do I have to do except wear a crown and look important?

  “The world is waiting, ma’am.” David smiles brightly. “It will be a wonderful celebration.”

  “Right.” I slowly lower to my chair, all control I strived to seize lost. My stride has been well and truly charged down by these jobsworths.

  “Which brings us to the next item on the agenda.” Sir Don stands, and I’m even more weary.

  “And what is that?”

  “We believe, as your advisors and champions, that Your Majesty would do well to find a husband.”

  “Here, here,” David chants, and I look at him with a death stare, panic setting in, all of my waning strength quickly dowsed in fear.

  My champions? Rubbish. No matter how they play this matter, I refuse to bend. I’ve given up too much already. I’ve relented on certain things. Not this. Never.

  Getting up from my chair, my patience fraying, I place my palms on my desk and lean forward. “Firstly, we have already discussed this issue. But in case it’s already slipped your mind, I will remind you that I asked Kim, not a moment ago, to draft a statement correcting the misleading information that the public have been fed regarding the status of Haydon Sampson in my life. So talk of finding me a husband is off the table. Secondly, I buried my father the King and my brother only weeks ago. It would be disrespectful toward them both and my mother to give this matter a moment more thought. One would believe you’d understand the insensitivity to my family and the country’s time of mourning to suggest—” I’m cut short when Olive enters without knocking, earning disapproving glares from Sir Don and David. “What is it, Olive?” I ask.

  Her eyes seem to speak to me before her words do. “There’s someone to see you, ma’am.”

  I frown, releasing my desk and straightening. She looks nervous, and it certainly isn’t her job to advise me of visitors, though I think better than to ask who it is.

  “Really?” David throws his hands into the air in exasperation. “Hasn’t anyone told this nitwit not to disturb the Queen when she has an audience?”

  Poor Olive flinches, and it is all I can do not to pick up my crystal paperweight, a gift from the King of Norway, and throw it at David’s ignorant head. Ignoring him is a task, but one I force myself to do, if only to maintain my feigned stability. Rounding my desk, I take Olive’s elbow. “Excuse me,” I tell the room, and Kim makes to stand, ready to come with me. I give her a subtle shake of my head, making her lower to her seat, her mind catching up. I need ears in here while I’m gone, and I also need someone to watch David and Sir Don in case they decide to come and snoop.

  Closing the door behind me, I just about jump out of my skin when Olive shrieks, “I’m sorry, ma’am. It’s just Major Davenport was here and he was refused at the gates and sent away, and I thought you should know.”

  I look past her, down the corridor. “Well done, Olive.” I give her arm a little reassuring rub and pass her, heading for the nearest telephone, the nearest except for my office. I find one on the half-moon occasional table at the end of the corridor. I dial the only internal number I know. The main switchboard. And as soon as someone answers, I throw my request down the line. “Put me through to the main gates, please.”

  There’s a slight pause, the operative wondering if he is speaking with who he thinks he is speaking with.

  “Quick as you can,” I add.

  “Yes, Your Majesty. Certainly, ma’am. Straight away, ma’am.”

  “Main gate,” a low, gruff voice says only a few seconds later.

  “Hello there,” I greet calmly, looking up when Olive finally catches up with me. “I have been informed that I have a visitor.”

  “Your Majesty?”

  “Yes. Now, about this visitor. It is someone whom I would very much like to see, so it would be most unwise for him to be turned away. Am I making myself clear?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Very good. Show him in.” I hang up and turn to Olive. “Please ensure Major Davenport makes it to me with no further obstructions,” I tell her, looking over my shoulder to my office. “I will be waiting in Felix’s office.”

  “Yes, ma’am.” Olive dashes off, and I quickly hurry back to my office to stall Sir Don and David Sampson further, because even though K
im is there, they will still come in search of me should I be gone too long.

  I pop my head around the door. “Terribly sorry.” I smile. “Lady Matilda has arrived early. Now I need the ladies’. Won’t be a tick.” I pull the door closed on them and scamper to Felix’s office, walking circles around the desk. I’m nervous. It’s been over a week since I went to see him. I assumed it was a no. Could he be here to accept?

  When a knock sounds on the door, I spin toward it, my voice high-pitched when I call, “Come in.”

  “Major Davenport, ma’am.” Olive opens the path for him, and I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be pleased to receive him. He is back in his fine threads, his back is poker straight once again, and his moustache and hair as perfect as it always has been.

  He stops, hands joined and held behind his back. “Your Majesty,” he says softly. “Thank you for seeing me without notice.”

  “Not at all.” I work to calm myself down. “But why didn’t you call to speak with me, Major?”

  “I did,” he says dryly. “Unfortunately, you have been unavailable each time.”

  “Oh, really?” I reply, anger brewing. The bastards. Who the hell is in charge around here? I motion to one of the soft chairs in the corner. “Would you like to sit down?”

  “Thank you.” He makes his way over, and I follow, lowering to the chair opposite. We settle and silence falls, him offering me a small smile, me returning it.

  “What can I do for you, Major?”

  “Ah, yes, of course.” He clears his throat and lifts his chin. “In hindsight, ma’am, I do believe I was rather hasty in declining your offer.”

  There is a flash of light in my darkening world. “Does that mean you accept the job, Major?” I try not to sound excited.

  “If Your Majesty will still have me, then yes.”

  My grin is too hard to contain. “And you will advise me in my best interest?”

  “First and foremost. I believe you have other aides who will advise in the Monarchy’s best interest.”

  “Oh, I do.” I regard the Major quietly for a few seconds, thoughtful. “May I ask what changed your mind, Major?”

  “Boredom,” he says matter-of-factly. I can believe it. Major Davenport has been like a piece of furniture around these parts for as long as I can remember. He must have been going stir-crazy. “But most of all,” he goes on, “it will be a novelty and an honor to actually serve.” He looks away when I swallow hard, regretting every moment I cursed him.

  I wonder if my mother has anything to do with his change of heart. After years of loving her from afar, has he struggled while he hasn’t seen her? I decide quickly that those are considerations for another day. Right now, there are more pressing matters waiting for me in my office. “I’m glad that is sorted.” I stand and brush my dress down. And in this moment, some of my earlier strength and fire returns. I believe I’ve found another ally. I never thought I’d see this day, and even though I’m surprised, I feel more confident. More like . . . me. “Can you start serving now?” I smile when he looks at me in question. “Sir Don and David Sampson are waiting for me in my office.” And I cannot wait to see their faces when I return with Major Davenport. “Shall we?”

  “I believe we shall.” He stands, and I watch as he visibly draws air. “After you, ma’am.”

  I give him an impish grin and lead the way back to my office, walking in confidently and assertively. “Gentlemen,” I declare as they all turn toward me. “And lady,” I add, smiling at Kim. “I’m thrilled to share the news of Major Davenport’s return to royal duty.”

  “Good morning.” The Major gives polite nods to all the mouths hanging open.

  “Please, join us,” I say, taking my place back at my desk, suddenly supercharged with grit. “Now, where were we?” I look to David and Sir Don. Both men are looking at Davenport in utter shock as he quietly lowers to a chair. I cough to get their attention, tilting my head in prompt for them to continue.

  Sir Don drops his stare to his files, brushing through his silver hair with a limp hand. “Marriage,” he says. “You must marry.”

  “I am not getting married.”

  “It’s unheard of,” David jumps in. “Not since the seventeenth century has a Queen been without a husband.”

  “Oh, you know what they say, David,” I muse, sitting back in my chair. “Be fashionably different.”

  His face. Oh, if I could take a picture and frame it, then I would.

  “You will not be taken seriously until you have formed a stable family unit.” Sir Don is getting increasingly angry.

  “By you, or the public?” I ask.

  “By everyone.”

  I could laugh at him, the preposterous fool. He thinks me being wed will make me a better queen? It actually might, but not being wed to the type of man he has in mind. There’s only one type of man for me. American. Hot. Actor. Josh injects me with more passion, more determination. More fire. “Next on the agenda,” I say, rather dismissively.

  “Your Majesty, with all due respect, I—”

  “Now, you see, Sir Don”—I level him with a serious, formidable stare—“I keep hearing those words. With all due respect.” Rising from my chair, I pull a drawer open, taking out my secret stash of cigarettes and boldly lighting one. “One can only assume you don’t think much respect is due, since I’m not receiving any from you.” I take a draw and expel it slowly, watching his face contort in disgust. Oh, he can bugger off. After being surrounded by my father’s putrid cigars for decades, what’s a bit of cigarette smoke?

  “Your Majesty,” Sir Don sighs, his patience wearing thin.

  “I believe Her Majesty is finished,” Davenport intervenes, earning an almighty sneer from Sir Don.

  “She serves our country.”

  “And I serve the Queen.” Davenport’s face is expressionless, so very serious. The most serious I have ever seen it, yet this time it makes me smile rather than grimace. And I can’t help but wonder if Davenport is also here for a bit of revenge. David Sampson and Sir Don have watched him be trodden down by my father for years. Sir Don knew of the Major’s affair with my mother, and even though David didn’t until recently, because Sabina kept it from him, I know he treated Major Davenport with the same disregard as my father and Sir Don. Because he is a plain arsehole.

  Sir Don does not appreciate the Major’s intervention. “I am merely—”

  “Telling me what to do,” I finish for him. “Sir Don, I think it is high time we deal with this matter once and for all, then maybe you and I will get along a lot better. I appreciate your knowledge. I appreciate your wisdom, and I am not ignorant to the fact that I will need your council on many things.” He is a descendent of one of the most credible Lord Chamberlains who has ever served, after all. Of course he wants to maintain their status and value to the Royals. But enough is enough. I look to David briefly, just so he knows that all this also applies to him. “But I will never appreciate your advice when it comes to who I can marry and when I should marry them.”

  “Who you should marry is part of the package, ma’am,” Sir Don says.

  “Well, as Queen, I am changing the package deal, and that is that.” The room falls silent, and I maintain my fixed expression, leaving no scope for them to come back at me. “Now, if you don’t mind, it would seem I am moving house this week.” I smile sweetly. “One must pack.”

  Everyone leaves promptly, including Kim, who is grinning from ear to ear. “Girl power,” she mouths, and I laugh, stubbing out my cigarette. “Major.” I call as he goes to leave, too. “Two minutes?”

  He sees everyone out and closes the door. “Yes, ma’am?”

  “Thank you,” I say sincerely. “For backing me up.”

  “You handled yourself rather well without me.”

  That’s not true. I was drowning before he showed up, and my confidence was only found because of his presence. “Nevertheless . . .”

  “You know they won’t let this go, don’t
you?” His look is both sympathetic and warning. I’m not sure which is strongest, though both are worrying.

  “Yes,” I sigh, picking up a solid silver Parker pen and rolling it between my fingers. “They’ll have my mother pleading to my more reasonable nature tomorrow, no doubt.” It’s ridiculous that me refusing to marry a man who I do not love is deemed unreasonable. But that is my world, more so now than ever.

  At the mention of my mother, Davenport noticeably tenses. And speaking of my mother . . .”Where’s Cathy?” I ask.

  “Doggy daycare. Anything else, ma’am?”

  I shake my head and watch as he goes, knowing more certainly than I did before that one of the reasons Davenport is here is because of my mother.

  He misses her. I am not the only one who’s being kept from my one true love.

  “WELCOME HOME,” KIM QUIPS AS we slowly roam the rooms of Claringdon. I can only sigh, taking in each vast room as we pass through, my eyes being reacquainted with the ultimate of all royal residences. Except it is now my residence.

  Aside from my trip to Portsmouth, I’ve not seen outside my father’s office or my new suite in the two days I’ve been here. Watching my parents’ possessions being shipped out in such a military fashion was painful. It was all very impersonal, as if the routine of waving goodbye to one Sovereign and welcoming another is just par for the course. Which, I guess, it is. Except the previous Sovereign was my father. The wretched guilt I hope one day I will get used to clamps down on my heart.

  “How are you getting along with Major Davenport?” I ask Kim, diverting my mind. I should have perhaps given her the heads-up on his return, but as far as I was concerned, Davenport had declined my offer and, though disappointed, I didn’t expect him to reconsider.

  “Well, that stick isn’t completely up his arse anymore,” she says dryly. “Now I’d say it’s more partially wedged.”

  I laugh. “Good to hear.”

  “He knows what he’s talking about, I guess.” Kim shrugs. “And he’s surprisingly patient with my lacking areas of expertise.”

 
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