His true queen, p.28
His True Queen, p.28Jodi Ellen Malpas
“So,” Eddie says, looking back to me, “can she?”
“Can who what?” I ask, lost for a moment.
“Hallie. Can she join us for dinner?”
He’s got me held to ransom, and I am far from appreciative. He’s simply rebelling, putting my past efforts to defy my status to shame. He has purposely found the most outrageous woman he can to prove a point, whatever that is. He must be crazy. That woman will be splashed all over the papers in a few short weeks telling wicked tales about Prince Eddie. And worst still, I bet they will all be true.
Glancing to David, I detect his intention to put a call in to the PR and communications people, and I nod subtly to him, telling him he should do it sooner rather than later. What I’m doing now isn’t a queen’s duty. It’s a sister’s duty. Eddie isn’t thinking straight, so I have to think straight for him.
“I think that’s a very good idea,” I say, if only to appease my brother. I’ll get this nonsense sorted out before it comes to dinner. Appeasing Eddie, however, means provoking most of the other people at the table. Many of them remain silently disapproving.
Except Victoria. “How ridiculous.” She shoves her napkin on the table. “The day I eat with such a commoner will be the day I lose all faith in the Monarchy.”
“Enough,” I order, low and threatening, my eyes on her and her alone. She shrinks in her chair, and this time she doesn’t prod her husband for backup. Will this woman ever learn her place? When it’s appropriate to talk and when it’s appropriate to shut the hell up? I want to ram those plums she has in her mouth down her throat until she chokes. I feel unreasonably furious. Victoria swipes up her glass, looking away from my glare before I singe her skin with it. Yes, know your place, I think, looking away when someone enters.
Mother glides across the room, taking in the scene as she lowers to her chair. “Apologies, I hope I didn’t miss anything important.”
She really didn’t, though I choose not to tell her so, instead reaching forward and tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She looks flustered, and I once again wonder if inviting Davenport back into royal employment was wise. She looks at me, her smile strained, and my hand pauses as I withdraw from fixing her hair. She’s usually so perfect—her hair, her makeup, but I’ve just pushed an out-of-place strand away, and I’m certain I am looking at lips that have had the lipstick recently rubbed off, remnants of it staining outside the line of her lips.
Oh my . . .
I pull back my hand, studying her closely. She gives me nothing, returning to her drink. Is she . . . ?
“Adeline.” David pulls me from my silent contemplations, his palm on his son’s shoulder. “Haydon has a surprise for you.”
Everyone falls silent and all attention falls on me. Oh no. “I’m not all too fond of surprises.” I swallow, trying to make my words firm rather than worried. “Haydon knows that.”
“Every woman loves surprises.” David laughs. “Even if they claim not to.”
I can assure him, I hate surprises. “Really . . .” A box lands on the table before me, and I lean back in my chair, as if I can escape the tiny harmless thing. The problem is, though, it is not harmless. Nothing about what could be in this box is harmless. I gulp, my eyes glued to the leather, my hands refusing to pick it up. Fear mixed with a growing anger starts to dominate me. I knew this dinner was a fix, but I never anticipated Haydon would be so bold to do this. Not in front of everyone. Not because his father told him to. Is he that thick-skinned? Can’t he read my body language?
Tearing my eyes from the box, I look to my mother. I hate her peaceful gaze. I look to David and want to slap him. He has me cornered. I look to Sabina and find her lips straight, as are Dr. Goodridge’s. Matilda looks sorry for me, as does Stephan and his wife, while Victoria and Phillip look entirely indifferent. Eddie sinks his teeth into his bottom lip, regarding me quietly. And Haydon? He looks so very nervous, his face carrying a sheen of sweat. How could they do this to him? They are immoral—his father, Sir Don, and the rest of the corrupt fools.
He clears his throat as I stare at him blankly, reaching for the box and dropping to one knee. Oh God, no. He pulls it open, but I can’t bring myself to look at the ring and further confirm what is happening. “Adeline, I have been more than patient. I have loved you since we were children, and now is the perfect time for us to take the next step.”
I am struck utterly dumb, as well as frozen in my chair. Which, of course, hinders the possibility of me stopping this runaway train from crashing spectacularly. “I promise to stand by your side, support you in your reign, be there for you in every way I can. You need a husband. I love you, Adeline Catherine Luisa Lock—”
“Haydon, stop.” I reach for his hand, his mouth snapping shut. I need a husband? Well, of course, because a little, feeble female could never possibly hold down such a high-profile job without a man by her side to support her. I inwardly laugh. This is a step too far, boldness to the worst degree. I flash David a dark look, knowing he is one of the main culprits. Enough is enough. Tomorrow, I will lay down the law, and if my warnings are not heeded, I won’t think twice about stripping titles. “I’m never going to marry you, Haydon.” I hate the hurt in his eyes. I hate it so much. “You have to stop this. Move on. Find a woman who deserves you and needs you, because I’m afraid I do not.” I stand from the table. “Please excuse me.” I walk away on stable legs, though my heart is pumping wildly. I’m full to the brim with tenacity. I’ve had a bellyful of this ridiculous matter, and now it can finally be put to rest. I’ve said my piece, and those who do not listen will regret it.
Damon is in the entrance hall waiting for me. I can see he is ready to let loose, his friendly face cut with annoyance, but the second he catches my expression, he backs down, remaining silent.
I hold my hand out, prompting him to go to his inside pocket without delay or question. He hands over the goods, and I head for the drawing room that leads to my escape. I’m lighting a cigarette before I make it outside, polluting the historical room. I don’t care.
Letting myself out of the glass doors, I pace toward the botanical garden and stop, staring into the clouds of green. I hear Damon’s footsteps, and then I don’t.
“You needn’t have come,” I tell him, pulling on my cigarette like I need it to breathe.
“You’ve smuggled your secret boyfriend into the palace, Adeline. I very much needed to come.”
“And I’ll smuggle him out.”
“I’m not going to ask how you managed it, but however you did, it’s stupid.”
“The secret passages,” I tell him, exhaling into the night-time air. “One leads to the Blue Room.”
“It’s not gated?” His alarm is warranted, though I hadn’t given it much thought myself. Until now. The Blue Room was added to the palace tour only last year.
“You can only open it from the inside.” There will be a metal gate on the entrance to that particular passageway in no time at all, and I expect some heads will roll, too. I have one last puff of my cigarette before I flick the end into the shrubs and turn toward Damon. “I won’t apologize.”
“I didn’t ask you to.”
“But you don’t approve.”
“Of course I don’t approve. You’ve always walked a fine line between recklessness and stupidity, but this is a step too far.” His jaw is tight. “Your Majesty,” he adds, for two reasons, I expect. He’s just given me a royal dressing down, so to speak, and at the same time reminded me of who I am.
“Haydon just proposed to me.” There is not one little bit of emotion in my voice. I feel nothing. “I said no.”
Damon only nods, and I can’t help but think that he appears to be bracing himself for something unpleasant on the horizon. “Right,” he breathes.
“That’s it? Right?”
“What do you want me to say? You must have known it was coming.”
I drop my eyes to my feet, staring at my pretty black heels. “I never expected to be pu
“Adeline,” he calls, pulling me to a stop at the door. I don’t turn to face him, but I do wait. “Be careful.”
I can only smile, but it’s an effort. I detour through the kitchens to avoid running into anyone, my presence in the busy space causing a silent stir as I pass. As I take the grand staircase, my mobile rings, and my brow bunches when I see who is calling me. Is he trying to have us smoked out? “I’m on my way,” I say as I answer, using the handrail to help pull my drained body up the steps.
“Oh good,” Josh says, his voice noticeably high. “Because we have a problem.”
“One of your ladies just swung by.”
I have no energy to panic, though I do hurry my steps. “Who?”
“The one who walked in on us in Washington. She won’t talk. She’s just staring at me.”
“Olive,” I conclude, rounding the gallery and picking up my pace, not because I’ve found my panic, but because I know Olive will be on the verge of heart failure. Especially if Josh is still strutting around in his boxer shorts. I fall into my apartment and scan the space. Empty. I hurry through to the bedroom, finding Olive static by the door, mummified, and Josh standing by the bed looking a little scared. As I feared, he’s in his boxers, his impressive chest on full display. Between that and his gorgeous face, it’s no wonder Olive is hypnotized.
I approach her calmly and take her arm. “Olive?”
She turns blank eyes onto me but says nothing.
“Come on.” I guide her out of the room, looking over my shoulder to Josh as I go. I can tell he’s wondering where my meltdown is. “Do you need to sit down?” I ask as we pass the couches.
She seems to come to life now that she’s out of close proximity to Josh. “You need to warn me, ma’am.” She starts shaking her head, panic rooting and growing like weeds. “Oh my days.” Her eyes dart to the door of my bedroom. “Josh Jameson is in the palace.”
“Quieten down, Olive,” I scold her gently. “You’ll be heard.”
“My heart can’t take such shocks, ma’am.”
“I’m sorry, Olive.” I feel terrible. The weight of my secrets is becoming too much for her. “I feel terrible for shouldering all of this pressure on you, truly, I do.”
“Pressure?” She almost laughs, but it is nervous. “No, ma’am, you’re misunderstanding me.” Her arm shoots toward the doors again, where Josh is beyond. “Josh Jameson is in your bedroom, and he is wearing boxer shorts.”
“I thought I was on the set for one of those high-end perfume ads.”
“Olive, you have seen Josh’s . . . physique once before,” I remind her. “At the St. Regis.”
She shakes her head. “I was half asleep. And the light was poor. And he was in bed. Oh my, Your Majesty, how do you maintain your composure?” She is going to burst at any moment. And then, like she could have been stabbed with a pin, she deflates and straightens, looking worried. “Oh my goodness, forgive me, please. How inappropriate of me. My mouth runs away with me sometimes, and I have no control over it. I’m terribly sorry, ma’am. So sorry. It was highly—”
“Olive, stop it.” I take her arm and lead her to the doors. “There is nothing to apologize for.” Opening them, I indicate that it’s time for her to leave. I don’t waste any breath telling her to keep my secret. She will. “And if you must know, I have never and will never be able to maintain my composure in Josh’s presence, either.”
Her little face bunches with contained delight. “I think you are wonderful, ma’am. I really do.”
She’s the sweetest. “As are you, Olive. Now go home.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She scuttles off, and I close the door, dragging myself to the bedroom. Josh has put himself back on the bed, his arms folded over his chest, his face splashed with worry. “Why aren’t you panicking?” he asks.
“Honestly, I just can’t be bothered.” All I want to do is crawl into bed and let Josh keep me warm all night. Kicking off my shoes, I unzip my dress and let it fall to the floor. I don’t take my makeup off, and I don’t remove my underwear. Josh watches me closely as I pad across the carpet. He gets under the covers and pulls up the sheets in invitation, and I crawl in and splatter myself all over his chest.
“How was dinner?” he asks, a little hesitant, as if he’s scared to know.
“David Sampson is still an arsehole, Haydon still a puppet.” I don’t say any more than that. Josh is likely to fly off the handle if I tell him. “Eddie is dating a glamour model/porn star who has her boobs out at every opportunity, and I’m pretty certain my mother is having a secret affair with Major Davenport.”
“Wow,” is all Josh says, and I laugh a little under my breath, because yes. Wow. But it is all just more smoke and more mirrors.
I close my eyes and let my mind focus only on Josh’s hands caressing my back. He doesn’t press me for more information. It’s as if he knows I will break if he does.
But I won’t break . . . because I’m already broken. And Josh is the only thing currently keeping the cracks together. I refuse to believe he is just a temporary fix, because that would be accepting my world has been blown apart.
And I’m trying so hard not to shatter with it.
I FELT NO BETTER COME morning. I slept soundly, but my head ached the second I opened my eyes. I had a deep, lingering, nasty feeling swirling in my gut, a sense of foreboding I just couldn’t shake. I escaped it for a while when Josh rolled me over and slowly dragged my knickers down, turning me onto my side and curling his body around mine. One shift of his hips put him inside me, and his slow, continuous grinds carried me to a land I wish I had a one-way ticket to. But, alas, I must always return from my place of peace and deal with the rotten world in which I reside, maintaining the façade. I inwardly yelled at myself for letting my woes momentarily ruin my only happiness, reaching back for his hair and bowing my body into his, rolling my backside into his every grind.
We came together.
He whispered, “I love you,” and I kissed him in reply. We cuddled, silent, and I was sure Josh sensed the ill feeling, too. Although he didn’t say a word, and neither did I.
Now I’m in my casual jeans and a chunky-knit jumper, pulling on my Uggs as Josh waits for me by the door, smiling. “That look reminds me of the night you went AWOL and turned up at my hotel.”
I return his smile as I join him. “I’ve gone AWOL more times than I care to admit since meeting you.” Reaching up, I straighten his baseball cap, not that it needs straightening at all. It’s just . . . I remove my hands and step back. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” He looks at me in question, but I disregard it and pull the door open, walking straight out without so much as checking the coast is clear. We make it into the passageway and I lead on, every step I’m taking toward Josh’s freedom feeling like a step toward my downfall. He’s quiet, I’m quiet, the tension in the tight, dank space thick. When we reach the end of the line, I turn and give him a meek smile. I try my hardest to force some zest into it. I know I fail.
“I had a lovely time.” It is all I can think to say. My diabolical family dinner aside, it was really quite wonderful. Even when I was lost in my tormenting thoughts once I had returned, those tormenting thoughts were so much more bearable with Josh cuddling me u
Josh steps forward, concern like an emblem emblazoned across his face. I hate to see it, and I hate that I am the cause and there is nothing I can do to prevent it. “You walked out of your apartment without a care in the world,” he says quietly.
“Back then.” He thumbs over his shoulder into the darkness. “You didn’t check the coast was clear. Why?”
Because I don’t care. I don’t say that, though. There is much I haven’t said, and I shouldn’t. The proposal will send Josh straight to crazy town. My frame of mind is dangerous. “I’m just tired.” That is true. Tired of . . . everything.
“Adeline, you’re scaring me.”
I’m scaring myself. Josh reaches for my cheek and brushes gently across it with the pad of his thumb. “Tell me.”
Tell him. Tell him I’m just about ready to pop with frustration. Tell him I’m about ready to scream and not care if the world hears. Tell him that I fear for him. For me. For us. “I wish you didn’t have to leave,” I admit, walking into his chest.
“The fact I’m here is a miracle in itself.” He embraces my need for contact, holding me tightly. “And when will we be together again?”
“Tomorrow,” I tell him. “Where are you staying?”
“The Ritz. In the Prince of Wales Suite. But how?”
“I’ll find a way,” I promise, because I will. And I will have shaken off this funk I’m in. “Go.” I usher him away, his hand holding mine until the last second, as well as his eyes, and the moment the door closes, I do what I have been desperate to do since I walked out of the dining room last night.
His True Queen by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4.6 out of 5 / Based on41 votes