His true queen, p.29
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       His True Queen, p.29

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  Cry.

  It pours out of me unstoppably, my sobs suppressed by my tense body and my hand covering my mouth, yet it is loud, the sound being carried by the small, contained space, echoing off the bare brick walls. I have to beg my weak legs not to give way, locking them to stop my back from sliding down the rough stone and crouching on the floor to make myself small. Hopelessness is eating me alive, scratching relentlessly at my soul and spirit. I must stop it before everything I stand for disappears. I must stop all of this madness.

  Roughly rubbing at my cheeks, I take long, controlled breaths, fighting against my jerking body. I can beat this belligerent onslaught of despair. The essence of me, it can’t be lost, or that will be the end. Of me. Of Josh and me. I’m not prepared to let it end, no matter what.

  I look into the darkness of the passageway, something fierce rising up from my toes. Resilience. Courage. Grit. It crashes through me like violent waves, destroying the loathsome weakness in its path. No more. I will not be held hostage by this godforsaken institution any longer.

  I stalk down the passageway, assertive and bursting with resolve, my mind made, my focus set. This ends today. Today, I need to smash through some of the smoke and mirrors.

  When I make it out of the fusty bowels of Claringdon, I head straight for my suite to get ready, needing power in my dress as much as in my attitude. As if Jenny has secret knowledge of my frame of mind, she’s waiting for me in my suite, the straighteners heating on the heat mat, her box of magic tricks open as she sharpens a red lip pencil. “I’ll be in the shower,” I say as I pass her. “I think I’ll wear my charcoal pencil dress with leather piping.”

  “Good choice, ma’am.”

  I disappear into the bathroom and shower quickly, constantly chanting encouraging words in my head. By the time I’m done, Jenny has my dress laid out, as well as my black patent stilettos, and the earrings Josh bought for me are on my dressing table. Nothing else. Just the earrings. I sit and let her work her magic, drying and straightening my long dark hair, which stretches it down to my lower back. My eyes are lined with a perfect flick at each corner, and my lips artfully painted red. I slip out of my robe and step into my dress, then my heels, and let Jenny fasten the back zipper.

  Done.

  I put on my earrings as I leave, wandering through the palace toward my mother’s private quarters. My phone rings as I’m checking myself in the mirror outside her door. When I catch sight of the screen, my fortitude wavers for just a second, my brain ordering me to ignore the call. “No,” I tell it, looking up at myself in the mirror as I connect. This is all part of the process. “Haydon,” I say in answer, staring at myself and the formidable creation Jenny has made of me.

  “Adeline, what happened?”

  Closing my eyes to gather patience and strength would be easy, but none of this is going to be easy, so I maintain my staring deadlock with myself, if only to remind myself of who I am. I can’t only let them do this to me anymore. I can’t let them do it to Haydon. “I don’t love you, Haydon.”

  “Not now, I know. But you will grow to love me. That’s how it works.”

  I grind my teeth, frustrated. “Not in the real world, Haydon. That is not how it works in the real world. It’s how it works in this family. In our world. In the real world, you fall in love with someone and marry her because being without her is unthinkable. In the real world there are sparks and chemistry and need.”

  “We will have all of that, Adeline. You just have to give us a chance.”

  He’s been brainwashed. He can’t truly want to be with a woman who does not love him. Why would any man want that? My fortitude slips, and I close my eyes. “I’m in love with someone else, Haydon,” I say, a last resort to simply make him see. And, really, Haydon should be the first to know. I take no pleasure from the hurt I know he will feel. But I also take no blame. I have fired my arrows straight for as long as I can remember, made it clear that a romantic union between us will never happen. Every blind and misguided conviction he considers real has been built by his father and my advisors. They have added bricks to his wall of hope, and I am the one who has to bash that wall down.

  There’s silence, and I open my eyes to face myself once again. “Haydon, did you hear me?”

  “It doesn’t matter.”

  I balk at myself in the mirror, and for the first time I wonder if Haydon already knew. Did David tell him about my confession in Evernmore? Surely not. Why would he? For them, the less people that know about my affair with Josh, the better; it makes it easier to hide. Plus, it might change Haydon’s feelings toward me. Or, apparently, not. “Of course it matters.”

  “It doesn’t matter, Adeline. Because I can make you fall in love with me. You just have to let me try.”

  I feel like I am bashing my head against a brick wall, my every word falling on deaf ears. He hasn’t even asked me who I’m in love with. But again, did he already know? “It does matter, Haydon. It matters to me.” I turn toward my mother’s suite. “I have to go.”

  “Adeline—”

  I hang up and spend a good few moments relocating my grit, then I rap softly on the door. Mary-Ann answers, her head bowing a fraction. “Your Majesty.”

  “Can you please tell my mother I would like to see her?”

  “She isn’t here, ma’am. I believe she may be having breakfast.”

  “Thank you, Mary-Ann.” I leave, my sights set firmly forward, not acknowledging anyone or anything as I pace through the palace. When I make it to the dining room, it’s empty, the table completely clear. On a frown, I back up and cross the foyer, my heels clicking evenly. I find Felix halfway down the corridor that leads to the communications and PR offices. “Have you seen my mother?” I ask.

  “Not this morning, ma’am.”

  I turn and head toward the library, asking everyone I pass if they know where she is. Not one person has seen her. “Sid,” I call, seeing his back disappear into the library. The Master of the Household reverses his steps and straightens, his hands joined in front of him. “Your Majesty.”

  “I’m looking for my mother.”

  “I don’t believe I have seen her this morning, ma’am.”

  My shoulders drop, and I back up, thinking. “Thank you, Sid.” Where in heaven’s name could she be? My feet pivot, taking me toward the offices. I really don’t know why I’m heading this way, yet I seem to be following my nose naturally. Instinct? I pass Kim’s office, then Felix’s, and note as I slip past the PR suite, the door slightly ajar, that Sir Don and David are in there with various other staff. One should barge right in and demand to know what they are discussing. But I don’t, no matter how curious I am. Besides, I’ll call a meeting with them very soon, and it will be them who will listen to me.

  When I reach the office at the very end of the corridor, I knock once and take the knob, turning and pushing . . . against a locked door. I drop the handle and stare at the wood, listening for movement inside. No movement. No sounds. “Major Davenport?” I call, knocking again. Nothing. I step back, nibbling my lip, my eyes narrowing as I think. I pull up Davenport’s number on my phone and dial, stepping closer to the door. It rings from inside before going silent, and I quickly end the call before dialing my mother. Her phone rings from beyond, too, just once, and then there is silence again. I lower my phone slowly, staring at the door.

  And I knock once more and wait. It takes them only a few seconds to decide to answer. They have been smoked out, and there is no escaping it. I’m not at all mad. I would never have invited Davenport back into royal employment if this would be an issue for me. In fact, I secretly hoped they would give their love a second chance. There’s no question both of them deserve happiness after living in this hell all these years. What I am mad about is, like me, they are sneaking around so they don’t rock the Monarchy. It is just one more reason that what I am about to do is the right thing. Never more than now have I wanted so much to destroy the smoke and mirrors.

  The door cr
eaks open and Davenport looks beyond me first, checking the corridor, before opening it a little bit more to reveal my mother. I smile on the inside, because today she doesn’t look gaunt or drained. Today she has light in her eyes. “Your Majesty,” Davenport breathes, his eyes on the floor.

  “I would like to speak with my mother alone. I will be in my office.” I turn and walk away, stopping at the PR suite on my way. I don’t knock, just push the door open, and everyone looks at me in surprise, all the talking halted by my presence. “Please be in my office at ten. I don’t want to be disturbed until then.” I don’t wait around to be questioned by Sir Don or David, closing the door behind me. I pass a footman in the foyer and take the stairs. “Please have tea for two sent to my office.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  I reach the top of the stairs and cross the carpet to my office, finding Damon and Kim outside. “My mother will be here shortly. Please see her in,” I say to Kim as Damon opens the door for me. “And I’ve ordered some tea.”

  “Of course.” Kim throws Damon a look edged with curiosity and a little worry.

  “Thank you, Damon.” I give him a soft smile as I go to close the door, but he stops it with his foot, regarding me carefully.

  “I don’t like this look on you,” he says frankly, taking in my dress, my killer heels, and my red lips. He doesn’t mean what I’m wearing, but more how I’m wearing it. He’s known me for long enough to read the signs of my mood.

  “Me either,” Kim pipes in, no holding back. “Do we need to be furnished with any information?”

  “No, I believe I have everything in hand. Please be here at ten o’clock. Davenport, too.” I close the door on their worried faces and take myself to the desk. The red box of doom is square in the middle, Kim having placed it there, but rather than open it and discover what requires my attention or signature today, I push it aside and sit back in my chair, gazing around the room I have feared all my life. The room where I received every warning and demand. The room that signifies impossibility and restraint. The room where I shall now take control.

  The knock at my door is light before Kim enters, opening up the path for my mother. “Her Royal Highness the Queen Mother.”

  “Thank you, Kim.” I motion to the chair in front of my desk, and Mother glides across the room toward it. I can tell she’s assessing me, trying to gauge me. I don’t want to be this stern and together in front of her, but I don’t want her to mistake any easiness I display as submission.

  As Mother settles in her chair, Kim lets a footman pass with a tray. “Here, please,” I tell him, moving the red box farther to the side.

  “Would you like me to pour, ma’am?”

  “No, thank you.” I smile my thanks and wait for them to leave before reaching for the teapot. “Tea?” I ask Mother, holding the lid as I pour.

  “Yes, please.”

  “Very good.” I prepare us both a cup and pass Mother’s across the desk before collecting my own, holding the saucer with one hand and the teacup handle with the tips of my fingers. As I stare at my mother, I realize my hold of my tea is exactly the same as hers. Queenly. She was a good queen consort. Devoted, dutiful, compliant. Everything I am not.

  I place my saucer down and take the cup, wrapping both hands around the hot china. “Am I to assume that last night during dinner, you weren’t in the ladies’, but in fact in the arms of Major Davenport?”

  Her dark eyes fly up, and I hate the fact that her hands are shaking. “You assume correctly.”

  I could call her a hypocrite. I could scorn her for being deceitful. I would never, but I could. What I am, actually, is happy for her, yet irritated she can’t express her happiness to the world. Or even to me. She will not let anyone see the grieving widow smile.

  As I sip my tea and Mother sips hers, waiting for what I may say next, I think very hard about what that might be. Where do I start? How will she react to what I have to say?

  “I want you to be happy, Mother.” That is the perfect place to begin, however alien the very notion may be. No one in this family has ever operated on other people’s happiness. No one has ever made moves with that at the forefront of their minds. It’s always protocol and tradition first. Happiness is at the bottom of the list of priorities.

  “Happiness is something we don’t get to choose to have, my darling.”

  “You are wrong,” I counter. “We can choose to have it, but we must settle for it in secret. We must hide it.”

  Her head tilts, her shaky hands setting her cup and saucer on the desk. She is spilling more than she is drinking. “We must do what is best for this family.”

  “No, we must do what is best for the Monarchy. If we were doing what was best for this family, then we would all be talking, not to mention smiling. Yet we are not.” I, too, set my china down, sitting forward in my chair, wanting her to see my eyes when I say what I am about to say. “I am in love with a man, Mother,” I tell her clearly, no falter in my voice whatsoever.

  “The American,” she replies quietly, and I nod very mildly. Because, who else?

  “And because I am Queen of England, it is determined I cannot be with him. Yet I didn’t choose to be Queen.”

  “But you are.”

  “By default and nothing more. Becoming Sovereign should be dictated by desire, ability, and passion, none of which I possess.”

  “You will make a good queen, Adeline,” Mother says, sitting forward now, too. “Your people love you. Your country loves you. Sacrificing love is a small price to pay.”

  I shake my head, smiling sadly. “But to me, it is the ultimate price. One I am not willing to pay. We are not in the dark ages anymore. This is the twenty-first century, and the Royal Family needs dragging into it. If my people love me so much, then they will be happy for me.”

  “Are you suggesting making an American actor the public companion of the Queen of England?”

  Companion? There we are, the dark ages. “No, I am saying I wish to make him the public boyfriend of the Queen of England.”

  “Queens do not have boyfriends, Adeline.”

  “This one does,” I retort shortly. “And you may be happy to ignore it, to brush it under the carpet and hope age-old intervention will shield it, but I am not. I won’t walk away from the throne. I won’t throw our entire heritage to the wind. I will prove I can do this, and I will be a good queen, but if I am expected to do this job effectively, I can’t be expected to give up the one thing that gives me the strength. Josh gives me strength. He makes every day in this office bearable.”

  “And what about your family?”

  I’m not sure if she speaks of the secrets, or them giving me the strength. “Just because my secret is revealed to the world, doesn’t mean Eddie’s has to be. Or yours.” I pause a beat. “Unless you want it to be.”

  Her dark gaze widens. “You are completely and utterly deluded, Adeline. You are suggesting spilling everything to the world. I’ve told you before, we will be publicly shamed.”

  “I don’t mean all of your secrets.” Goodness knows, there are too many, and I maintain I would never want Eddie exposed as illegitimate, or my mother’s infidelity bared to the world. “I mean your relationship now with Major Davenport.”

  Her head recoils on her slender neck. “I’ll be crucified. Your father is barely cold in his grave.”

  “We will handle it delicately,” I tell her. “I’m not suggesting we release a statement airing every detail of your relationship. I’m suggesting over time, we release small nuggets of information to the press. We build the story, take control. We have the power to do that, Mother. And then there will be no hiding. There will be no sneaking around.” I reach across the desk and take her hands. “You can live, Mother. For the first time, you can live happily, just how you want to.”

  Her bottom lip quivers, and I know she is fighting her hope to believe it could be. Because it can be. I’ll make it be. With all I have, I will make it so she can be happy and let the world
see. “They will never allow it. Davenport and me, you and Mr. Jameson. It can’t happen.”

  My hands tighten around hers, evidence of my frustration. “I’m not prepared to be on the throne any longer unless I can be with Josh. I shouldn’t have to sacrifice love for responsibility. Besides, they will have no choice.”

  “Why? Are you are going to blackmail them?”

  Releasing her hands, I rest back in my chair. “I’m sure an abdication is the last thing they need when the country is slowly returning to normal.”

  Her gasp is loud. “You can’t abdicate.” She shoots up from her chair. “Goodness, Adeline. There will be a public outcry. Questions will have to be answered.”

  “Let them answer them, Mother. The reason we are here now is because every man and woman who advises me comes from a long, proud line of royal protectors. Their very reason to breathe is to protect the British Monarchy. That isn’t going to change if I am no longer Queen of England. Neither will it change if I choose to take a man who falls outside the lines of acceptance. Their purpose is to protect the secrets, and they will continue to do exactly that.”

  Her eyes are wide, her body still. I can tell she’s doubtful, but I have thought of little else all night. I’m not exposing anything except my love for a man. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Every threat is worthless. Every pull of my strings has made me fear the worst, but, really, the only way anyone will find out anything is if they tell them. And I would put my life on it they will not.

  “I think you are making a grave mistake.” Mother sits down again, and her fingers twiddle nervously in her lap. “You are underestimating them yet again.”

  “No, Mother. I think they are underestimating me. I’m in love with an American actor. A sex symbol. A southern man who swears like a sailor at times. But he makes me happy. He breathes life into me, and I’m not sacrificing him for anything. Not even the British throne.”

  She stares at me for a while, caught between shock and . . . what is that? I would like to think it is awe. Maybe pride. But I don’t have the chance to conclude. She quickly pulls down her mask and rises from her chair. “Then you must do what you have to do, Your Majesty. Good day.” She breezes out without another word, and I more or less flop back in my chair. That’s it? The door closes quietly, and I sigh. Mother was the easy part of this equation. Which makes my dread increase tenfold as the minute hand on the clock slowly ticks its way around to ten o’clock.

 
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