His true queen, p.30
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       His True Queen, p.30

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  Two minutes.

  One minute.

  I jump when my phone rings. I quickly snatch it up. “Josh,” I answer, ready to tell him I will call him straight back as soon as I have dealt with Sir Don and David.

  “Tell me I’m not looking at what I’m being told I’m looking at.” He sounds like a man on the edge, consumed by red-hot rage.

  “I have no idea what you are looking at,” I say quietly, my eyes darting across the desk. A second later, my phone chimes in my ear, and I pull it away to see Josh has texted me a link. Everything is telling me that this link will lead me to a rage similar to Josh’s, and I shouldn’t open it. But my finger hits the screen anyway, and I’m soon looking at the source of Josh’s fury. My muscles tighten, my body going rigid in my chair. “No,” I whisper, staring at the picture of Haydon on his knee, a small box being held out to me. I’m stunned into silence, staring at what I know the rest of the world will be staring at. From the angle, I can tell this picture came from the left side of the table. David’s side. How dare he do something so blatant? How dare he disrespect me in my home? I slowly bring my phone back to my ear, a red mist of anger falling across my vision.

  “He proposed to you?” Josh asks, his voice tight. “So he can’t touch you, but he can ask you to marry him?”

  “I said no.”

  “Of course you said no.” He laughs. “You left that dinner and came to bed with me. I made love to you. Cuddled you all fuckin’ night. The man is fuckin’ deluded, and I swear to God, Adeline, I’m gonna kick his stupid ass if he doesn’t back the fuck off. But what I want to know from you is why you didn’t fuckin’ tell me? I need to know shit like this, Adeline. Prepare for headlines like this.”

  “It shouldn’t be in the damn headlines. And I didn’t tell you because of this,” I counter. “Because I didn’t want last night to be spent with you yelling at me for something I’m not responsible for.”

  “Fuckin’ Christ, Adeline,” he breathes, obviously as exhausted by the whole mess as I am. “This is driving me insane.”

  “I’m fixing it,” I assure him, now watching the second-hand creep around. Josh is with me at breaking point. This is one more chink to repair. One more betrayal to get past.

  The door knocks.

  “I have to go.”

  “Fix it, Adeline,” he scathes. “Or I will be there to fix it myself. I can’t sit back and do nothing while this jerk tries to take my woman.”

  Part of me finds the thought of Josh going on a rampage through the palace appealing. Part of me dreads the damage he could do. I’m sending him over the edge. “I’ll call you.” I hang up and stand from my chair, my veins burning. “Come in.”

  Kim pokes her head around the door. “Felix would like to speak with you, ma’am.”

  Felix. I have no doubt why. He must have found out about the article, too. “No need, Kim. Tell him it’s in hand.”

  She nods. “Everyone is here. Shall I see them all in?”

  “Please.”

  She opens up the path, announcing Sir Don and David Sampson, then Felix and Major Davenport. “Sit,” I say curtly. I have no room for graciousness. The moment they are all in their chairs, I turn my phone around and let them see the screen, scanning their faces as I do. Felix shakes his head in disgust, matching Davenport and Kim, but surprisingly, David and Sir Don look disappointed, too. Good actors. “In my home,” I seethe. “At my dinner table. How dare you infiltrate my privacy so boldly? How dare you twist the truth to further your goals? Do you think I will stand back and let you do this?”

  “Your Majesty, I was just as alarmed when I heard,” David splutters.

  I scoff, staggered that I am expected to believe him. “Alarmed?”

  “Of course,” he says, a little high-pitched.

  “So you knew nothing about it?”

  “I refute what you are insinuating.”

  “Are you telling me you didn’t take this picture?”

  “Of course I didn’t.”

  “Then you won’t mind if Major Davenport takes a look at your phone, will you?” I grate, nodding for Davenport to do so.

  David hands his phone over with no protest. He even unlocks it for the major. How very kind. It’s now I realize there is nothing on that phone to be discovered. He’s hidden his tracks. When Davenport shakes his head, confirming my conclusions, and hands the phone to David, I’m certain there’s an edge of smugness behind his apparent blank expression. God, have I ever hated a man so much?

  “Regardless of who and why, the rumors will be put to rest immediately. Felix, prepare a statement for my approval.”

  “Yes, ma’am.” He starts scribbling notes.

  “And prepare another, announcing my friendship with Josh Jameson.” I stare at Sir Don and David, aware that Felix has stopped writing and is looking at me in complete shock.

  “Pardon, ma’am?”

  “Adeline,” Kim breathes, but Major Davenport remains quiet. As if he expected this, and I know he did. Because my mother told him.

  My eyes remain on Sir Don and David as I speak. “I am in a relationship with Josh Jameson, and I have been for some time. But you know that, don’t you?” Of course they know. They were at Evernmore. “We are in love, and I for one am not prepared to let anything stand in our way. Not my advisors, not my country, and not my crown.” Oh my goodness, I’ve never felt so empowered. So strong. David and Sir Don remain speechless opposite me, their expressions frozen in shock. “I think it is high time we all stop ignoring it, don’t you agree? And I won’t tolerate your underhandedness any longer. We will announce our friendship, initially. Let the world absorb the news, and then we will gently and masterfully break the news of our relationship.”

  Sir Don looks like he is on the verge of a heart attack. “Your father would turn in his grave.”

  “Maybe so. But as you have kindly reminded me, my father is dead. Now I must think about my family. And me.”

  “And what about my son?” David snipes, and I laugh.

  “You are a snake in the grass, Sampson. A cling-on. The closest you will ever get to the crown is being one of my advisors. I won’t marry Haydon so you can bask in the glory. I will be with a man of my choosing, not yours.”

  “You need a suitable husband,” Sir Don cries.

  “I need you to shut the hell up or get the hell out,” I yell, reaching my limit. I slam my fist on the desk, making Kim and Felix jump. Davenport remains composed, and Sir Don and David’s red faces become redder. “I will release you from your duty, make no mistake. You are not indispensable.” Their knowledge and wisdom are great, yes, but I can no longer be scared of tackling my duties without them. For what I lose in experience, I will gain in loyalty.

  “Your Majesty.” David seems to gather himself, calming somewhat. “I strongly urge you to reconsider.”

  “My mind is made up.” I lower to my chair. “You can either work with me, or you can leave.”

  “It is our job to advise you,” David says calmly. “To protect you and the throne.”

  “I don’t need your protection in this instance.”

  “I heartily disagree, ma’am.” Sir Don reaches into his inside pocket and pulls out something, placing it on the desk before me.

  “What is this?” I ask.

  “It is something that may change your mind, ma’am. About the American.”

  It is all I can do not to laugh when I see the picture. Oh my, they really are prepared for me. “We have played this game before, Sir Don. A trashed hotel room, women’s undergarments left conveniently on the floor. Is this the best you can do?”

  He frowns. “A trashed hotel room?”

  God, give me strength before I erupt. I look at Felix, and he looks confused and gobsmacked. Yes, Felix. I believe Sir Don was responsible for that.

  “This is due to be released in tomorrow’s newspaper, ma’am.”

  I drag my eyes back to the woman who is posing like any expert glamour model, all boobs a
nd pout. I read the words below.

  My wild night with Josh Jameson.

  “Very good, Sir Don.” The red mist is getting thicker. They are paying hookers now? “You fall short on one thing, though.” I brush the trashy-looking trashy-talking woman aside. “I know Josh better than anyone, and that woman right there is not his type.” Plus, he wouldn’t do that to me.

  “Your Majesty, this is not fabricated,” David says, pointing to the papers. “It is genuine, I assure you.”

  “No, David. It is merely another attempt on your part to bully me into complying. It will not work.”

  “So you are happy for this to be released to the world?” Sir Don asks.

  “Of course I’m not, and since it displeases me, you will do everything in your power to stop it being released.” I turn to Felix, and he sticks his back to the chair, wary. “I trust I can depend on you, too, Felix.”

  He nods.

  “Good.”

  “I believe the story is already in the hands of the press,” Sir Don declares. “Unfortunately, on this occasion, our sources have been somewhat lazy.”

  “How very convenient. And tarnishing Josh’s reputation is more important to you than keeping your job?”

  Sir Don stands, pulling in his suit jacket. “I took an oath to protect the crown, like my father and my father’s father. My life has been devoted to serving the Royal Family. At the very least, I can leave my employment knowing I maintained my oath to the very end. A queen should not marry out of love, but out of strength. And to be clear, Your Majesty, I did not fabricate that story. It was sent to me by an editor.”

  “And why did the editor believe you, not Felix, would be interested in anything to do with an American actor’s behavior?”

  He takes a deep breath, no doubt attempting to find an appropriate lie to answer with. “I don’t know that.”

  “So convenient.” Raging bloody mad, I throw a hand toward the door. “Get out.”

  He bows his head, his last display of respect to me, and leaves my office, shutting the door quietly behind him. I look to Davenport, maybe searching for some help. I get nothing from him, just his stoic face and his stiff body.

  “Your Majesty,” David says, gaining my attention. “I played no part in Sir Don’s games, I assure you.”

  He’s an embarrassment. A liar and a backstabber. He can’t backpedal now. “That is all,” I say resolutely, and he darts his eyes to the others. What is he doing? Searching for backup? “I said, that is all.”

  “You’re firing me?” he asks, a little laugh behind his unsure words.

  “Indeed I am. And mark my words, Sampson, you will rue the day you ever crossed me if you so much as think about breaching your oaths to the crown. I will sign your death warrant in blood with no hesitation, do you understand me?”

  “Your Majesty,” he murmurs pitifully. Unsure and reluctant, David stands, his eyes wide in his head. He’s dumbfounded. Good. He wanders out of my office in a daze, and once he’s gone, I very nearly crumble to the floor, exhausted and drained.

  “Drink, ma’am?” Davenport asks, getting up and wandering over to the globe. He pours me a Scotch without waiting for my answer, brings it over, and sets it on a coaster on the desk.

  “Good idea.” I take it and sip the burning liquid down, hoping it will burn away some of the rooted anger.

  “Do whatever it takes to recall that story,” I tell Felix.

  “Of course, ma’am.”

  “May I?” Davenport asks, retaking his chair and putting one leg over the other, back straight.

  “Please.”

  “Our relationship with the press is a fickle thing, ma’am. One that should be handled carefully. Every journalist is looking for the story to make their name, but there is no better story than one shrouding the Royals—good or bad. It supersedes everything.”

  “What are you saying, Major?”

  “I’m saying, given Your Majesty is adamant of her next steps regarding her relationship with a certain American, it may be time for us to forge new relationships. As a rule, we have only ever entertained the more, let’s say, noteworthy publications. We have never been in full control of the . . . how must one say it?” He thinks for a second. “More unreliable prints.”

  “Let us not beat around the bush, Major. I think you mean the gossip papers.”

  “Indeed. I’m sure they will welcome an invitation to report Royal news that will benefit both parties. As well as maintaining our current relationships, of course.”

  “And this will benefit us how?”

  He stands and wanders to the fireplace, looking at the picture of my father. I wonder if he’s thinking that maybe had my father given him the chance, he could have served him better, like he’s trying to serve me.

  Major Davenport hums to himself before he goes on. “As I see it, a certain editor of a certain publication holds a certain scandalous story on a certain American actor.” Is he purposely dragging this out? “Said editor does not know a royal—namely, the Queen—is connected to said American actor.”

  “Oh, for pity’s sake, Major. Will you please just spit it out?”

  He turns toward me, smiling a little. “We need to give him something else to report. Something more newsworthy than an unreliable nightwalker shouting her mouth off.” His eyebrow hitches, mirroring mine. “An exchange, if you will. No news is more worthy of recognition if it is accurate and, more significantly, about a royal.”

  I stare at him, trying to unravel my poor tangled mind. “Are you suggesting I announce my relationship with Josh in a newspaper where on the next page there will be a pair of boobs?”

  Kim snorts, and Felix gasps, the mere notion outrageous. Even I can appreciate that. Davenport chuckles. “No, ma’am. Any exclusive news about the Queen most certainly isn’t for a newspaper that prints pictures of bosoms. Especially the kind of news detailing a potential suitor.”

  “Well, that is quite a relief.” I laugh.

  “I am suggesting that we perhaps tempt them with some other royal news.”

  “Such as?” I can’t think of anything else to tempt them with, at least not what I would be happy to divulge. Then it hits me. I balk at the major. “You want to make something up?” Isn’t that the entire reason we are sitting here now debating this?

  “Not at all, ma’am. But I do think that the recent departure of two of the longest-serving royal advisors may pique some interest.”

  “You want to throw Sir Don and David to the wolves?”

  “Those wolves are waiting for Mr. Jameson, ma’am.”

  His statement hits me like a brick in the face, and I snap my mouth shut, my mind suddenly mushy, unable to think clearly. “Isn’t that immoral?”

  “May I be direct?” he asks, and I nod because that is all I bloody want him to be. “This whole institution has been built on immorality, Your Majesty. Moves being made, games played, all to benefit the Monarchy. You are simply adopting an age-old tradition to get what you want, just like every other king and queen in history. The question I have to ask you, ma’am, is: are you prepared for the potential backlash of exposing your relationship with Mr. Jameson?” His head cocks, waiting for an answer. I’m mute. So he goes on. “There is no denying, more people love you than don’t, but could this be a step too far?”

  “Do you think it could be?”

  “Of course. Anything could be a step too far.” Davenport comes to me, standing by the side of my desk and looking at me in a way that tells me he cares. His hard face is soft. “You are about to change the face of the Royal Family, Adeline.” When he says my name, it is both unfamiliar and comforting. “It is my job as your private secretary to advise you of every eventuality. The good and the bad. I’m not adverse to change. But, be warned, where you gain admirers outside of this institution, you will gain enemies within.”

  My swallow is hard. Because I know he is right. They’re effectively trying to blackmail me. Threatening to ruin Josh’s reputation if I don
’t relent to their demands. “They are already my enemies, Major. I’d rather have Josh around while I tackle my role and deal with those enemies.”

  He smiles, stepping back, nodding mildly. “Then I believe I have some calls to make. We will discuss Your Majesty’s announcement once this has all been cleared up.” He walks to the door and stops, looking back. “And one more thing.”

  “What?”

  “I assume you have discussed with Mr. Jameson his role.”

  “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. His role in what?”

  Davenport frowns. “Your life, ma’am. You do realize if you want to be together, Mr. Jameson will become a Royal. There is only one job a Royal must have.” His eyebrows rise. “Being a Royal.”

  “Are you telling me he has to give up his career?” I laugh, the thought never crossing my mind. I could never ask him to do that. “We’re dating, Davenport. Not marrying.”

  “So all of this is so you can date a man?”

  I snap my mouth shut.

  “As I thought. I will leave that matter in your capable hands.” He looks to Felix. “Onwards and upwards, I think is the term.”

  Felix dives up from his seat and scuttles after Davenport, and I finish my Scotch in one fell glug. I can’t possibly ask Josh to give up his career for me. But would he?

  “I see plainly now why you would have him serve you,” Kim says, watching the door close. “My mind just doesn’t work in that way.”

  I hum my agreement over the rim of my glass, silently thanking the heavens for Davenport, while also damning him for raising such a sobering point. “Would you mind giving me a moment?” I need to call Josh. To tell him everything that has happened.

  Without a word, Kim leaves my office, and I immediately dial him. “I’ve fired Sir Don and David Sampson,” I say the moment he answers, not giving him the chance to say hello.

 
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