His true queen, p.31
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       His True Queen, p.31

           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  “What?” He sounds as shocked as one would expect. “What about everything you said? That you need them? That you would crumble without their knowledge and guidance.”

  “I have other advisors. They can’t get away with this. The pictures in the press of Haydon and I were just another way to try and back me into a corner. They had the nerve to deny all knowledge of your trashed hotel suite, too. They must think I’m stupid.”

  “Wow,” he breathes.

  “Josh, I’ve . . .” I fade off, not relishing the thought of sharing the next piece of the puzzle. “I’ve ordered an announcement to be drafted. About us. I want to share our friendship with the world first, and then slowly progress to our intimate relationship.”


  “Their response was to present me with a news report that’s running tomorrow in some trashy newspaper. A prostitute has sold her story.”

  He sighs. “Tammy just told me.”

  “Then why didn’t you say?”

  “You didn’t give me the chance. But tell me you don’t be—”

  “I don’t believe it,” I assure him. He shouldn’t need to ask that now.

  “I need a drink,” Josh mumbles, and I smile, looking at my empty glass.

  “Beat you,” I say quietly, rolling it across the desk. “Are you sure you want this, Josh?”

  “Are you seriously asking me that question? Don’t fuckin’ insult me, Adeline. I’ve been desperate to show you off to the world.”

  “Show me off?” I question on a wry smile. “I think they are all relatively familiar with who I am.”

  “Yes, but they’re not familiar with the fact that you’re mine.” He sounds so assertive when he says that, so sure. I don’t know why I momentarily questioned it. “This is so fucked up, Adeline.”

  “I know. But Davenport and Tammy will get it sorted. And we need to have a conversation about your terrible language, Mr. Jameson. One cannot be seen to be dating such vulgarity.”

  He laughs, and the sound is pure joy. “Does that mean I can’t spank your ass in public?”

  In my mind’s eye, I see MPs, councilors, and royal advisors all fainting. “There will be no public arse spanking.”

  “Fair enough. I promise to behave in public, but I make no promises for when we’re in private.”

  “I wouldn’t expect you to,” I say on a grin, looking up when I hear a knock. “There’s someone here to see me.”

  “No sweat. I’m having drinks with some industry people this afternoon. Just hangin’ at the hotel. I’ll call you later.”

  Excitement engulfs me, something happening I never dreamed would happen. “Okay.”

  “Love you, gorgeous.”

  “I love you, too.” I hang up and breathe out, so much weight gone from my shoulders. “Come in.”

  Kim enters, her expression wary. God, what now? “Sabina Sampson has requested an audience, ma’am.”

  All that tension returns, but I fight it back with all my might. This is to be expected, I guess. I ought to get what I know will be a difficult conversation out of the way. “I will see Mrs. Sampson,” I declare, my voice sure.

  “I believe she is on her way from the royal stables. I’ll show her to your office the moment she arrives.”

  “Thank you, Kim.”

  The door closes, and I start chewing the corner of my phone, my mind off on a tangent. I cannot believe I have fired two of my father’s chief advisors. I look to the ceiling. Is he looking down on me? Shouting at my stupidity? I close my eyes and breathe out. What kind of mad world am I in? On a shake of my bewildered head, I close my eyes, utterly spent.

  THE DOOR RAPS, AND I jump in my chair, blinking my eyes open. I’m disorientated, my gaze jumping around my surroundings trying to gain my bearings. My father’s office. No, my office. I turn my phone over to check the time. Lord, I dozed off. Forty minutes have disappeared. “Come in,” I call, clearing my throat after.

  “Mrs. Sampson,” Kim declares when she’s opened the door.

  “Thank you.”

  She lets Sabina pass and backs out, closing the door behind her. “Is it all quiet on the western front?” Sabina asks.

  Is she here to beg my forgiveness on behalf of her snake of a son? I slide my phone onto the desk, joining my hands. “Sabina, I’m sorry this has—”

  Her hand comes up, stopping me. “That’s enough of that, now.” She motions to a chair. “May I?”

  “Of course. Please.”

  She sits, her eyes on my empty glass. “Bad day?”

  I drop my eyes to the glass. Does she know? Or is she referring to last night when I rejected her grandson? “I’ve had better.”

  Her head tilts, her smile more than fond. “Tell me about this American.”

  I pool in my chair, so grateful. This can’t be easy for her. Her grandson rejected, her son fired. This woman has always been such a support to me, and now more than ever I am so thankful. Honestly, it is a shame I can’t bring myself to feel the same way about Haydon, because Sabina has always been like a grandmother to me.

  “He’s wonderful,” I say, almost shy. “The kind of man who will worship the ground I walk on but not think twice about putting me in my place if I need it. With him, everything is so much more brighter.” I shrug, wondering if I should rein myself in. This can’t be easy for her to hear. But it feels so good to finally talk about him. “Like the darkest days can be chased away with a cuddle and a few words. I have always doubted my capabilities from the second I landed on the throne, Sabina. It’s not a job I wanted, you know that, but I have it now, and I must do what I must do. I thought my need to prove myself was enough. It wasn’t. But Josh is. He’s what I need, because with him I can do anything. Even this.” I throw my arms up, indicating our surroundings and where I am sitting.

  “That’s a special thing to have,” she says quietly, almost reminiscent. “And is he ready for this circus?”

  “He has his own circus to contend with daily, Sabina. This will be just another layer of crazy to him.”

  “And for you, my dear,” she adds, smirking. “So when do I get to meet him? Officially, I mean.”

  “I don’t know,” I answer truthfully. “Davenport is handling everything. Josh is here in London for the next week; I hope before he leaves. And for official meetings with the family, I have no idea how that will work.” I’m nervous just thinking about it.

  “I expect he has to fulfil his current commitments first, anyway,” she says casually, and I shrink a little, deciding here and now I will never make Josh choose between his career and me. I know how much it means to him, how happy it makes him. Goodness, if the world can accept my relationship, it can accept he will have a job outside of being in a relationship with the Queen.

  “Sabina, would you excuse me?” I ask, getting up from my chair.

  “Of course, dear.” She stands, too, walking out with me. I open the door for her, and as she passes me and I start to follow, we run into Haydon.

  I still.

  “Grandmother,” he says, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

  “My darling. What are you doing here?”

  “I was hoping Her Majesty would spare me a few moments.” He looks at me, and I fold on the inside, feeling so terrible for him. I can’t do this. Not now.

  “I must speak to Major Davenport.” I’m passing them quickly, leaving them to watch me make my hurried escape. “I’m sorry, Haydon,” I call. But I have more important matters to deal with right now than Haydon’s bruised feelings. Heartless, yes, but he’s a victim of his own stupidity, too. Right now, I have another case to plead.

  MY CONVERSATION WITH DAVENPORT WENT as well as could be expected. Not very well. But I stood my ground and stated firmly that I was not prepared to change Josh, as that was the damn point of all this in the first place. He is who he is, and changing that would make a mockery of me.

  As I sit at my desk, constantly looking up to check the time, I slowly work through the red box while
Kim works opposite me. “The New Year’s Honors List?” I ask, looking over the candidates. Each one has a detailed reason for appearing on the list, from sports stars and singers to scientists and charity founders. “Graham Miles,” I muse, remembering him clearly grilling Josh during that interview I watched with Matilda. “For outstanding contribution to TV.”

  “He’s an institution in himself,” Kim says. “And loved by the country.”

  “Sir Graham Miles CBE,” I declare, circling his name a few times with my Parker, smiling as I do.

  “You’re a delinquent.”

  I scoff, dropping my pen and glancing at the clock again. It’s gone eight o’clock. Why hasn’t Josh called me? Surely he’s finished having drinks. “There has to be some perks to the job,” I say quietly. “Pass me my phone, will you?” I can’t wait any longer. If I interrupt drinks, so be it.

  “Where is it?” Kim starts lifting papers across the desk in search of it, and I do, too, moving my red box to the side, frowning when I find no phone. “Whatever have I done with that?”

  “When did you last see it?” Kim asks, taking her own phone and raising it to her ear.

  I think. And think. “I spoke to Josh earlier.” Scanning the desk once more, I then go to the drawers and start pulling them open. “I spoke with Davenport, had lunch, met with the PR team.”

  “It’s switched off,” Kim says, now frowning, too. “Did it run out of battery?”

  “I never let it run out of battery.” I get up and head out, wracking my brain for when I last had it. I find Davenport in his office, the door open. “Major, do you recall me having my phone with me when we spoke earlier?”

  “I couldn’t say, ma’am. Shall I call it?”

  “It’s switched off,” I tell him, noticing the chair in front of his desk is off skew. It’s always set at a perfect forty-five degree angle. He’s had company. Mother. As if to make a point, I step inside and take the back of the chair, turning it a few inches to the right, putting it back in its rightful place. Davenport watches me, and I smile, just a little, before leaving. I poke my head around the door of the empty PR suite, scanning the empty conference table. “How odd,” I say to myself, looking down the corridor when I hear footsteps. Damon paces toward me, and if I am not mistaken, he looks rather ticked off. “Why haven’t you gone home yet?”

  “I can’t find my phone,” he mutters, looking past me into the PR suite.

  A wave of unease ripples through me. “Have you called it?”

  “Yes, it’s switched off.”

  “Mine, too,” I reply, my gaze falling to the floor and scanning the carpet, as if both phones might appear there. When I look back to Damon, his forehead is heavy. “I can’t find my phone, either.”

  He recoils, then his head cocks. “When did you last have it?”

  “I can’t be sure.” I admit. “You?”

  “In the kitchen. Dolly was making me a sandwich. I went to the toilet, got caught up in talks with my men, and when I got back it was gone.”

  “There has to be a perfectly reasonable explanation,” I say, walking off and meeting Kim in the foyer.

  “Have you found it?” she asks, her phone at her ear again.

  “No. And Damon’s is missing, too.”

  Kim’s phone drops from her ear as Damon moves in and claims it. “Do you have last location set?” he asks, looking at me.

  “I don’t know.” I shrug. “Palace security has always dealt with phone security.”

  He grumbles under his breath and starts tapping away at Kim’s screen. “Offline.” Damon stills, thinking.

  “My phone?”

  “No, mine.” He hands Kim her mobile. “Last location is registered as here.”

  “Then they have to be somewhere.” I laugh. “There can’t be a phone thief on the loose in the palace. And besides, my phone is of no use to anyone unless they know the million-digit passcode.”

  Damon hums, his mind whizzing. “The last known location of my phone was the palace. That doesn’t mean to say it’s still here.” He marches off, and I watch his back disappear down the corridor to the offices.

  I throw my arms up, exasperated. “Where are you going?”

  “To wipe our phones,” he calls back, and then it hits me why he is so twitchy. Lord, the text messages and pictures on my mobile!

  “Bloody hell,” I breathe, running after him. “Can you access a phone without the code?”

  “If you know what you’re doing.” He enters Davenport’s office, me hot on his tail. “We have a situation.” Damon ushers a perplexed looking Davenport out of his chair and takes the seat, going straight to the desktop.

  Davenport looks to me for an explanation, since Damon is now preoccupied, tapping away at the computer. “My phone is missing,” I explain, not liking the roundness of Davenport’s eyes as a result of my news. “Damon can remotely wipe it.”

  “And assuming it’s been stolen, what might the perpetrator discover should they gain access?”

  I shrink on the spot, but my shoulders are high and tense. “A few pictures, maybe,” I all but squeak. “And a lot of text messages.”

  His eyes roll so hard, there’s a risk he won’t see forward again. “Lord, have mercy,” he breathes, going straight to his own mobile and making a call. I can do no more than watch as Davenport barks orders down the line to some poor individual, and Damon talks to palace security from the desk phone, trying to get access to my phone from the computer.

  “Oh boy,” Kim says from behind me. “You’re in big trouble now.”

  “Oh, be quiet,” I snap, my panic growing with every second that passes while I wait for news from either of the two frantic men at the desk before me. Every picture on my phone flashes through my head, except they are not on my phone, but on the front page of a newspaper. One of me in my underwear wearing my Spanish tiara. One of me blowing Josh a kiss, looking all seductive. One of Josh half naked, his hips wrapped in a small towel. The endless text messages between us. Oh, bloody hell.

  “Done.” Damon smacks the desk and drops back in the chair, giving me a glare that could make me disintegrate. I smile, meek and nervously. “They could have gained access before I wiped it, though,” he adds.

  “Felix,” Davenport yells, and a few seconds later, my head of communications skids down the corridor on his loafers, his glasses a little skew-whiff in his haste.

  “Sir,” he practically pants as Davenport stalks toward him, his phone still at his ear.

  “I have the top section covered.” The major shoves a piece of paper at Felix. “Call every editor on the bottom section and make sure no incriminating pictures of Her Majesty or Mr. Jameson have turned up on their desks. Be discreet.”

  Felix looks horrified, and my stomach sinks some more. “How do you suggest I be discreet?”

  He’s right. Without coming right on out and asking, how can one approach this?

  “I don’t care,” Davenport yells, losing his composure. It’s an unfamiliar sight, and, honestly, I’m rather scared. “Use your damn initiative, boy.”

  “Sir.” Felix slinks off, his tail between his legs, and I go back to watching the chaos of Davenport’s office—Kim pacing, her phone to her ear, Davenport stomping, barking down the line, and Damon still glaring at me. I don’t know why. I hardly put the phone in the thief’s hand.

  “I’ll step outside,” I say, backing out of the room, keen to escape the tension. I scuttle to the kitchen and find Dolly clearing up the last of the pans, whistling as she does. “Hello,” I say, pulling her round from the cupboard she’s stretching to reach.

  “Oh, Your Majesty. Whatever are you doing in the kitchens?”

  “I need a drink, Dolly.”

  “Right away.” She abandons the pots and hunts down some champagne, quickly popping the cork. “I will have to go find a flute, ma’am. We don’t keep glassware here in the kitchens.”

  “Just give me a mug,” I say, motioning to the many cupboards. “A jug, a sa
ucepan, I don’t care. Actually, the bottle.” I give her grabby hands and take the bottle straight to my lips once she’s handed it to me.

  “Oh dear.”

  I swig down a good few inches of the bottle and slam my bottom onto a chair at the large table. I know Dolly knows better than to ask, and I can’t very well tell her. “Long day,” I sigh, turning the bottle an inch one way, and then the other, back and forth as I stare at the label.

  “Apparently so,” she muses, going back to her pots and pans, leaving me to drown my sorrows in peace. What a mess. Or is it? Maybe Damon and Davenport are being over cautious. My phone could be anywhere in this sprawling building. But Damon’s, too? It is rather a large coincidence.

  “Can I get you anything before I leave, ma’am?” Dolly asks, pulling on the apron strings at her back.

  I lift the bottle to the light to check how much I have left. “I should be fine, thank you,” I say, taking another swing as she hangs her apron on the pantry door hook.

  “Very well. If you’re feeling peckish, I’ve just made a batch of my salsa. The crisps are in the pantry. Top shelf to the far right. I’ve had to reorganize everything. I couldn’t find a blasted thing in this new kitchen.”

  “Thank you, Dolly.” I force a smile as she collects her giant bag and leaves me. I have no appetite for food, only for alcohol. Damn it, I can’t even ring Josh to tell him about this mess. Glancing at the kitchen clock, I note it’s now nearing nine o’clock. He should have called by now. I lift the bottle to my lips and more or less pour the champagne into my mouth.

  “Found her,” Davenport shouts, making me jump at the table and swing around, the bottle still at my lips. His disapproving look is wasted. I could not be any more disgraced, apparently. Damon appears, too, and they both join me at the table, silent, as I slowly lower the bottle from my mouth. They’re assessing. Judging. Oh, for heaven’s sake.

  “How was I supposed to know my phone would go missing?” I refrain from directly mentioning the pictures or detailing them. This is mortifying enough already.

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