His true queen, p.32
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       His True Queen, p.32

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  “We’ve contacted every editor in London. No pictures or messages, so unless any of them are good liars, we should be okay.”

  “Should be?” I question, not liking the sound of that.

  “Do you know how many editors there are in London alone?” Davenport asks, tilting his head, as if waiting for me to actually answer.

  Of course I don’t know. A lot, I would guess. “So what you are saying is, you have done all you can and now all we can do is wait?”

  “Indeed.” Davenport nods. “What I would like to find out in the meantime is who would steal your phone, as well as Damon’s.”

  “Are you being a little paranoid?” I ask tentatively. “And besides, who in the palace would want to expose discriminating pictures of me? Everyone is here to protect the damn crown, not shame it.” I get two ferocious glares pointed at me. “I think maybe I will be quiet.” I submit, sliding down my chair and hiding in my bottle once more. And though it thoroughly hurts my head, I force myself to think about who could have stolen it. Sir Don and David Sampson are out of the question, surely? Like I said, their sole purpose is to protect the Monarchy, not dirty it. But maybe now they don’t care about it, since I fired them earlier. I look to Damon and Davenport in turn, pouting. I know they’re thinking along the same lines. But would Sir Don and David Sampson so blatantly disregard my order to maintain their oaths?

  “We should accelerate the announcement and also add that you’re in a relationship Mr. Jameson,” Davenport declares, standing up from the table. “Our calls have turned up no results, but I’m not willing to take the risk.” His stressed eyes land on me. “Has Kim drafted the statement?”

  I lower my bottle to the table carefully. “I don’t know.” Davenport turns on his heels and marches out of the kitchen, and I’m up from my chair like lightning. “Wait!” I shout, and he turns at the door, impatience rife on his face. “You’re going to tell the world we’re in a relationship? Now?” Oh my goodness, all this time I’ve wanted nothing more than the world to know, and now my stomach is doing cartwheels at the thought that it finally will.

  “When control is showing signs of slipping away from you, you take it back. Your phone is missing, and as it stands, we do not know where it is. There are pictures and messages on that phone, ones that will expose your intimate relationship with Mr. Jameson. I assume you do not want your courtship revealed in that way. And we don’t know the motives of the thief, if at all there is a thief. So, as I said, we’re taking back control.” He carries on his way. “I will consult with you in due course.”

  I stare at the empty doorway, my heart racing in my chest. The world will know. I grab my bottle and guzzle down the remainder of my champagne, anything to wash away the anxiety crawling up my throat. “I need to speak to Josh,” I gasp after I’ve finished my last swallow. He needs to know. His PR team needs to know. “Where’s the nearest phone?”

  Damon points to the wall on the other side of the kitchen where a phone hangs, it’s only purpose, usually, to take incoming orders from around the palace. I dart over and lift the receiver, and stare blankly at the buttons. I have no idea what his number is, and in desperation, I look to Damon. It’s a long shot, but . . .

  “No clue,” he says in answer, standing. “Where’s he staying?”

  “The Ritz. Prince of Wales Suite.”

  Without a word, Damon leaves the kitchen and I scramble to replace the receiver before running after him. Back in Davenport’s office, he hits the keys of the keyboard and finds what I need, dialing the number into Davenport’s desk phone. It rings, and when a member of reception answers with a polite, “Good evening, welcome to The Ritz London. Benjamin speaking, how may I assist you?” I lunge for the phone to talk. I miss it by a fraction, Damon reaching it first and scowling at me as he takes it to his ear. “Josh Jameson’s suite, please.”

  “I’m sorry, we don’t have a guest by that name, sir.” His words are perfectly clear, and I slump where I stand.

  Damon reaches to his forehead and rubs into it. “I don’t know what name his reservation is under, but he is staying in the Prince of Wales Suite.”

  “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have a guest by that name with us at this time,” the receptionist repeats robotically, reading from a well-rehearsed script.

  “This is urgent,” Damon grates.

  “I’m sorry, we don’t—”

  “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” I yell, snatching the phone from Damon and diving from his reach.

  “Adeline!”

  “I demand to be transferred to Josh Jameson’s suite. I am the Que—” The phone disappears from my hand and Damon slams it down, his look pure filth. I scowl back, annoyed. “It was worth a try.”

  “Sometimes, Your Majesty, I could bloody strangle your reckless neck.”

  I drag my feet across to a chair and drop down. “What else would you have me do? He needs to know, Damon. That announcement could be out there before I see him. I can’t let him find out like that.”

  “What, that you’re in an intimate relationship? Because I’m sure it’ll be old news to him,” Damon quips, flicking the desk phone aside with a heavy hand and dropping into the chair with equal force to mine.

  “Funny ha-ha.”

  “It wasn’t supposed to be.”

  “So how do I get hold of him, clever clogs?”

  “Shut up for a minute,” Damon snaps, and I recoil, indignation flooding me, not that Damon would notice because he’s not looking at me. No one else would dare speak to me in such a way. If he were anyone else, I would now be tearing into him. But Damon isn’t anyone else.

  I watch him sulk and think, my eyes drifting across to the clock again. Nine thirty. My fingers start to drum on the arms of the chair. It’s the only sound in the room, and it must start to irritate Damon because he gives me another one of those death stares. Goodness, someone is grumpy today. “Sorry.” I stop with the drumming, and Damon goes back to thinking. He clearly has a bad feeling about this, but I have to admit, I am still on the fence. The only people who work closely with me would never want to expose such sordid pictures of me or reveal my affair so carelessly.

  I look at the clock again. Nine forty-five. I’m getting restless. For all I know, Josh could have been trying to call me for hours. He would have tried Damon, and then met a brick wall. He’ll be worried. I have to see him. “Damon,” I say, dragging his name out.

  Slowly, he pulls his eyes up from the desk. I smile sweetly. He immediately starts shaking his head. “No.” It’s so final, not that I take much notice.

  “Yes,” I counter, rising from my chair.

  “No, Adeline.” Damon gets up, too, and starts following me out of Davenport’s office when I dismiss him and leave. “All my men have knocked off. I have no phone. No.”

  “Yes,” I repeat snootily, reaching the foyer. “I need to see Josh and tell him of the imminent announcement.”

  “No way.”

  “Olive,” I call.

  “No. No, no, no.” Damon watches as Olive appears, ever ready to serve.

  “Would you please fetch my coat and purse?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “No,” Damon snaps, making the poor thing jump. “I am not taking you anywhere this evening.”

  “Wrong,” I counter, moving closer to him. “You will take me, or I will drive myself.” I’m speaking nonsense. I have polished off an entire bottle of Moët. Not to mention I have no idea where the keys for the cars are kept at Claringdon.

  As Olive appears with my coat and holds it up for me, I slide my arms in and accept my bag, staring down my rather aggravated head of security. He better not make me remind him of who he serves. Because I will. On this occasion, I most definitely will.

  “You are the Queen of England, Adeline. You cannot gallivant across London at a moment’s notice without security measures in place. Traveling without a means of communication is out of the question.”

  I turn to Olive. “Do you have a
mobile phone?”

  Her wide eyes jump between Damon and me. “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Would it be terribly cheeky for me to ask if Damon can borrow it?”

  “You cannot be serious,” Damon mutters.

  “Of course, ma’am,” she chirps as she darts off, ever happy to help.

  I turn my smug gaze onto Damon. “Problem solved.”

  “I have no men.”

  “But I trust you explicitly with my wellbeing, Damon,” I say, my voice soft and genuine. Because it’s the truth.

  Olive returns and hands a grumpy Damon her phone. “The code is my birthday.”

  Jaw tight, he takes Olive’s phone. “Which is what?”

  “December tenth.”

  “You’re a sweetheart, Olive,” I say, smiling brightly before turning my smile onto Damon. “Ready?”

  On a growl, he rakes a hand through his hair and turns, stamping his way to the door, making a footman jump when he yanks it open with such force, he might rip it off the hinges. “If you were anyone other than you, I would have quit years ago.”

  I smile. Because when he says other than you, he doesn’t mean the Queen, because she’s quite important.

  He just means me. Because he cares.

  DAMON IS TWITCHY. HE DOES not murmur a word for the entire journey, and I stop myself from trying to strike up conversation. I know my Damon well, and I know it will be a complete waste of breath. So I keep my words to myself and instead think about where I’m going to start in explaining to Josh how we have fast-tracked from a gentle, carefully mastered approach to the media, to a full-on Bam! Queen Adeline of England is in a relationship with Hollywood actor Josh Jameson. In just a few short hours, the media is going to spiral into a meltdown over one of the hottest stories of the decade. Probably the last century, actually. In fact, this news will probably supersede all other breaking news that has come before. Part of me smiles to myself. The other part is trembling in a corner.

  When Damon pulls up to the side entrance of the hotel, he sits for a moment, staring at the building. I let him be, let him mentally plan his next move. It’s gone ten thirty now, and though it is getting late, the hotel is still bustling. I can see for myself through doors and windows. On a sigh, he looks over his shoulder to me, his eyes traveling the length of me and back up. They stop on the silk cream scarf that’s looped around my neck. I start unraveling it before he has the chance to ask, folding it into a triangle before laying it over my head and tying a thick bow under my chin. “I’ll have my arm around you,” he informs me. “Tuck yourself into my side and keep your face down.”

  I nod, knowing he won’t appreciate the lift at the corner of my mouth. “Like a sweet romantic couple.” I can’t stop myself, and Damon’s eyes blaze with annoyance. I can tell there are a million choice words he would like to throw my way, but he keeps them contained to his mind and gets out. As soon as the door opens, he’s blocking it, helping me. His arm goes straight around my shoulder and hugs me close, starting to walk us into the foyer. I do as I have been instructed, keeping my face pointed at my feet. I don’t need to look to know the lobby is busy, the sounds telling me of the hustle and bustle.

  “Okay?” he asks, moving us quickly but steadily. I nod rather than speak, my head resting between the crook of his arm and his chest. I feel as safe as one could feel, secure and content nestled in Damon’s side.

  When we reach the elevators, he allows a group on men to board, letting them go without us. He’s waiting for an empty lift. When the next dings its arrival, a couple disembark, and Damon hustles us inside. He smacks the button for Josh’s floor, still keeping me close.

  “Hold the lift,” someone shouts. I naturally look up, but quickly correct my mistake, darting my eyes to the ground. I catch sight through the closing doors of a woman running toward us, weighed down with two suitcases. Damon makes no attempt to stop the doors from sliding closed. “Bastards,” I hear her yell, and I peek at Damon on a wry smile.

  “If only she knew,” he muses, keeping his focus on the doors and his eyes firmly forward. He’s tense, waiting for the lift to stop at one of the floors, but like an act of God, we sail straight to Josh’s floor.

  As we walk down the corridor, my tummy does that wonderful thing it does when I know I’m about to see Josh. It’s a mixture between feeling sick with nerves and feeling sick with excitement. Damon raps the door firmly, constantly scoping our surroundings. I listen carefully for movement beyond, but I hear nothing. “Maybe he’s not here,” I muse to myself, getting closer to the door and pressing my ear against the wood. I’m certain he said they were, in his words, hangin’ at the hotel. If I’ve forced Damon across town at this hour and under duress for nothing, he’s going to be even more annoyed with me.

  I jump out of my skin when Damon’s big fist lands next to my head on the wood. “Bloody hell,” I yelp, firing a deadly stare his way. “You did that on purpose.”

  I’m ignored once again, and this time it’s Damon who gets up close and personal with the wood, listening.

  “He’s not here,” I say quietly, disappointed. I have no way to reach him. What am I going to do? Davenport will have to stall. I can’t let an announcement go out without talking to Josh. “What are you doing?” I ask when Damon pulls something from his inside pocket and bends down to the key card reader. I’m ignored, his attention set on his task. “Are you breaking in?” I dip, too, watching as he slips something into the slot. “Oh, how very James Bond.”

  Damon pauses in the jiggling of whatever he’s jiggling in the slot, casting his eyes to the side. Tired eyes. “Your Majesty, with all due respect, will you please shut your bloody mouth?”

  I press my lips together and unbend my body. “I don’t like you very much when you’re grouchy.”

  He closes his eyes, a gathering patience tactic, and resumes doing his fancy 007 business. The light blinks green. “Oh my.” I slap my hands over my mouth, both surprised by his secret talent, and to keep myself from saying anything else that will push the buttons of my head of protection. Gently, Damon pushes the handle down and leans his shoulder into the door, opening it a fraction. I know the second his shoulders visibly tense that something is not right, and when I reach to touch his arm, I feel his tenseness, too. “Damon, what is it?”

  He pushes the door open, revealing the entrance hall of the suite, and my eyes fall on one of Josh’s security men slumped on a chair. My hand moves to my heart. For a second, I really panic, thinking he’s hurt, but then I hear the sounds of his snoring. “Is he asleep?” I ask, moving inside and approaching him.

  “It would seem so.” Damon tucks his tool back into his pocket and gives the man a poke in the arm. He stirs, snorts a few times, and resumes his peaceful slumber.

  “Well, that’s disgraceful,” I sniff, outraged, spotting a bottle of Scotch by the leg of his chair. I dip down and pick it up, presenting it to Damon. It’s half empty, and Damon looks thoroughly disgusted.

  “Bates will rip him limb from limb,” he seethes, walking through to the lounge. As I follow, I glance around the space, noticing more empty Scotch bottles. On tables, shelves, sideboards, the floor, the couch.

  “Well he did say they were having a drink,” I quip, kicking a can of something away from my feet. I’m feeling a little less appalled than Damon, judging by the wicked curl of his lip. I follow his stare and find what’s irked him even more. “Oh dear,” I murmur, spotting Bates sprawled on a couch, an empty bottle across his chest. And in a chair opposite, another one of his men, again unconscious.

  I watch as Damon kicks his way through the discarded bottles to the couch and shakes Bates violently. “Wake up, you dickhead.”

  Bates jerks and jumps, his eyes springing open in shock. He squints to focus on me. “Oh, hey, ma’ammmmm.”

  He is utterly inebriated. “Bates,” I say flatly. “Where’s Josh?”

  “I dunno,” he slurs. “I must have passed out.” He struggles up to a sitting position, holding
his head. “Fucking hell, early drinking sessions are never a good idea.”

  “Drinking on the job is never a good idea period,” Damon grunts, catching a bottle as it rolls off the couch.

  I step over various pieces of rubbish and glass, making my way through the mess toward a bedroom, frowning at my feet as I go. This was a wasted journey. They’re all plastered. Josh is never going to remember me telling him anything come morning. Taking the handle of the door, I push my way inside to darkness, the brightness of the space behind me offering the only light in the room. I look down at the floor when my heel catches in something, and unable to see what, I bend my lower leg, bringing my foot up to my backside. I reach for the small scrap of material and pull it free, holding it up in front of me. My heartbeats slow. My eyes haven’t focused enough in the dim light to see exactly what it is dangling from my fingertips, but my body’s reaction is telling me. I feel as if my blood’s temperature drops a few too many degrees, and my veins are cold. And then my eyes focus, and my slow heart rate picks up and starts booming. I release the slinky lace knickers, letting them drop to the floor. My shaky legs struggle to walk, my eyes watching the floor as I go. I stop and pick up something else and stare at it silently for a few seconds. I drop the bra and swallow, spotting a heap of back material close by. A dress. And next to it, some black boxer shorts. My mouth dries, making swallowing now impossible. I shake like a leaf as I force my forward steps, my heart about to explode, my mind silently praying over and over for a plausible explanation. I tell myself that this has happened before. That Josh has been set up. Or maybe he’s not in this bed. Maybe the silhouette of a body I can see isn’t Josh. Maybe the woman’s clothes littering a path to the bed are . . . whose? Maybe I’m in the wrong room. Maybe those boxer shorts are one of his security men’s.

  I reach the bed and stare down, willing my eyes to focus in the darkness. They won’t, and are not likely to when they are filling with water. “Stupid,” I say to myself, feeling for the switch of the lamp by the bed. Of course there’s an explanation. I knock over a few things, hear a few sounds, human sounds, sounds of people stirring, and finally find what my shaky hands are looking for. I flick the switch and turn toward the bed.

 
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