His true queen, p.35
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       His True Queen, p.35

           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  “It should be me helping my fiancée, thank you,” Haydon grumbles, giving Damon a death stare.

  “Sorry, sir.” He shrugs. “Habit.” Damon isn’t sorry at all, yet I’m still annoyed he has offered an apology, albeit fake. He’s been with me for years, always there to catch me when I fall, in more ways than one. He should never have to apologize.

  “He was only trying to help,” I say when Haydon drops heavily onto the seat beside me. It’s not Damon’s fault that Haydon isn’t quick enough to be there first. “He has been close by my side for years. He can’t switch off his instinct.” I wince at the sound of my own words, which are indirectly suggesting that Haydon doesn’t know me well. But he doesn’t.

  “He’s always overstepped the mark,” Haydon mutters, yanking his seatbelt on. “It’s high time someone put him in his place.”

  I turn an incredulous look onto him, astounded. “And that person will be you, will it?” I am very protective of my staff, and I do not take too kindly to others intervening. My husband will be no exception.

  Realizing he has annoyed me, he quickly corrects his affronted state, his face softening. “I’m sorry, darling. I guess I’m nervous.”

  Darling. I want to shove his term of endearment down his throat, more so than when I am addressed by my title. Hearing people refer to me as expected is simply a reminder of who I am. Hearing Haydon call me darling simply reminds me of someone I wanted to be. Josh’s. I already question my ability to forget about him, but with that word being used on me every day, it will be a continuous reminder of my foolishness. Of my loss. “If you must insist on a pet name for me, please find something else,” I grate, going on before he can question me. “And why ever would you be nervous? We are attending the ballet.” I face forward again and speak to the back of Damon’s head. “Let’s be going, then.”

  Let’s get this horror show done with.

  IF HE KISSED ME ONCE, he kissed me one hundred times during the short walk from the car to the doors of the Royal Opera House. Every opportunity, everytime someone congratulated me on my recent good news. Major Davenport was horrified each time, the displays of public affection from any Royal very much frowned upon. But the Queen? Unheard of. I felt like I was being constantly pissed on, for a lack of a less uncouth term. I have always been quite fond of Haydon, despite his thick skin. He isn’t a terrible person, not unkind or rude, if a little suffocating, but tonight he is very different. Bold, loud, laughing at the silliest of things. He’s lording it up, thriving on the attention, and it is irritating me to high heaven.

  Every member of the dance troop we meet on arrival is gracious and polite, though Haydon finds fault in their lack of conversation. He hasn’t yet perfected the art of putting someone he’s meeting at ease. But is it an art? Or is it natural?

  “They may be nervous,” I whisper as we walk away from the line of people who were waiting to greet us. “You have to make them feel comfortable.”

  “They should be falling over themselves to please us.” He snaps his fingers to get the attention of a waiter. “Hurry up, chap.”

  I stare at him like he must be an alien. “What has gotten into you?” I ask, so embarrassed.

  Haydon pauses mid-swallow of his champagne, obviously taking a moment to think about what I mean. “Oh.” He chuckles a little, snapping his fingers again. “Sorry, darling.” He takes another glass and places it in my hand. “Nerves getting the better of me again.”

  I don’t recognize this man. Has it really been argued for all of these years that he is suitable? I don’t think his nerves are getting the better of him at all. I think his buried ego is. It doesn’t suit him in the slightest. I look across to Kim and Davenport, who are obviously as staggered as I am. “Help,” I mouth, prompting them both to come rushing my way.

  “Mr. Sampson,” Kim says, all smiley. “I believe there is someone who would like to meet you.”

  “And whom might that be?” Haydon gazes around, most likely looking for the lucky person. There is no one. Kim’s being clever, and I can’t thank her enough. I need him away from me for a second, so I can at least breathe without feeling like my heart is being squeezed.

  “This way, sir.” Kim ushers Haydon away toward a crowd of men in tuxedos—politicians, I think.

  “Well,” Davenport says, joining my side. “That was extremely painful to witness.”

  “Which part?” I ask, sipping some champagne as I glance over my shoulder. Olive is on my dress again, ensuring it is splayed perfectly, showcasing it to its best. I almost don’t want to move again. Every step I take she is rearranging it. “Olive.”

  Her hands stop, and she looks up at me. “Yes, ma’am?”

  “Leave the dress,” I say on a smile. “Or you will be crawling around on your hands and knees all night, and we can’t have that now, can we? Someone may step on you.”

  She giggles but gives my dress one last tweak before she rises. “Can I get you anything?”

  A cage to put my fiancé in? “I’m fine, thank you.”

  “Your Majesty,” Davenport steers me toward a man in a dashing tuxedo and a fair beard. “Allow me to introduce you to the Royal Ballet director, Mr. Hinde.”

  “How wonderful,” I say, offering my hand. “I am very much looking forward to tonight’s performance.”

  On a friendly smile, he accepts my hand and dips. “Such an honor to receive you, ma’am. The troupe has been rehearsing through the night to perfect their performance.”

  “Not on my account, surely.” I laugh.

  “Night-time practice is certainly not out of the ordinary before opening night, but I have to admit, the new queen’s presence has added to the pressure.”

  “I’m sure I will be dazzled.” I withdraw my hand. I can do this dance. I’ve had years to practice being warm to anyone in my presence, so despite my emptiness, I will never allow anyone like Mr. Hinde to feel beneath me. Unlike Haydon. What has gotten into him? “Would it be too—?” All words are sucked back, and my veins freeze. I find myself blinking, certain I must be seeing things.

  “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t catch that,” Mr. Hinde says, moving slightly to the left and blocking my view to the bar area. I look at him blankly, and he smiles, though it is unsure.

  “I do believe I have lost my line,” I say like a fool, wishing I had X-ray vision so I could see straight through Mr. Hinde to confirm I am mistaken.

  “Happens to me all the time.” He chuckles. “Enjoy this evening, ma’am.” On a nod, he moves away, and like a brick to my face, I see him again, leaning against the bar, a few people around him, two of which are security and his publicist. He’s in a tuxedo. His eyes are narrowed, but dazzling. “Oh my God,” I whisper.

  “Indeed,” Davenport says dryly, and I look at him. He has found what I have found. “This is slightly inconvenient. Am I to assume Mr. Jameson is here to see you, ma’am?”

  “No, you are not to assume that.” I feel Josh’s angry blue eyes burning into my profile, and through my internal meltdown I manage to wonder what on earth he has to feel angry about. And that, in turn, stokes my own anger. “Get rid of him.”

  “I’m afraid that won’t be possible without causing a scene, ma’am. Something tells me Mr. Jameson won’t take too kindly to being asked to leave.”

  God, he’s right. I know Josh, and he’ll kick up a stink of epic proportions. He has no regard for my status. Never has. I don’t expect now to be any different, especially when I know he has tried to contact me. “I suddenly feel a little squeamish.” My stomach does a cartwheel, swishing the champagne around.

  “Me, too,” Davenport counters seriously, and my hand pauses on my stomach, my surprised eyes looking up at his wooden form. He doesn’t look at me, but keeps his shrewd eyes on Josh. My face wrinkles, and a flurry of giggles capture me, making me laugh much louder than I intended.

  “Don’t snort,” Damon adds as he joins us, he too looking toward Josh. Of course, Damon’s instruction only makes me laugh a
ll the more, and before I can stop myself, I have tears streaming down my cheeks. “Okay, ma’am?” Both men look at me with the concern I deserve, and my laughs soon become sobs. My emotions are all askew, and this really isn’t the place for it. Keeping my head low, I wrestle with my unrelenting need to cry and wail and scream. To march up to Josh Jameson and slap him. To yell to the world that I was ready to rewrite history to be with him, but he betrayed me. He is a bastard—a lowlife, narcissistic bastard.

  “Oh no,” Davenport sighs. “This way, ma’am.” He takes my elbow as Damon flanks my other side, hurrying me along before I’m spotted being tearful in public. Showing emotion. However would that be explained? My steps quicken when the most horrific yet perfect excuse for my public crying episode manifests in my head. Oh God. They will be declaring me with child. Claringdon will choose their moment and announce that I am expecting the first heir. But that would make my wedding even more shotgun than it already is, and we can’t be having that. Oh no. Queens don’t get themselves pregnant before marriage. Off with my head. “Oh my God,” I mumble to myself, my thoughts going into overdrive. What on earth am I thinking?

  “That man certainly chooses his moments,” Damon grunts, bringing us to a stop at the restroom door.

  “Adeline,” Davenport sighs. “It would be very helpful to be furnished with the details of your departure from Mr. Jameson’s company, if only to know what we are dealing with.”

  “You are dealing with a lying, cheating pig,” I snap. “That is what you are dealing with.”

  Davenport recoils, yet Damon expresses no reaction. Because, of course, he already knows.

  “Excuse me.” I rush into the restroom and close the door on poor Olive’s face. “Sorry,” I call, hurrying to the toilet and bracing my arms on the side. I really do feel nauseous. Sick to my stomach, but nothing wants to come up. Look at me. I turn toward the mirror as if obeying myself. Yes, just look at me. My eyes are glass—big round balls of unnerved glass. How am I expected to endure this? How can I get out of it?

  “People are taking their seats, ma’am,” Davenport calls through the door.

  I can’t get out of it. Simple. God damn him, how dare he show up like this? How dare he have this effect on me? “Urhhhhhhh!” I slap the edge of the sink and immediately regret it, pain bolting up my arm. I need to pull myself together. Show him what I am made of. “Coming,” I call, opening the door and virtually dragging Jenny in to fix my disastrous face.

  “What happened?” she asks, looking at the mess of me—tramlines from mascara, tear streaks through my beautifully contoured cheeks.

  “I saw someone I wasn’t expecting to see.” I’m direct, since the moment Jenny sees Josh for herself, she will know the cause for this serious makeup malfunction.

  I see comprehension dawn in her, though she chooses not to say anything and begins fixing me. She is swift, tidy, and accurate. “Perfect again,” she says, popping the lid on her highlighter powder. “You show him, ma’am.”

  “I plan to.” Swinging the door open, I declare myself ready. So bloody ready.

  I link arms with Haydon when he approaches, and I don’t question why. I smile, and though it is still painted on, it isn’t as hard to keep in place. I keep my back straight and my neck long. Fuck you, Josh Jameson.

  We are shown to our seats as everyone applauds my arrival to the Royal balcony box, and I wave, soaking up the sea of standing people before me, all looking this way.

  “What a lovely warm welcome,” I say, taking my seat and accepting the program from Kim. Haydon remains standing, smiling at the crowds. “Will you sit down?” I order shortly, tugging on the bottom of his suit jacket. He’s like a toddler who needs constantly watching. I look to Damon, giving him view of my tight, impatient jaw. I’ll be sending Haydon home soon. He’s being ridiculous.

  Once my husband-to-be has decided he’s had enough basking in the limelight, he sits and flicks through his own program, then stuffs it under his seat. It’s getting to the point that I can’t even look at him. I feel like the past thirty years have all been a huge show, and now he supposedly has me, there’s no need to keep up the act of Mr. Good Guy. He’s more like his father than I realized.

  Focusing on the stage, I let the dramatic start of the orchestra draw me in and the dancers mesmerize me. I may not be myself right now, but I can certainly appreciate the enchanting performance of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent classic, allowing myself to be swept away by the beauty, if only for a short while. To concentrate on another tragic love story. To see two people fighting all the odds to be together. To watch them die. My heart slows its beats as I fall into a trance, my eyes gliding across the floor with the graceful ballerinas.

  To be that free.

  “Apologies for disturbing you during the performance, ma’am.” Davenport is crouched behind me, his mouth close to my ear.

  “What is it, Major?”

  “Can’t it wait?” Haydon grumbles, scowling at the stage.

  “Afraid not, sir.” Davenport doesn’t grace Haydon with his attention. “We have a situation.”

  I’m immediately as stiff as a board. “What kind of situation?” I look past Davenport to the door of the box, seeing Damon guarding it. Oh goodness, no.

  “Well, answer her, you old fool,” Haydon snaps under his breath. I would shoot him down with a filthy glare if I could find the will to remove my eyes from the doorway. I get the feeling Damon is filling it in order to stop someone from entering.

  “We’ve had a call from the Prime Minister, ma’am.”

  “Oh for God’s sake.” Haydon sinks into his chair, completely uninterested. “The man is a moron.”

  “The Prime Minister?” I question, a little taken aback.

  “Yes, ma’am. I’m afraid there is news you need to be informed of immediately before it breaks publicly. If you wouldn’t mind coming with me. He is waiting for you in a private room.”

  “Oh?” I stand, mystified, and let Davenport lead me away. If the Prime Minister is here, then I can only imagine the country is dealing with some kind of crisis. It’s rather amusing that when there is such a crisis, the government’s priority is to advise the Queen. It is a little backward, since, even as Head of State, I am powerless to do anything about the crisis. But, like most things, it is tradition, therefore expected. Plus, I’m rather curious as to what would warrant a personal visit from the PM while I am on an official engagement. War? It seems like the only explanation. “What’s going on, Davenport?” I ask as he leads the way across the carpet. He looks worried himself, and that isn’t aiding my own. “Major?”

  “This way, ma’am.” He opens a door. “We found somewhere private for you to speak.”

  “Lovely, but I am completely bewildered,” I inform him, hitching up my dress some more and entering the room. It’s empty. No Prime Minister in sight, not to mention any of the men who follow him around. “Now what on earth is the meaning of this?” I ask the empty space.

  “Hello, Adeline.” The smooth, American accent smacks me in my back, and my lungs squeeze with my sharp inhale.

  I WHIRL AROUND, FINDING JOSH behind the door. My body goes into shock, immobilizing me, as Josh takes control of the door from Davenport and starts to close it with Davenport on the wrong side.

  “What’s going on?” I ask Davenport, panic building and gripping me. “I demand to know.”

  “I’m sorry, ma’am.” Davenport looks truly remorseful. “But Mr. Jameson came armed.”

  “Armed?” I question. “What? He’s carrying a gun, is he? He held you at gunpoint?”

  “No,” Josh cuts in. “I told him if he didn’t get you to this room, I would get on that stage and tell the world about his love child.” Josh is so serious, I almost believe him.

  Disgusted, I make sure Josh knows it with my most derisive expression. “You blackmailed my private secretary? Are there no boundaries on how low you will go?”

  “No. Not when it comes to you.” The door shuts, a
nd we are alone in this big room. And then he turns the lock. And we are alone and locked in.

  He slowly pivots to face me. His face. It arrests me, pumps my heart faster. “This wedding business is getting out of hand,” he says seriously, moving in.

  “Out of hand?” I start taking backward steps, annoyed with myself. But distance is paramount. He looks angry, the amber in his eyes fiery. He’s angry? He has no right to be angry. All of that privilege is reserved for me and me alone.

  “Have you slept with him?”

  My steps halt, my mouth falling open. “That is none of your business.”

  His jaw ticks. “On your knees.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Get on your fuckin’ knees, Adeline,” he yells, stalking forward. “Your king is demanding you to kneel, so you will fuckin’ kneel!”

  I stare at him, lost in a moment of utter disbelief. And fear. Because my legs are trembling to keep me upright. To keep me from bowing to his command. He’s livid, vibrating violently before me. He looks about ready to come out of his skin. “I bow to no one,” I say clearly, every ounce of my strength being injected into my words, making sure they sound as even and strong as I mean. “Especially not you.” I shove him from my path and storm away. I shouldn’t have made contact. Why would I make contact? I jolt, energy surging through my nervous system viciously, trying to claim me, trying to force me to my knees.

  “No.” Josh grabs my wrist, one effortless tug yanking me to a stop. And then panic clouds everything, tossing me over the edge of sanity and into a tornado of madness.

  I swing around aggressively, sending my tiara sailing across the room as I do. “Don’t you dare touch me,” I shout, hauling myself back, trying to escape his viselike grip. “You don’t get to touch me ever again!” The drag of my flesh through his hold burns my skin, my free hand trying in vain to pry his clawed fingers away. The ground disappears from beneath my feet, my head suddenly on his chest. He holds me so tightly around my torso, squeezing me to him, my arms trapped between us to restrain me. I’m heaving madly, short of breath, but I find energy in my legs, kicking and lashing out. “Get off.”

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