His true queen, p.36
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       His True Queen, p.36

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  He loses his grip, hissing when I catch his shin. I use his lapse in focus to my advantage, breaking away and running for the door. I place my hand on the handle. I turn the lock. “No,” Josh roars, grabbing me and hauling me back. “You’re not leaving me, Adeline.”

  We become a messy, deranged tangle of bodies, tussling and yelling, my hands flailing wildly as Josh fights to get me under control. My vision is blanketed in a crimson haze, anger dominating me. Every tiny shitty thing I hate about my life, present and past, is pouring out of me now, the pressure pot exploding, and Josh is bearing the brunt of it all as I shout and lash out at him. I hate everything. Especially myself. But most of all, I hate him. For making me feel what I could have had. For showing me what love is, and then cruelly snatching it away. For being my hero and then the villain.

  “I hate you,” I yell, smashing into his chest. “I fucking hate you.”

  “There she is,” he growls, spinning me around and slamming my back into his front, crossing my arms over my stomach and holding them, restraining me. I’m trapped. My lungs are burning. Exhausted. My body is rolling against his, violent waves crashing against each other. His mouth falls to my ear, nuzzling close. “There she fuckin’ is.” He blows the words across my skin. “My queen.”

  Adrenaline makes way for tears, my attempts to find air making me choke. “How could you?” I ask, my question broken by emotion. “How could you do that to me? After everything we’ve been through.”

  “You have to listen to me, Adeline.” He doesn’t ease up on his hold. “Please, just tell me you will listen to me.”

  “I’m not listening to anymore of your lies.”

  “Fine.” In one expert move, I’m on my back on the floor, Josh blanketing me, my hands trapped. The second I register his face, close and cut with frustration, I snap my eyes closed, unwilling to allow anything to breach the chinks in my armor. Because there are chinks. Lots of chinks. Josh created those chinks. He broke down my walls. “I’ll make you listen.” He gets comfortable, spread over me, ensuring I’m going nowhere. “You may not be able to see me, but you can hear me.”

  There is nothing I can do to block that sense, no matter how loudly I scream in my head.

  “That woman—”

  “Shut up!” I yell, my distress growing.

  “She was paid, Adeline.”

  “By you?” I wriggle beneath him.

  “No, for fuck’s sake.” Josh jerks, nudging me, though I keep myself in my darkness. “I was drugged. I woke up with not a fuckin’ clue where I was. I saw the woman in my bed. I saw your earrings on the nightstand. I thought I was losing my fuckin’ mind.”

  Is he for real? No, he is an actor.

  Am I expected to let him brainwash me with this rubbish? I will never be fooled by him again.

  “She was naked. You were naked.” I can’t help it. I open my eyes and fire daggers at him. “You had a condom on.” I wince at my own words, my throat swelling to the point I’m scared I might stop breathing.

  “No.” He slams my arms back to the floor above my head when I manage to lift them an inch. “I have spent these past two weeks trying to find out what the fuck happened. I needed the facts, anything to make you believe me. I knew what it looked like. I knew you would never trust my words alone.”

  “And you think I will now?”

  “Yes. I had a drug test, Adeline. Positive. Those drinks were laced, for fuck’s sake. The woman who was paid to get in bed with me took some persuasion, but she admitted it. She confessed to Bates that she was told to find a way into my suite. She and her friend did that by seducing some of my men. They ordered room service. I had two drinks and felt like shit, so I went to bed and left the others to party.”

  I stare at him, trying to let it all filter into my warped mind. No. Don’t believe him. I mustn’t believe him. I can’t expose myself to more hurt again.

  “Are you hearing me? Are you hearing how messed up this is? Adeline, I love you. I would never, ever betray you.” His eyes cloud, his hurt pouring down on me. “I would kill myself before I hurt you. You’re the beginning and end of everything. Why don’t you see that?”

  “I saw you in bed with another woman,” I choke, looking away from him, my mind a tatty tangle of deceit that I can’t get my head around. “What else would you expect me to do when my mind is tormented with that and that alone? I saw it, Josh. You and her.” It’s crowding my headspace. Consuming me. “Naked. Your . . .” I fade off, swallowing and shaking away the mental flashback. “I can’t unsee it,” I grate. “How do you think that made me feel?”

  “About the same level as crazy as I feel when I see pictures of you with another man.” He dips and nudges at my cheek, turning my face to him. “I’m devastated. But not as devastated as knowing you thought I could do that to you.”

  I swallow and press my lips together. “What did you expect me to do?”

  His eyes close, the hollows of his cheeks pulsing. “Tell me you believe me.”

  The flashbacks come back with a vengeance, and I squeeze my eyes shut as well. They’re all so clear. Josh in bed with another woman. My stomach turns, and I gulp down the devastation. Then I see Sir Don. I see David’s smug face. I see satisfaction in them. Accomplishment.

  I see the enemy. Could they really have been so intentionally cruel to me?

  Then I see Josh and me. I hear every word we’ve ever spoken to each other. I see the way he looks at me with complete and utter adoration. How tormented he’s been when he’s struggled to accept our reality. He could have simply walked away. He could have simply left without a goodbye.

  And then I feel.

  I feel his love. I feel his devotion. I feel what I have never felt until Josh came into my life.

  Appreciated.

  Loved.

  I open my eyes and stare at his handsome face. A face pouring with desperation. Desperation for me to believe him. He isn’t my enemy. He wouldn’t intentionally hurt me. He loves me.

  What has happened, what he’s saying to me, it’s unbelievable. But . . .”I believe you,” I whisper, and he exhales, his whole body softening.

  “Tell me you’ve not slept with him. I beg you.” He frees one of my hands, my left one, and takes my engagement ring off. “Tell me.” He tosses it across the carpet like it is rubbish.

  “I haven’t slept with him,” I admit, feeling his body going heavier over me. “Haven’t even kissed him properly.”

  “Your kisses are mine, Adeline. Your love is mine. You are mine.” My other hand is freed, though I keep them at my sides, unable to comprehend what any of this means. “And I am yours, Your Majesty.” He takes my cheeks and forces his forehead to mine, drilling into me with a determination so strong, I start to feel it seeping into me. “Let’s put an end to this madness and just be happy. Together. Me and you. I don’t care where, how, why, so long as I’m with you.”

  “Even if I am still Queen?”

  He smiles, rolling his forehead across mine and catching my lips. “As long as this country remembers whose queen you are first, then yes.”

  My arms come up, my mouth following his, so relieved. Then just as fast as relief finds me, something awful comes to me, misery amid my newfound happiness. “Haydon.”

  The growl that hits my ears is fierce. “Don’t mention that name when I’m kissing you. Don’t ever mention that name again.”

  “What am I going to do?”

  “Ditch his ass.”

  “You don’t just get to call things off when you are me, Josh.”

  “Then I’ll do it for you.” He pushes himself up from the floor and pulls me to my feet. “I promise it’ll be quick, but I can’t guarantee it’ll painless.”

  “Josh, I’m being serious.”

  “So am I.” Moving in, he pulls me in for a cuddle. “He’s a jerk.”

  I keep from challenging him this time, because after Haydon’s performance this evening, I am inclined to agree. “Josh,” I speak into his shoul
der, reality once again raining down on me. “I need to handle this carefully.”

  “You mean you need to handle this now.” I feel his head move to look at the back of mine. “Don’t you? No more stalling so someone else has the opportunity to derail us.”

  Speaking of which . . .

  “I need to know who did this. So I can deal with them.”

  “I’m working on it. The CCTV footage is hazy at best. The only concrete evidence Bates has is the call girl and her list of instructions from an anonymous payer. But still, they were banking on you finding me in bed with her.” He frowns, and my head starts to spin. “Did you tell anyone you were planning on coming to see me that night?”

  “Only Damon,” I breathe, stepping away from Josh, leaving his frown deepening. “And I wasn’t planning to. I came because I couldn’t call you.”

  “Why?”

  “Because my phone went missing.” I drop my eyes to the floor, a few mysterious pieces of the crazy puzzle dropping into place. I turn and start pacing the room. “They took Damon’s phone, too. I had no way to contact you other than to call the hotel directly, and of course they wouldn’t put me through to you. I had to physically go to the hotel.” I turn to face him, disturbed by the calculating tactics this person has taken. “Whoever did this knew I would come to the hotel.” They knew I’d be desperate to see Josh. There is only one explanation. “It has to be David Sampson. Or Sir Don.” Either are capable, desperate, and cruel enough. I’d just fired them both that very day. News of our relationship was imminent. I approach Josh and fist the front of his tuxedo jacket, looking up at his face that is distorted with disgust. “Get me the footage from the hotel.”

  “It’s being analyzed.” Josh takes my wrists and pulls my arms down. “You’re not surprised, are you?”

  Am I? I shouldn’t be; I know the lengths these people will go to, but drugging someone? Hookers and stolen phones? “No,” I sigh, letting my forehead drop to his chest. “I’m just tired of it all.”

  “Me, too, baby.” His fingers find their way into my hair and massage at my scalp. “So get your ass out there and do what you need to do.”

  “Now?” I ask, springing out of his chest.

  “Yeah, now. Don’t think I’m letting you leave this joint with another man. Forget it, Adeline.”

  “Josh, you have to be reasonable. I can’t very well stride out of here and declare during the ballet that I am not marrying Haydon Sampson and am, in fact, in love with a hot American actor.”

  “Why not? Isn’t that the truth of it? And you got the hot part spot on.”

  “You’re impossible.”

  “And you, my queen”—he plants a light kiss on my nose—“are coming home with me tonight.”

  “You have to give me until morning, at least.” Goodness, there will be crisis meeting after crisis meeting. But then, given what I know, I don’t know how I feel about letting Josh out of my sight. “Actually,” I say, looking at him, “you are coming home with me.” What they might try to do next in their relentless mission to keep us apart is a frightening prospect. I thought I made myself clear before. I obviously didn’t.

  “What?”

  “You and I aren’t leaving each other’s sights until I’ve done what needs to be done. At the palace, you’ll be safe.” God knows what could happen between now and morning if I leave him.

  He reaches up and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Aren’t all the enemies inside the palace walls, Adeline?”

  “Yes, but they’re not inside my private quarters. You are coming home with me, and that is the end of that. Like I said, you’re not leaving my sight.”

  “Great,” Josh chirps. “I’ll just take a seat between you and Haydon in the Royal balcony, shall I?”

  “Bloody hell,” I curse. I forgot about the small detail that is my fiancé. I quickly run over my options and come up with only one. “Damon.” I go to the door and pull it open, boldly and with no consideration for who may be on the other side. I couldn’t care less. My bodyguard and Davenport are waiting. I only mildly cringe with the thought of what they may have heard. Shouts. Screams. Cries. Which begs the question . . .”Why didn’t you come in?”

  Damon’s eyebrows rise, as if that is a stupid enquiry.

  “He knows everything,” Josh confirms, explaining Damon’s lack of intervention. “Thumbs up all the way.”

  “Oh. Then you will watch Josh, Damon. Everywhere he goes, you go.” I look on as my bodyguard casts an interested look across to Josh.

  Josh simply shrugs. “She’s cute when she’s bossy, right?” He stuffs his hands into his tuxedo trousers.

  “Ma’am,” Damon says on a shake of his head. “I must advise—”

  “That is a direct order, Damon. You will take Josh to Claringdon Palace immediately.”

  He sighs. “Adeline—”

  “You know what happened, Damon. What they—”

  “Yes,” he says on a grind of his teeth. “But—”

  “Then you will appreciate my anxiousness when it comes to Mr. Jameson.”

  “Did I say cute?” Josh asks, his blazing eyes on me. “Change that to fuckin’ hot.” His arm falls around my shoulder, his lips mauling my cheek for all to see. I watch as Davenport closes his eyes and breathes in, undoubtedly thinking he’s got his work cut out. “Baby,” Josh whispers, “you can take the reins all day every day.”

  I pull off an eye-roll that would give me an instant headache if it weren’t aching already. “Stop it.”

  “I’ll have one of my men assigned to Mr. Jameson,” Damon tells me, giving me the rare look that tells me I am not winning this argument. “That is final.” He transfers that look to Josh. “You’re important, but not as important as she is.”

  I shake my head in objection. No. I only trust my head of security with Josh. “Damon—”

  “He’s right, Adeline.” Josh places his palm over my mouth. “So shut up.”

  “Excuse me?” I mumble into his hand, ignoring the look of amusement from Damon, as well as Davenport.

  “And Mr. Sampson?” Davenport asks, throwing that unwanted spanner in my works.

  I pull Josh’s hand away from my mouth. “I don’t know yet.”

  “Then in the meantime, may I suggest Your Majesty might return to the performance?” Davenport asks.

  “Right.” I make to step forward but get tugged back into the room on a yelp.

  “One moment, guys.” Josh slams the door and thrusts me up against it. “You forgot something,” he purrs, brushing his lips across mine.

  “Josh, I really should go.”

  “Kiss me.” He licks a precise line across the seam of my lips. And I’m his. His hands caging my neck, he holds my head still and we kiss the kind of kiss you never want to stop. Because it’s blinding. Because it’s so full of feelings. So full of love. It’s deep, controlled, and passionate, the swirl of silent feelings and emotions between us capturing us both completely. And it’s when I feel the fire return. But not simply lust-fueled fire. My light has returned in more ways than one. My heart has been kick-started, ready to do what I was destined to do. Fight. Rule. Reign.

  Josh’s throaty growl expresses his fulfilment. My whimpers express my bliss. “I don’t want to let you go,” he whispers into my mouth, his hands tightening on my neck.

  “It’s only for a few hours.”

  “Too long.” He finishes with a wide sweep of his tongue around mine, withdrawing and dotting kisses across my lips, from one corner to the other. “Be careful, okay?”

  “It is you who needs to be careful.” Something glimmers in my side vision. “My tiara.” I point across the room where it is on the carpet, making Josh look over his shoulder. He leaves me at the door to collect it, bringing it back and setting it neatly on my head.

  “And my ring,” I say quietly, and his hands pause while rearranging my hair.

  “You’re not putting that ring on. You’re no longer engaged.”

  “But Haydon
doesn’t know that yet,” I point out a little timidly. “And neither does the rest of the world.”

  The expansion of his broad chest is patience being breathed in. “I can’t let you do it. I’m sorry.” He shakes his head as if to affirm it. “Actually, I’m not sorry. You’re not wearing it.” A chaste, teasing kiss is placed on my cheek. “And that is the end of that.”

  I give up trying to protest. I can’t blame him. Besides, I feel like I need to reserve my grit and fight for later when I find Sir Don and David Sampson. So I guess that really is the end of that. “Fine. But I can’t leave it in here.”

  “Of course.” Josh goes and collects it from where he threw it earlier. “I’ll take it.” In his pocket it goes, a guarantee that the ring will never make it back onto my finger. It may be noticed, but . . . so what? “I’ll see you back at your place,” he says on a grin, and I smile, pulling the door open behind me.

  “My place,” I confirm, turning to exit. The first thing I notice is Damon’s wild eyes. Then Davenport’s despair-filled gaze. And then . . .

  “Haydon,” I breathe as he appears from nowhere, his eyes lasers of hatred burning past me.

  Into Josh.

  I look over my shoulder and see Josh mirroring Haydon’s threatening stance, two men boring holes of abhorrence into each other. Oh God.

  “This doesn’t look like a very political meeting,” Haydon says, throwing Damon and Davenport a derisive look. Both men remain silent as Haydon steams forward and claims my arm, provoking Josh to lunge forward on a growl that could bring down the Opera House.

  “Josh,” I yell as Damon intercepts him, pulling him back. I give Damon a look he reads well. Haydon could very well tell Sir Don and Sampson about this little showdown. I have to make sure Josh gets to Claringdon and stays there.

  “Easy, mate,” Damon says, looking at Haydon like he might kill him. “Just let her go.”

  Haydon manhandles me to the door, and though shocked, I do nothing to stop him. “You stay away from my fiancée,” he hisses, shoving Davenport away when he tries to intervene. “You should be dealing with him,” he yells, moving his hold to my hand. His grip is tight. “I can deal with my fiancée.”

 
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