His true queen, p.38
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       His True Queen, p.38

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  “And what are you going to do with the American on your couch?”

  “Really, Kim?” I set my cup down and stand, pulling in my robe. “You talk about him like he’s a vagrant I found on the streets.”

  She shrugs. “You can’t keep him locked up in here forever.”

  “Watch me,” I joke, just as Josh groans and turns to his back, his naked arms stretching above his head. It’s a long stretch, one that nearly has me moaning in appreciation. His taut arms form waves of muscles, his stomach rippling gorgeously. He opens one eye and looks around the room, finding Kim first and bolting upright. “Morning,” I chirp, pouring a coffee for him.

  He relaxes when he sees me, dropping to his back again. “Morning.” His voice is low, rough, and lovely. If Kim weren’t here, I’d be on him faster than I plan on firing Sir Don and David. Pretty bloody fast. “What time is it?” Josh asks.

  “Nine.”

  “Nine?” He’s back up again, but not sitting this time. He’s standing, and the blanket falls to the ground at his feet. “Fuck, I have a meeting at ten.” He swipes his trousers up from the floor and starts rootling through the pocket. When he finds his phone, he curses at the screen, cringing as he dials.

  “Um, Josh?” I call, pulling him back around. I purse my lips and nod at his groin, prompting him to glance down.

  “Fuck.” He drops to the couch and pulls the blanket onto his lap, and I laugh, looking to Kim who has her eyes covered. “Sorry.”

  “Things have seriously changed around here,” she mumbles, getting to her feet as she peeks through her spread fingers. “Is he decent?”

  “He’s decent.” My grin is colossal. “Who are you calling?” I ask Josh.

  “Tammy. She’s seriously gonna kick my ass.” He shrinks where he’s sitting, his face screwing up as the sound of a very displeased female filters down the line.

  I leave him to it and walk Kim to the door. “Have you seen Davenport this morning?”

  “He’s in his office finalizing the announcement. All I keep hearing is the sound of keys being smacked hard and a few curse words thrown in here and there.” I laugh to myself. I can imagine. I also feel a tad guilty. I expect he’s been holed up in his office all night attempting to write the announcement that will change British history. “I think he might be a few hours yet,” Kim goes on. “So you have some spare time this morning.”

  “I do?” What a novelty.

  “Don’t worry, I have something to keep you occupied.”

  “Who said I needed anything to keep me occupied?” I ask coyly, looking over my shoulder to Josh.

  “Me. It looks like he’s got plans, anyway.”

  “Not if I have anything to do with it.” I let Kim hand me a folder stuffed full of photographs. “What’s this?”

  “The BBC is working on a documentary about the Royals,” she says, and I look at her, worried. “It’s fine. We’ve negotiated consultation rights.”

  “Thank goodness,” I breathe, dreading what they may have dug up. Because that would be frightening. “So these are . . . ?”

  “Photographs from the Royal archives going back seventy years. You need to let me know which ones you’re happy to have released.”

  I flick through the first few, smiling when I see me as a baby. I’m sitting on a blanket in the grounds of Farringdon Palace, the place that was our home before my grandfather died and my father became King. Eddie and John are running around me. My smile turns sad. One brother dead, the other seemingly on a mission to kill himself. I snap the folder closed. This could be hard, all these memories, happy faces, and scenes masking secrets and lies. I clear my throat of the unexpected lump that has found its way there. “I’ll do it as soon as I have showered.”

  “Okay. There’s also some video footage.”

  “There is?”

  “Old VCR tapes. Loads of them. I’ve put them in a box on your desk.”

  “Do we even have a VCR player?”

  “I’ll find one.” She heads off, and I close the door, placing the folder on a nearby table. Josh’s head is in his hands when I turn to find him. “Everything okay?”

  “I’m in deep shit.” He stands and starts tugging on his boxers. “She’s managed to postpone my meeting by an hour.”

  Wait, what? “Josh, you can’t leave.” I go to him, stopping him from pulling his trousers on. I’m not taking any chances. I’m not foolish enough to think Haydon has not told Sir Don and David Sampson about Josh being at the Opera House. “Just wait until the announcement has been released.”

  “That could be hours. I have to go.”

  “Josh, you can’t.” I swipe up his shirt and move away, and he drops his chin to his chest, looking at me seriously.

  “Is that a direct order?” he asks.

  “I’m not playing.”

  His shoulders drop. “It’s an important meeting with my UK agent, Adeline. I have to show up.”

  “Aren’t we important?” I feel awful for more or less emotionally blackmailing him. But . . .”Please,” I beg. “Just stay with me.”

  “I can’t miss it.” He reaches for his shirt and snatches it from my hands. “I’ll have Damon call Bates.” He buttons his shirt and throws on his tuxedo jacket, and my anxiety grows with each piece of clothing he puts on. “I’m not putting my life on hold for those two assholes.” He marches to the door.

  “I demand you stay,” I shout at his back. “I am the Queen and you will do as I say.” I snap my mouth closed the second the disgusting words have fallen past my lips, watching as Josh comes to a gradual stop by the door. I squint, my face screwing up. I’m so disappointed in myself. But I’m desperate. And stupid.

  Trepidation rolls through me as he slowly turns toward me, his face a picture of repulsion. “You know, if we’re going to have a future together, you can’t throw that line at me every time you don’t get your way.” He takes the handle. “And you’re my queen, not the queen.” Pulling the door open, he leaves. And my panic rockets.

  “Josh, please!” I don’t mean to sound so frightened, but I truly am. I would put nothing past them now. God knows what they will do next to derail my plans. “Please,” I murmur, blinking back my tears.

  Stopping in his tracks, Josh’s entire body deflates under his crumpled tuxedo. “God damn it,” he sighs, turning around and pacing to me, taking my quaking body in a hug. He shushes me, cupping the back of my head. “Okay. Don’t get your panties in a twist.”

  “I don’t wear panties,” I sob into his chest, and he laughs, burying his face into my hair.

  “I’ll stay.”

  I puddle in his arms, my relief great. “Thank you.”

  “Don’t thank me.” Kissing my hair, he pulls back and wipes under my eyes with the pads of his thumbs. “But don’t you ever throw that line at me ever again, do you hear me?”

  I pout on a nod, pretty ashamed of myself. And with nothing else to say in my defense, I reach up on my tiptoes and bring our mouths together. If only to remind me—to reassure me—that he’s still here. I didn’t intend for it to be a full-on, hot kiss, but Josh soon turns it into that, growling deep in his throat as he explores my mouth with a keen, firm tongue. “I said I’d stay,” he mumbles, and I smile against him, breaking our kiss and sinking my face into his neck, my arms locked around his shoulders. His heartbeat is strong. My tummy swirls, a mixture of happiness and anxiousness. “So since I’m staying at Her Majesty’s pleasure, what is she going to do with me?”

  I break away reluctantly and let Josh sweep my hair from my eyes. “I have a ton of photographs and video footage to look at.”

  “What for?”

  “A documentary that’s airing on television about my wonderful family and me.” Thunder rumbles within me, my heart splitting a little with the thought of what I must do. It will be impossible to look at those photographs without pairing them with this lie or that. Without sinking into a black pit of sadness. “Will you help me?” I ask, hopeful. Josh makes everyth
ing easier to tackle, and this will be no exception.

  “Would love to.” My cheeks are squeezed, a kiss planted on my squished lips. “Shower first.” I’m turned by the shoulders and directed into the bathroom, and that wonderful sense of serenity takes me in its arms and dulls the thunder. Soon, Josh will have chased the storm away completely.

  I let him dictate the pace. I let him push my robe from my shoulders slowly. I let him strip himself while I watch, quiet and content. I let him walk me backward into the cubicle. I let him pick me up and direct my legs around his waist.

  And I let him push me up the wall on a muffled cry of ecstasy.

  Everything about this moment is calm and peaceful; the only thunder now is that of the spray hitting our bodies and the flames raging within me. “I love you so much,” he whispers, rearing back and gliding home.

  I push away the water pouring down his face and look at him. Look at the man who is not only changing my story, but changing history’s story.

  “HOW DO YOU FIND YOUR way around this place?” Josh asks as we wander the palace rooms, taking the long way around to my office. I smile at his amazement, his eyes always high, taking in the grandeur that runs to every corner of each space. He looks utterly adorable with his damp hair, his shirt hanging out, and his bow tie hanging around his neck. Perfectly messy and ruggedly adorable in my perfect palace.

  “Years of exploring.” We pass a footman who stops and takes position, nodding his head respectfully. “Morning,” I chirp.

  “Morning, ma’am.” His curious eyes follow us all the way to the Throne Room, where two members of the household stand, guarding the doors. I can see the effort it’s taking them not to gawk at Josh.

  “Why don’t you take a break?” I ask, as one of them pushes the doors open for us. “I’m sure Dolly will fix you some brunch.”

  They look at each other briefly, bemused. “Ma’am?” one questions.

  “Chop-chop,” I prompt, and they make tracks, leaving me to close the doors with Josh and me inside.

  Josh’s hands slide into his pockets, and he takes slow steps to the center of the room, circling on the spot, looking around him. “Jesus,” he all but breathes, taking in the lavish gold and crimson décor that reeks royalty. “I don’t think that chandelier is big enough.”

  I chuckle when he points to the ceiling. “It’s a showpiece, I know.”

  “What lucky person gets to polish that beast?”

  “Someone who doesn’t have butterfingers.”

  His eyes fall to the thrones on the far side of the room, and he looks over his shoulder on a little smirk. I roll my eyes, knowing exactly what is currently whirling around in that gorgeous head of his. Passing him, I take the few red-carpeted steps to the two red velvet chairs, turning when I’m in front of them. I cock my head on a smile that Josh matches, if mild, as he lazily strolls toward me, coming to a stop at the bottom of the steps.

  Maintaining his grin, he lowers to his knee and bows his head. “Your Majesty, I am here to serve you.” He peeks up, now a full-on, dashing grin splashed across his face. “Or service you. Whatever.”

  I laugh and take a couple of the steps down, crouching to get myself at his level. I raise my imaginary sword and lower it onto his shoulder. “Joshua Jameson, you have undertaken to accept the accolade of Queen Adeline of England’s boyfriend.” I press my lips together, trying to remain serious.

  “What am I supposed to say now?” he asks on a whisper, as if the Throne Room is full of watchers. As if this is official.

  “You say, ‘I have’,” I whisper back.

  “Oh,” He clears his throat. “Too fuckin’ right I have.”

  My smile could not be contained if my mouth was sewn shut. “Joshua Jameson, you have been deemed fit for this high estate by your peers, and have indicated your willingness to accept this honor . . .” I fade off, still smiling, when he cocks an eyebrow.

  “Honor?” he asks.

  “Yes.”

  “Okay. Continue.”

  Amusement overwhelms me, yet I push on through it. “Do you now swear by all that you hold sacred—”

  “I hold only you sacred”—he blows me a kiss—“for the record.”

  “Let me finish,” I admonish, no matter how thrilled I am to hear that. I continue when he nods. “Do you swear by all that you hold sacred, true, and holy, that you will honor and defend your Queen and her kingdom?”

  “I couldn’t give a fuck about her kingdom.”

  “Josh,” I say on a laugh, falling to my backside on the step. “This is serious business.”

  “It’s a bit verbose, isn’t it?” He moves from one knee to the other and gets comfortable again, as I right my own position, crouching again and realigning my pretend sword on his shoulder.

  I clear my throat. “This is the shortened, ancient version.”

  “In that case, don’t ever make me a knight for real, okay?”

  “Okay. So, will you?”

  “What?”

  “Honor and protect me?”

  “Oh, yes, of course. And fuck you blind every day for the rest of our lives together.”

  “How thrilling,” I reply, and he winks. “Then having sworn these solemn oaths, I, Queen Adeline of England, by right of arms, do dub you with my sword, once for honor”—I move my imaginary sword to his other shoulder—“twice for duty”—I take my sword back and forth as he smirks at my poor attempt to keep a straight face—“and thrice for chivalry.” I stand and look down at him. “Arise, Prince Charming.”

  “No.” He shakes his head.

  I frown through my smile. “You must.”

  “Nope.” He reaches for my hand and pulls me down so I’m sitting on the step before him again.

  “What are you doing?”

  He shrugs, a little nonchalant. “Shouldn’t a man kneel when he’s asking the woman he loves to marry him?”

  Air leaves my lungs so fast, I’m sure the release of pressure would have me flying around the room if I was not sitting. I look into his eyes, my tongue thick, no words coming to me.

  “I don’t have a ring.” He takes both of my hands and holds them so very tightly. “Not right now.” Abandoning my hands, he walks up a step on his knees and takes my face in his palms. “But I have a heart bursting with love for you, my queen.” My hands find his on my face, holding them there as he kisses each corner of my mouth. “I will love you. I will honor you. I will kiss the fuckin’ ground you walk on for the rest of my life.” A small snivel tumbles past my lips unstoppably, my eyes stinging. “But I will never obey you.”

  “I don’t want you to,” I more or less sob.

  “And you will only ever bow to me.”

  “I will.”

  He pushes his mouth to mine, sending me back against the steps, and ravishes me completely, here in the Throne Room of Claringdon Palace. “That’s a yes, right?”

  “Yes.” I laugh, trapping him in my arms, happiness like I have never felt before claiming me, and I know it will never let me go. Not even the inevitable reaction of my advisors can tarnish it. The rebellious queen will go down in history. Whether that be in good standing or bad is not something I can bring myself to care about. Because right now, love truly does conquer all. Even the British Monarchy and its obsolete customs. I will marry the man I love, the man who is the very essence of the pulse in my veins, and no sense of expectation will stop me. “I hope you are ready for this,” I murmur across his mouth, gorging on the taste of him.

  “I’ve been ready since I rescued you in a helicopter, Adeline. Your status has never changed to me. You’ve always simply been mine.”

  His ardent words only increase the tears. I feel so lucky in this moment. So blessed to have found a man who is so fiercely determined to have me, no matter the cost, and more than that, one I am so incredibly in love with. “You make me so happy.” Josh’s love serves like an invisible force field, protecting me from anything that could damage me. Hurt me. Only he has that ability
now. Only he can hurt me. Everything else is inconsequential.

  “Good.” He helps me to my feet and smothers my damp face with his lips before gently wiping under my eyes. “Okay?”

  Okay? I’m walking on clouds. I nod, and he takes my hand with a solid grip, taking the lead out of the Throne Room. “I can’t look at those thrones without thinking how much better you look on mine.”

  A burst of laughter escapes me, and he gives me a devilish smirk as he looks back at me. “You are terrible.”

  “Which way to your office?” he asks when we come to a crossroads of corridors. I go to overtake him but get tugged back. “No, I’m fed up with you leading the way around here. Which way?”

  I point, and he gets us moving again. I smile at his back, letting him lead. The man I’m going to marry. My American boy.

  He motions to the double doors on the gallery landing when we make it there, and I nod. Josh lets us in, drops my hand, and takes himself straight to the large, important-looking chair on the other side of my desk. The Sovereign’s chair. The chair that has only ever had royal backsides sitting on it. I think he must know this if the mischievous grin on his face is anything to go by. Brazenly, and on an extravagant sigh, he lowers and stretches out his body, kicking his feet up onto the desk. “Off with my head?” he asks, folding his arms behind his head.

  “Which head?” I quip, doing what no king or queen has ever done before; sit on the wrong side of their desk. “Comfortable?”

  “Yep.” He looks around, his lips twisting in contemplation. “Can you imagine the conversations that have happened in here?”

  “Yes, I can.” I laugh, reaching for the box of tapes Kim has left for me. Those conversations will have shaped history, and I’m about to have one myself. Probably one of the most momentous conversations this room has ever heard. Just as soon as the announcement has gone out and the people with whom I need to have that conversation arrive.

  I pull out a few tapes, looking through the labels on the front telling me what I will discover when I find the strength I know I will need to watch them. John’s tenth birthday. Eddie’s baptism. My grandfather’s silver jubilee. I inhale and set the tapes back in the box.

 
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