His true queen, p.39
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       His True Queen, p.39

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  “What’s up?” Josh asks, taking his legs down and resting his elbows on the wood, leaning in.

  I shrug, blasé, though it doesn’t wash with Josh. “I’m not relishing the thought of sifting through decades of my family history in photographs and videos.”

  “Then don’t do it.”

  “It’s a lovely notion, but part of our relationship with the media is give and take. I give them something to work with, something I’m comfortable with, and they don’t take liberties.”

  “So what do we give them?” He reaches for my hand and strokes over my finger where soon he will put a ring. His question is a good one, and though I am steaming ahead, guns blazing, if you will, I appreciate that this will have to be handled delicately.

  “Davenport is still in his office working on the statement. As soon as he is done, we will discuss with the PR team.”

  We both look up when we hear a knock on the door. I don’t feel it necessary to eject Josh from my chair. Everyone around here will have to get used to his presence, no matter where he decides to put himself. “Come in,” I call, dropping Josh’s hand and resting back.

  Kim enters, her eyebrows arching sharply when she finds Josh and me in the wrong seats. “You left this in your private quarters.” She sets the folder full of photographs on the desk.

  “Thanks, Kim.”

  “And you have a visitor.”

  I feel my heart pick up pace. “Oh?” Please, not Sir Don or Sampson. I need that announcement approved and sent before they can stop it.

  Her head tilts, as does mine. “His Royal Highness Prince Edward, ma’am.”

  “Eddie’s here?” I’m up out of my chair quickly. “Is he sober?”

  “I believe so.”

  That simple confirmation makes me happy. “Please, send him in.” I start pacing the room, feeling nervous to be receiving my brother. What is the meaning of his visit? Will he be hostile? Sarcastic? Bitter? Has he seen Davenport or our mother since he arrived?

  “Sit down, Adeline,” Josh says softly, interrupting my mounting silent questions. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

  I lower to the chair. “I’m nervous.”

  “You should be. He might ask you if he can marry that porn star he’s been shacked up with.”

  “Oh, behave.” My fingers twiddle apprehensively in my lap. Good Lord, what if that really is why he’s here? I have just accepted a proposal from Josh, an entirely different breed of unsuitable, but unsuitable nevertheless. “And she’s a model, as I understand it. He’s just rebelling.” I’m telling myself more than Josh.

  “Like you?”

  “I’m not rebelling. I’m dragging the Monarchy into the twenty-first century, albeit kicking and screaming.”

  “So does this lowly American actor get a title?” he asks, hitching a cocky eyebrow. “Because I think Prince Charming suits me well.”

  “You are, as ever, incorrigible.”

  “Actually, scrap that. I’m leaning more toward King.”

  “King of cocky?”

  “No, King of you,” he says simply, and I don’t argue, because he is absolutely correct. But declaring him officially my king may be a step too far for the institution. One shocking step at a time. “Let us keep that as a personal joke.”

  “I’m not joking. Hey, are you going to be shoving a plum in my mouth?”

  “Absolutely not.” Goodness, stripping him of that rough American southern drawl? Out of the question. “I love the way you speak.” I love everything about him, and I would never try to change that. And if anyone else tries to, they will face my wrath. “I’ll keep you just the way you are, thank you very much.”

  “Honored.”

  “You should be.” Our grins collide across the desk, but mine falls the second the door knocks. “Oh, heck,” I mumble, standing and rearranging my pencil skirt and blouse. “Do I look okay?”

  “Adeline, chill out.”

  That is easy for him to say. “Come in,” I call.

  Kim lets herself in, and my eyes fall straight past her to my brother. “Oh, Eddie,” I whisper in despair. I almost don’t recognize him. The Playboy Prince, with the cheeky twinkle in his eye, has been replaced by the Fallen Prince, with black, empty holes for eyes.

  “His Royal Highness Prince Edward,” Kim declares softly, and Eddie’s eyes fall closed, as if hearing his title pains him. Painful for me as well, I know it does. He shows no attempt to enter, just hovers on the threshold of my office, scared to come in. So I go to him, doing what instinct is telling me and what my heart cannot stop. I throw my arms around his weak body and cuddle him as tightly as I think he can stand, so thankful when he doesn’t object or push me away.

  Like he needs me to hold him up, he clings on, a lost little boy trying to navigate the cruel blows that have been thrown his way. “I don’t want to feel this way anymore, Addy,” he croaks into my neck, burying himself deeply to hide. “The bitterness, the hurt, I can’t stand it anymore.”

  Devastated by his words, I close my eyes, feeling the river of tears pour down my cheeks. My beloved Eddie, so broken and scared. “I’ll fix you,” I assure him. “I promise I will fix you.” Whatever it takes, I will reinstate that twinkle in his eye, find the man he has lost during this torrid time in our lives.

  I hear him sniffle and feel him pull away, clearing his throat. I quickly brush at my cheeks and then his, linking arms with him and pulling him into the room so Kim can leave and shut the door.

  “Shit,” Eddie curses, finally finding Josh at my desk. “Mr. Hollywood.” He turns a questioning look my way. “What’s going on?”

  “That is a story for another day,” I assure him, my focus now on Eddie. “Sit down.”

  “I’d do as she says,” Josh pipes in quietly, a sympathetic smile pointed Eddie’s way. “She’s in a seriously officious mood today.”

  “Why are you here?” Eddie lowers, casting his eyes between Josh and me. “The last I heard my sister was engaged to Hayd—”

  I cough, stopping Eddie from uttering the name that’ll likely send Josh into orbit.

  I feel more than see his hackles rise, Eddie’s words igniting his temper. “Momentary lapse of sanity on her part,” Josh bites back, making Eddie raise his palms in surrender.

  “Hey, we all have those.” He laughs a little under his breath, resting back in his chair. “That’s why I came.”

  “Sorry?”

  “I saw you on TV last night at the Royal Ballet. With Hay . . .” Eddie drifts off and gives Josh a sorry smile. “With him. Addy, you were miserable through that smile. I had to come and tell you not to do it.”

  I could cry. I knew Eddie would see the turmoil inside me. And though he’s a little late—I was hoping for his intervention way before now, to talk some sense into me—I feel overcome with comfort that he is now here. “I’m not doing it.”

  “She’s definitely not doing it,” Josh clarifies.

  “Well, I guessed that, since you’re sitting here looking all sexed-up.” Eddie takes his eyes from Josh’s sexed-up form and finds me. I fight my blush back. “So what happened?”

  “Don’t ask.”

  “He got a little physical with your sister.” Josh is positively buzzing with anger again.

  “What the hell?” Eddie balks. “He hit you?”

  “No.” I wave a flippant hand that I know provokes Josh’s anger further. “A little rough, maybe.”

  “I’ll kill him,” Eddie declares.

  “Get in line,” Josh spits, standing, like he could do with walking off some of his rage.

  Goodness, I need to defuse this quickly before my brother and Josh go on a manhunt. This isn’t about me. This is about Eddie. Yet hearing that protectiveness in him after so long fills me with joy. “How—”

  “So now you are with Mr. Hollywood again?” Eddie, clearly not done with this subject, interrupts my attempts to steer us away from it.

  “Will you stop calling him that?” I huff, annoyed. “And yes,
I am.” My eyes are quickly thin slits of irritation when Eddie laughs.

  “Oh, Jesus. Do they know?”

  “Officially, no. But they will do, just as soon as we release the announcement.”

  “Bloody hell, Adeline, you’re going to send them off the deep end.”

  “I am aware of the repercussions, Edward.” I’ve been dealing with them for months now, and Eddie would know all about the latest, had he not been drowning his sorrows in alcohol and women.

  “Edward.” He chuckles, thumbing at me as he finds Josh at the window. “She only ever calls me Edward when she is on the defense.”

  “I am not on the defense,” I snap indignantly. “I am merely—”

  “Marrying me.” Josh throws our news out there like a bomb, and I’m quite sure Eddie’s brain just blew up. His entire form convulses in his chair, his weak, tired, abused body moving more in that one jerk than he has since he arrived.

  “Say what?”

  I close my eyes, hiding from Eddie’s astonished face, and breathe in some patience. “Thank you, Josh,” I say tiredly. “Thanks a bunch.” Firing a glare his way, I note he is expressing no remorse. He just shrugs unapologetically as he continues to pace the room.

  “When did all this happen?” Eddie asks, his head swinging back and forth between us. “Shit, I’ve come on a good day for entertainment.”

  “Damn it, Eddie, won’t you just stop?” I stand, joining Josh in walking, yet I am walking off my nerves once again, my beloved brother kindly reminding me of the enormity of what I am about to do. I have been here before, granted, yet this time seems so . . . final. Like I really am on the cusp of something groundbreaking. There is nothing to stop us now. I know in my heart of hearts. Every obstacle that has been thrown at us we have managed to duck, with only a few little scrapes. Kind of. “Anyway”—I shake off the dreaded apprehension and refocus on Eddie—“whatever am I going to do with you, dear brother?”

  He snorts, and Josh chuckles. It earns them both an indignant glare. “Well,” Eddie says, “I’m not so worried about causing a scandal now. You are doing a stellar job of that yourself.”

  “Hey, dude.” Josh falls back into my chair and picks up a pen, tossing it at Eddie’s head. “Don’t be an asshole.”

  The pen ricochets off my brother’s head. He’s too tired to duck it. “It’s not personal, Mr. Hollywood. I’m just saying it like it is.”

  Losing my patience, I toss the word out there and wait for the explosion. “Rehab.”

  Eddie stills in his seat, and Josh shrinks somewhat. That’s more like it. Men who know their place. I nod to myself and lower to the chair next to Eddie. “Now that I have your attention—”

  “Or stabbed it with a bloody bread knife,” Eddie grunts, shifting uncomfortably on a bit of a scowl.

  I pout on a shrug. I recall the last time I suggested rehab over dinner the night before I vacated Kellington. Eddie stormed out on me. Well, at least he’s still here. “What do you think?”

  “I think the news of the prince in rehab will cause a media shitstorm.”

  He doesn’t want anyone to know. Not because he is a prince, and he is a prince, no matter what our history says, but because he is a proud man. “No one will know, Eddie,” I say. “Besides, news will soon break about the Queen marrying some lowly American actor. That will overshadow everything.”

  “Full of compliments this morning, aren’t we?” Josh mutters, picking up another pen and flicking it as if to throw it at my head. He won’t. I smile and reach for Eddie’s hand. “You can’t go on like this.”

  “I know, Addy.” He rubs at his forehead with the tips of his fingers. “I know.” On a sigh, he looks to the ceiling and closes his eyes. “Drink is the only thing that makes me forget what a fuck-up my family is.”

  “When was the last time you had alcohol?”

  “Thursday.”

  “That’s three days,” I exclaim, encouraged by the news. Three days is an excellent start.

  “Yes, three days of hell. Three days of watching the news, seeing you looking so misplaced, and realizing that you were feeling the exact same way as me. Lost.”

  My excitement fades, blanketed by a horrid sense of sadness. “But I am now determined to find myself, Eddie,” I tell him, looking to Josh. “We should not allow our unfortunate lineage to command our fates, not even for the throne.” The fact that Eddie is not my father’s biological child is a moot point. He has been raised as a Royal, and the way I see it, he has earned the right to decide his fate for himself. He must not allow himself to be told what his fate should be. “If you want out of this melting pot of lies, I won’t stop you. I will find a way to make it happen.” I will also try my hardest not to envy him. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if it were me in his position. “But whatever you decide, please do remember you must do it for yourself, and not allow bitterness and hatred to fuel your decision.”

  “I’m not sure the Head of State is supposed to speak with such selfless reason.” He reaches for my cheek and strokes it fondly. “Despite what you and many others think, little princess, you will be a queen this country can be proud of. Real, rare, and precious.”

  “Oh stop.” I take his hand from my face before I wet it with my silly tears. “I highly doubt the Privy Council will see it that way.” Clearing my throat, I stand and brush myself down, sniffing back my emotion. “Now, I believe I have—”

  The door swings open, and I whirl around to see who has had the audacity to barge in without being announced. “I tried to stop him, ma’am.” Sid looks thoroughly exhausted by the door, his hand propped on the frame to hold himself upright.

  Haydon takes in the scene, notably Josh in my chair looking extremely comfortable. And now hostile. Oh dear. Eddie shoots up from his seat, his weak body moving surprisingly fast. “You have a bloody nerve,” he scathes, bristling terribly.

  “Damn straight.” Josh rises, too, though more slowly, more threateningly.

  Haydon ignores both men and approaches me, snatching up my hand. His nose is a bruised mess, black rimming one eye. Oh, Damon. “Adeline, please, I wasn’t myself last night.”

  “You don’t say,” I quip sarcastically, removing my hand from his. “I think it’s best you leave.”

  “Please stand aside, Addy,” Eddie requests politely, his fists clenching at his sides.

  “No, Edward, there really isn’t—”

  “Move, Adeline.” Josh’s demand is a far cry from a polite request, his jaw rolling. “Now.”

  “Oh dear,” Sid sighs from the door, watching the wolves move in on their prey. “I shall get Damon, ma’am.” He scuttles off, leaving me to deal with the impending explosion of tempers.

  “Haydon, please go.”

  “I need to talk to you.” He’s on me again, begging. “I can make it right. Just give me a chance.”

  “Get your hands off my woman,” Josh growls, his referral as animalistic as his tone.

  “Get your hands off his woman.” Eddie backs him up, snarling at Haydon’s back.

  “Will you both shut up?” I snap, shrugging Haydon off. “I am perfectly capable of dealing with this myself.” I throw an arm out to the door, squaring each of my protectors with a determined look. “Leave.”

  “Not on your life.” Josh more or less laughs. “Not a fuckin’ chance.”

  Haydon’s face scrunches in disgust. “You would sacrifice a life with me to be with that uncivilized ape? It’s laughable.”

  Oh boy.

  Josh is across the desk in a second, tackling a startled Haydon to the floor. He sends the entire contents of the wooden top sailing in all directions as he does, and I jump out of the way on a startled yelp when the folder holding the photographs of my family lands at my feet.

  “You fuckin’ jerk,” Josh growls, pinning Haydon to the carpet and drawing back his fist, sending it sailing forward on a roar. The connecting crack is cutting, both Eddie and I hissing on a wince.

  Oh good Lord.
Josh,” I cry, but Eddie seizes me as I go to split them up, pulling me back and keeping me there. “Stop them, for heaven’s sake!”

  “I think we should let them get it out of their systems,” Eddie argues. Is he smiling? Smiling while he watches them roll around on the floor of my office like animals? “Josh will kick his arse. Someone needs to.”

  “Fat lot of help you are,” I snap, jumping when I hear another punch connect. With one eye closed, I peek across to where they are brawling, finding Haydon being completely overpowered by Josh. I can’t watch this. I may not like Haydon, but I don’t relish him being pummeled to death. I think Damon delivered a good enough message last night.

  As I think his name, he comes crashing into the room.

  “Oh, thank God,” I breathe, watching as my head of protection puts himself straight in the mix and rips Josh off Haydon’s squirming form, holding him back at a safe distance.

  “You’re an animal,” Haydon cries, scrambling to his feet. Looking at me, he sneers, and that alone could be like a slap to the face. “You are perfect for each other.”

  “You fucker,” Josh wrestles and worms in Damon’s hold, fighting to get at him again. He soon realizes he is going nowhere and calms, though his next words could hurt Haydon as much as another clean, powerful crack to his chin. “Good fuckin’ thing I’m the one marrying her then, right?”

  Oh, shit.

  “What?” Haydon asks, bemused.

  “What?” Damon coughs, swinging a wide-eyed look my way.

  “What?” comes a voice from behind. I cringe, turning to find Sir Don and Sampson on the threshold of my office. My entire body goes lax. This isn’t how I planned for things to go. Kim appears behind the men in the doorway, out of breath. She shakes her head at me, obviously in apology for not managing to stop them from entering my office, or for making it to me in time to warn me they’re here.

  I can’t hold it against her.

  “You heard,” Josh spits, yanking himself free from Damon’s hold and wrestling his jacket back onto his shoulders. His labored, loud breaths are quickly killed by the deathly silence in the room. “She’s marrying me.”

 
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