His true queen, p.42
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       His True Queen, p.42

           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  “What good is the throne to me if it’s tarnished with scandal?” Sabina’s usually soft, friendly face is far from it now. Now, every ounce of bitterness and resentment is emblazoned all over it. “Revealing his identity to the world would have smeared the Monarchy. He had to go.”

  In stunned disbelief, I look to Dr. Goodridge. The old doctor looks ancient all of a sudden. Grey and tired. He’s shaking his head, his eyes on his lap. “I loved you,” he says. “Would do whatever you wanted in the hopes you would return my love. I was a fool. Still am a fool. You never loved me. You used me. It’s been like a damn domino effect. One little white lie led to another and another and another.” His arms go up into the air heavily. “I’m done. I’m glad it’s over.”

  “A little white lie?” I balk at Dr. Goodridge. “I’ve lived a lie for thirty years because of your little white lie. The King died. My brother died. A little white lie?”

  He shrinks. He’s a man out of his depth. I return my attention to Sabina. “When your attempt to get rid of Eddie failed, you had no choice but to reveal my mother’s affair and Eddie’s identity if the crown was going to bypass his head and land on mine. You exposed the letters. Everything the King tried to hide was going to be exposed. That is why he traveled home from Scotland early. Not to stop me from being with Josh, but to stop the letters between Davenport and my mother being leaked. But you would never have publicly leaked those letters. Because it would have tarnished the crown you so desperately want. You just needed to get my father on that helicopter.” All this time I have blamed myself. Have been dictated by guilt. “And you needed help.” I turn my eyes onto Dr. Goodridge again. “You were in Evernmore, you sabotaged the royal helicopter, and you stopped Sir Don and David from reaching my father and John before they took flight.”

  Sir Don throws his eyes toward the doctor. “You? You were stalling us? You weren’t ill?”

  “Oh my God,” Haydon breathes, staring at the floor at his feet.

  David looks plain shocked. He never knew of all this madness. The reason he was so angry with Sabina after his father died was because he discovered she knew about my mother’s affair and Eddie’s illegitimacy. His ego was put out. The fact that it probably only accelerated his desire to marry me off to Haydon is a moot point now. Because, in fact, it is David who should have been King. Not my father. His family should be Royals, not servants.

  He slowly casts his eyes to his mother. “You told me to go to Evernmore when Adeline fled.”

  “Of course I did,” Sabina says. “It was the perfect opportunity to get rid of the King.”

  “And you told me to advise him the letters had been leaked. You knew he’d fly into a rage. And Dr. Goodridge made sure none of us made it to him before he and John took flight back to London.”

  “The King was a predictable man.” She shrugs, rather nonchalantly. “The kind doctor made sure John was on the flight, too. No pilot, a mechanical fault. Oopsy.”

  I can only stare at her. She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” David asks. “I should have known.”

  Sabina snorts. “Tell you that you were the true heir? Really, David? Your ego is too big to let that pass. You would have ruined everything. You weren’t born to be King. You were born to be a puppet. It was always supposed to be Adeline and Haydon,” she spits. “The beautiful little princess and my beautiful grandson.”

  “Is that why you told Dr. Goodridge to lie about my blood tests when I was born?” I ask, thinking how outraged she must have been to discover that I was illegitimate, too.

  “You were my last hope. After you, the dynasty dies, and so does my family’s claim to the throne. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t of true British Royal blood. Because my grandson is.”

  Why she would want the throne is beyond me. The lengths she has gone to are mind-blowing. “You made me feel like I had a friend,” I say. “You have manipulated me at every turn.”

  “I haven’t manipulated you. I didn’t need to push you into marrying Haydon. My son did that all by himself. I just needed to ensure there was no one in the way.” Her glare points to Josh. “You just couldn’t stay away, could you?” She stands. “My Haydon should be with her.” She throws an arm out to me. “It should have been you begging to marry my grandson, and instead I have been forced to these lengths to get my family what it should rightfully have.” Her body vibrates as years’ worth of frustration pours across the desk at me.

  “You’re crazy,” I murmur, so utterly shocked. “You have single-handedly destroyed everything.”

  “No, your grandfather did that, Adeline. When he dumped me as a seventeen-year-old girl, pregnant and poor.” She laughs coldly. “Handing me over to one of his blue-blooded friends as a wife. Giving me shelter and a job at the stables. All of this was supposed to appease me? I watched as your father came to the throne, as your mother cheated on him and birthed two illegitimate children. It was farcical.”

  “I agree,” I say, making her recoil. “Everything about this family, about the Monarchy, is a farce.” I stand, giving everyone in the room a moment of my eyes. “These secrets will die with my abdication.”

  I round the desk and walk out on a collection of gasps, my legs working of their own volition, taking me away from the poison that has shaped my life. I meet my mother just outside the door. I see Damon a few paces behind her with Kim. Their faces are a picture of shock. They heard.

  Mother steps forward, and I beg her not to make me reconsider. “Adeline—”

  “It was Sabina who told you my brother’s unborn child wasn’t his.”

  She nods, her eyes flicking past me into my office. “I believed she was acting with integrity.”

  Integrity? No. She was simply ensuring all obstacles were out of the way. “And did you believe I was the King’s child?” I ask.

  “I had no reason not to.”

  I guess she didn’t, other than the fact that she had clearly slept with Davenport again. Yet blood tests confirmed I was the King’s child.

  My head hurts. The way the King treated Eddie and the way he treated me is making it spin. Was he kinder, more loving toward Eddie simply to hurt Davenport? Was he heavy-handed with me because he was worried that someday Eddie’s true identity would be discovered and I would be one step closer to the throne?

  I shout at myself on the inside. Why do I care? I’ve spent my entire life caught up in the Royal web of lies. I’ve been as fooled by the smoke and mirrors as everyone else. What does it matter now?

  I continue on my way, my head high, my strides determined. There is so much to do, so much to deal with. But right now, it is just about me. I need a moment alone. I need to wrap my head around what is happening.

  When I arrive at my private quarters, I go straight to my bed and collapse onto it, curling myself into a little ball and staring ahead at the huge window looking out onto the grounds. I’m not hurting. My heart doesn’t ache. Maybe I have become immune to the toxins I’ve been swimming in all my life. Or maybe I don’t have the energy to hurt.

  When I hear the door open, I know it is Josh, but I remain where I am, bunched up tightly. The bed dips. His body moves in close, curling around mine. His face goes into my hair. Josh is the only true thing I have in my life. He doesn’t wear a mask. He doesn’t live on lies, and I very nearly dragged him into a damaging life of deceit.

  Reaching for my hand, he weaves his fingers through mine and squeezes.

  My American boy.

  July 2018

  Official statement from HRH Queen Adeline Lockhart I.

  Ever since I was a little girl, my father fondly called me spirited. He used to say my heart was much bigger than my brain, and in the end, it was that big heart that brought me to this point in my life. I have never wanted to withhold anything from my people, but it has been inappropriate for me to speak until now.

  You see, my big heart has led me down a path of which I should not have gone. Not as a Royal.
Not as a princess. And most definitely not as your Queen. Now I find myself unable to divert from that path, as it has led me to a man who has stolen my big heart. If I were to turn back now, I would return to my duties with no heart at all. The spirit you all so love in me will be lost forever, and a mere shell of a woman would be ruling this glorious country. My people deserve more than that. They deserve a devoted Sovereign, one who can commit themselves entirely to the task. I no longer own myself in order to commit fully to my duties, and the man I love does not deserve the constraints my life as Queen will impose on him. I fear it will change him. I fear it will strip him of the qualities I so love about him. I fear he will be lost. I can’t lose him.

  This morning I completed the last of my duties as Queen. After the loss of my father and my dear brother, as well as coping with His Royal Highness Prince Edward’s battle scars after he served our country so bravely, my beginning as Head of State was saddled with sadness and confusion. I have only been able to overcome these tragedies because of the love of one man. I owe him everything. He helped me navigate the dark times. He showed me what hope was. I will never be able to repay him, but I will die trying.

  I have been succeeded by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex, and I swear my allegiance to her. She will serve you well, far better than I ever could. I believe one must carry the title of Sovereign with unrelenting desire and commitment, and I trust my aunt will not fail in that.

  You must understand, this is not a decision that I have made lightly. My family has been burdened with tragedy and sadness, and I believe it has weakened us a people, as well as Royals. It is the end of a dynasty, but the end of a dynasty that I am proud of. I will not abandon my country. My reasons for renouncing the throne are somewhat personal, not political, and I will serve your new Queen loyally and devotedly. This decision has been mine alone, the biggest I am ever likely to make. For me and for you, I believe it to be the right decision. I have received endless love from my closest family, and invaluable advice from my trusted council, all of whom are supportive of my decision to step down as your Queen and revoke all royal privileges.

  Now I pray God will forgive me for choosing love over duty. And you, my people, will understand that when it came down to it, I really didn’t have a choice.

  Love always wins.

  Miss Adeline Catherine Luisa Lockhart

  WHO IS THE MAN SHE gave up her throne for?

  It’s the most anticipated question in history. My abdication has been met with shock and sadness. But no one is more shocked than I am. The reaction of people from around the world has truly been humbling, supporters rallying and protesting the sacrifice I have made. If only they knew they are wrong in their assumption that I was pushed out. I walked away from the throne and did not look back. I left behind the secrets, too. I left behind the task of concealing the lies, of creating more smoke and erecting more mirrors to deflect the deceit. It will no longer play a part in who I am or where I am going.

  I am free.

  Well, I will be, when the dust settles. Right now, I am lying low in the very apartment Josh hid me in after he rescued me from a field in the middle of the countryside. My arms are folded over my chest as I stare out across the London skyline, my eyes rooted on Claringdon Palace. I wonder how Aunt Victoria is settling into her new job. Rather well, I expect. I haven’t heard from her, though Matilda has called me frequently over the past few days since I walked out of Claringdon. She is in Argentina meeting Santiago’s family. Eddie is in rehab and doing “okay” according to the support workers, and the Sampson’s and Dr. Goodridge have all but disappeared off the face of the planet, banished in shame and disgrace. I expect they were told to go quietly, or face prosecution. They were undoubtedly dealt with by Sir Don. He stayed at Claringdon under Victoria’s reign. Of course he stayed. The man is committed to the core, and a new batch of secrets will keep him busy for the rest of his time in royal duty. I expect he’s thriving.

  I’m still stunned that he asked me for an apology before I walked out of my palace. I laughed in his face. He may not have been entirely responsible for trying to discredit Josh and sabotage our relationship, but he didn’t do anything to protect me from Sabina’s malicious tactics, either. He let it happen, probably willed it on. His first job was to serve his Queen, to protect her. And he didn’t.

  I shudder, not for the first time. It’s ironic how after all these years, it is in fact Haydon who was royal blooded and not me. Not that the world will ever know. The world will know nothing of the corruption within the royal circle. Of the murders and affairs. Of the illegitimate babies and sabotage between families. All of that will remain safe behind the smoke and mirrors.

  So lost in my thoughts, I startle a little when Josh wraps his arms around me from behind. He has been so patient these past three days while we have been held hostage by the media. He hasn’t protested having to remain within these four walls, and he hasn’t made me feel guilty. He’s missed two interviews. He’s also had to postpone filming on his current project. All because of me.

  “Wouldn’t it be lovely to go for a stroll in the park?” I muse, clinging onto his arms around my shoulders as I look at the dots of people wandering freely, enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery.

  “Shh.” He kisses my hair and turns me away from the window. “Come have some coffee.”

  The cool material of my silk robe slips across my legs as I walk, then separates when I lower to the chair, revealing my bare thighs. I don’t right myself. Josh’s appreciative eyes are too lovely to deprive myself of them. When I catch sight of a newspaper, I push it away, ignoring the headlines.

  “Your mother has been calling.” Josh pours my coffee, looking up at me as I stir the dark liquid, absentminded. “Are you going to avoid her forever?”

  “I just need time,” I say, not for the first time. Finding out you have lived a lie isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I’m not mad. Not really hurt either, but I am a little disconcerted by it all. I don’t feel like I can face anyone right now. Only Josh. I want to cement my future in this world with him before I face my past.

  I look up and smile, taking a sip of my coffee. I wonder if I would have found him had I not endured a thirty-year lie. Did all this happen for a reason? I have to believe it did, or I might be eaten alive with bitterness.

  “Are you nervous about later?” he asks, lowering his arse to the edge of the table. His taut stomach ripples a little as he leans toward me, offering up his lips. I move in and give him what he wants. Always.

  I shrug, so nonchalant. “I need to give the world what they want and then move on.” My eyes drift over to the window again. “I will be sniffed out soon. Everyone is wondering where I am.”

  His eyebrows rise as he sits up straight again. “Imagine their reactions when they discover you’ve been shacked up with some lowly American actor.”

  “It’s time they know who the mystery man is, don’t you think? And your mystery woman, for that matter.” A thrill mixed with apprehension tickles my insides. He doesn’t answer. I know Josh thinks it is long overdue. “I should probably get myself ready.”

  “I’ll watch.” He lowers from the table and collects me. “Do I get to approve the outfit you wear when you tell the world about me?”

  “And what would you have me wear?”

  “I know just the thing.” As we enter our temporary bedroom, Josh once again shakes his head at the masses of clothes spreading to every corner. “I’m going to have to extend the dressing room at my place.”

  I settle on the bed as I watch him rummage through the endless suitcases. “Or we could buy somewhere else,” I suggest.

  “In LA?”

  “Sure.” I place my hands in my lap, gazing around the penthouse. “An apartment like this would be nice.”

  “You don’t want to live in my house?” There’s no hurt apparent, just curiosity.

  “Well, it’s yours,” I point out. “And I’ve never been house hunting befor
e. It’ll be exciting. I want to look for a ranch, too. Some place in the middle of nowhere with acres of land for me to roam on my horse.”

  “Whatever you want, baby.” He pulls out a dress. “Found it.” Looking pleased with his find, he holds it up to me. “My favorite.”

  I grin at the black satin number, the very dress I had on the day of my thirtieth. The day I met Josh Jameson. “That one?”

  “Yes, this one.” He wanders over and lays it next to me on the bed. “Perfect.”

  “Very well,” I agree, hearing the front door open and close, followed by the voice of Kim calling me. “In here,” I shout.

  Josh snatches a quick kiss before Kim enters, her arms loaded with everything needed to make me look like the defiant queen I no longer am. “She’s all yours,” he declares, pulling on some grey sweatpants. “For now.” On a wink, he leaves me to get ready for my interview.

  “You have received a summons,” Kim says dryly, holding up a letter that displays the coat of arms of Claringdon. “From Queen Victoria.”

  I scoff and get up, heading straight for the bathroom. “I’m disappointed it took so long.”

  “News of your live interview this evening was only made public a few hours ago. I’d say she’s rather prompt.”

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