His true queen, p.44
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       His True Queen, p.44

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  “I did. But does that mean my heart shouldn’t want what it wants anymore?” I ask, feeling Josh’s hand constrict around mine. I look up at him and smile. “It just meant I wanted him more.”

  “Adeline was in an impossible position.” Josh speaks up, reaching for his scruff and rubbing at his chin. “I fell in love with her fast.” He shrugs, all nonchalant. “I know she did me, too.”

  “Ever so confident,” I mutter, spiking chuckles all round.

  Josh nudges me in the shoulder playfully, and I laugh as he pushes on. “Even as the Princess of England, being together was a challenge.” He peeks down at me, nearly blinding me with his smile. “But we were ready to take on that challenge. After the events of a few months ago when Adeline lost her father and her brother and she unexpectedly took the throne, everything changed. She wanted desperately to do her father proud. She wanted desperately to prove the doubters wrong. And she wanted desperately to be with me.” He swallows. “She didn’t want to choose, but in the end she had to.”

  “And you chose Josh,” Graham says, as if that needs clarifying.

  “No,” I counter quietly. “I chose love.”

  “Why?”

  I look at the man sitting beside me, the man I know will always be here for me. The man who changed everything. He gives me that adorable, devilish smirk, his eyes flashing brightly. “Because he loves me for who I am. Because he saw deep into my soul and embraced me. Because he loves my fierceness but won’t think twice about putting me in my place.” I smirk when he lifts his eyebrow knowingly, mentally feeling his palm on my arse. “I was born to love Josh.” I swallow, thinking about all of the love that’s been lost over the years by so many people close to me. “Because,” I whisper, “love should always win.” I clear my throat on a little cough, letting Josh pull me closer.

  Graham’s face is almost dreamy as he observes us. “Some argue that you were born to be Queen.”

  “Oh, she was,” Josh says, lacing our fingers tightly. “But she was born to be my queen.” Bringing my hand to his mouth, he kisses the back. “And if you don’t mind, there is something I’d like to do.”

  I tense as Josh smiles, breaking away from me.

  He stands.

  He clears his throat.

  He reaches into his pocket.

  I tense more.

  “Josh . . .” I say, as the audience all draw breath, too.

  Then . . . silence.

  You could hear a pin drop.

  He turns and drops to one knee, presenting me with a small black velvet box. My hand meets my chest. “Oh my goodness.”

  He smiles, quite shy, as he pulls it open, revealing a ring. A simple ring. A small diamond on a simple band. Nothing elaborate or showy. Just a simple ring. And I know he’s chosen this simple ring on purpose.

  “We both know the answer to this question,” he says quietly as I blink my eyes clear and look up at him. His face. It’s beautiful. “But I want the world to hear you say it.” Dropping his other knee, he walks forward on them and places the ring on the sofa, taking my face in is hands. “Will you marry me, Miss Adeline Lockhart?”

  “Yes,” I sob, feeling his hands on my cheeks as my eyes explode. “Yes, yes, yes.” On a smile as bright as mine, he dips, catching my lips, unbothered by the crowd, who are now applauding crazily in the background, stamping their feet, cheering and yelling. I laugh into his mouth, feeling his palm move to my hair and force me closer. And then I hear something over the applause, and I quickly rip my mouth from Josh’s, finding his eyes. They’re sparkling madly, his smile wide, as Estelle’s and Kanye West’s American Boy booms from the speakers all around us. “Oh my God,” I laugh, falling into Josh’s chest when he tugs me up from the couch.

  He’s looking down at me on an epic grin, his hands firmly on my arse. “This time when we dance, you can relax, you can smile, and you can let go.” He gives me a hard, possessive kiss. “Because now the whole fuckin’ world knows you belong to me.”

  I mirror his grin, and he starts twirling me around the floor, my head thrown back in pure, unimaginable happiness. I’m completely uninhibited, being watched by the world as I, the former Queen of England, dance with my American boy live on TV.

  “There you are, ladies and gentlemen,” Graham shouts over the ear-piercing cheers and music. “His true queen!”

  JOSH

  FUCKIN’ HELL. I’VE NEVER BEEN so nervous in my life. I’ve attended endless press conferences. Done thousands of interviews. Accepted awards and given speeches. But nothing compares to the nerves I’m feeling right now. I’m perched on the front pew, bent over, hands clasped, palms sweaty, my knee jumping up and down. I blow out air.

  Pull it together, Josh.

  A light smack on my shoulder jolts me from my pending meltdown, and I look up to find Dad smiling fondly at me. “Don’t,” I warn. “I’m trying.”

  He chuckles and sits down next to me, reaching into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He pulls out a hip flask and unscrews the cap. “Dutch courage.” He passes it over and I swig more than I probably should.

  “I don’t need courage. I need calming the fuck down.”

  “You’re in the house of God, boy. Have some respect.”

  “Sorry,” I mutter, passing him back the flask. “Where’s Eddie?” Adeline's brother is flighty these days at best. One second he’s here, the next he’s gone and disappears for days on end. He didn’t last long in rehab. I’m sure he’s getting worse.

  “Restroom.”

  That means he’s taking his own form of Dutch courage. Great. I need him like I need a hole in my fuckin’ head. I glance behind me. The rows of pews are filling up, the church quickly getting full to capacity. Everyone who falls through the doors looks flustered, like they’ve just run the gauntlet. Because they have. It’s fuckin’ chaos out there, utter madness. Wedding of the century, they claim. Part of me is a little annoyed. Another part is enjoying the humongous fuck you this event will signify to those royal assholes.

  “What’s the time?” I ask Dad, returning forward.

  “Two minutes later than when you last asked.” He slips his flask back into his pocket. “Christ, boy, what’s gotten into you?”

  “I don’t know,” I admit. I’ve been desperate for this day to hurry the fuck up and be here. And now it is. And now I’m nervous as shit. I rake a hand through my hair, probably messing it all up. I don’t care. What’s a bit of mussed hair when you’re sweating like a racehorse?

  Dad smacks my jumping leg and stands. “I better go say some hellos.” He smiles a shit-eating smile and leaves me to welcome some of the hundreds of guests. Me? I stay exactly where I am. Paralyzed by my nerves. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Shit, I haven’t spent one night away from Adeline since she abdicated. That was until last night. I was twitchy. Restless. Not surprising given what we’ve been through to get to today. I had Tammy call her every hour. I called her mother myself a few times, too. She was fine. Of course she was okay. I, however, wasn’t. Those royals. They’re capable of too much shady shit, and they’ve made more than one summons on Adeline. I ripped up one. Adeline burned another. What the fuck has our wedding day got to do with those douchebags?

  “Seriously, Josh.” Eddie appears, refastening his fly. The man seems to have dropped all his royal etiquette along with his title. “You look petrified.”

  “I am.” Storing lines in my mind is my job. I’m one of the best at it. Today, I can’t remember a fuckin’ thing of what I’m supposed to say. I catch a whiff of alcohol and look to my soon-to-be brother-in-law. I’m in no position to judge since Dad just fed me some of the good stuff, but I can guarantee I haven’t had as much as Eddie. “No more,” I warn. The last thing I need is Adeline whittling on our special day. I promised I’d keep an eye on him.

  He rolls his eyes, the condescending asshole. “We’re celebrating.”

  “You’ve been celebrating for nearly a year.”

  “Too fucking right. I have a lot of
lost time to catch up on.”

  I sigh but don’t counter. He has a long way to go before he gets over the bombshells that were dropped on him.

  “Just behave.”

  “Yes, bro.”

  I look back when I hear the sounds of people gushing. Adeline’s mother appears, looking truly stunning in a pearl-blue gown. No mother-of-the-bride two-piece for her. I find the will and strength I need to get up and go to her, meeting her halfway down the aisle, my legs now surprisingly stable. Catherine is here, that’s why. If Adeline wasn’t okay or if something was up, Catherine wouldn’t be here smiling that soft, reassuring smile.

  She holds her arms out to me as I approach. “Look at you, you handsome thing.”

  “You look stunning, Catherine.” I let her embrace me, grateful for her easy affection. “How’s Adeline?” I ask.

  “Worried she’ll desert you at the altar?”

  I scoff. “No.”

  She laughs lightly, patting my cheek tenderly. “She’s wonderful. You’re a lucky boy, Josh Jameson.” Her eyes move up to the hair I just roughed up, and her hand faffs to coax it back into place. She’s wasting her time.

  “I know,” I agree. So lucky.

  “Oh, Edward,” Catherine coos, spotting her wayward son over my shoulder. She looks so happy to see him. I know she doesn’t often these days, their relationship far from fixed. Breaking away, she goes to him, taking him in a hug. He accepts, embraces even, but that edge of resentment still lingers.

  Something catches my attention out the corner of my eye, and I look up to the balcony above the altar, frowning. What the fuck? “Hey!” I yell, just as a flash blinds me. “Bates!”

  He’s on his way fast, chasing the rogue pap down. The fucker. How the hell did he get in here? It’s like fuckin’ Fort Knox. I make tracks, following Bates up the stone steps. I find him manhandling the guy toward me when I arrive, his camera smashed to pieces on the floor. “Is that a tent?” I ask. It’s like a fuckin’ campsite—empty bottles of water, cans of . . .”Tuna?”

  “Yeah, I think he’s been staking the place out.”

  I throw the pap a look that could turn him to dust. “Get him out of here before I kick his ass.”

  Bates wrestles the asshole away as he yells in protest, trying to make it back to his smashed camera. I crouch and root through the pieces, finding what I’m looking for. I eject the memory card and slip it into my inside pocket.

  “Josh, it’s time.”

  I stand and turn, finding Catherine looking on in disgust as Bates disappears with the rogue photographer. “Time?” I question.

  Adeline’s mother approaches me, amused, taking my hands and squeezing them gently. Her hands are so soft. Her smile soft. Everything about this woman is soft and delicate. “You are getting married today, are you not?”

  “I am.” My pulse quickens.

  “She’s here.”

  And then my heart drops into my feet. “Already?”

  “She didn’t want to be fashionably late.”

  I release her hold and step back, my hand automatically running through my hair again. “Fuck,” I breathe, and then immediately apologize for it. “Sorry.”

  On a sigh, Catherine steps forward and fixes my hair for the second time, but not for the last. “Are you going to keep her waiting?”

  My eyes dart to the doorway that leads back down to the altar. My fuckin’ legs won’t work. “I can’t move,” I admit. This is it. She’s here. The moment I’ve been waiting too long for. And I’m frozen. By nerves? By excitement?

  “Josh.” Catherine physically shakes me and snaps me from my lifelessness. I look at her blankly, my mind screaming at me to get my ass moving. “Go.”

  “Right.”

  She physically moves me along, and I rely on her to help me down the stone steps back to the altar. I only start to feel my legs once I breach the entrance into the church and the congregation comes into view, every available seating space taken, and some standing space, too. Spanish royalty, Hollywood royalty, friends, family, and world leaders. Even the damn President of the United States. I had suggested a small, intimate affair. Adeline had replied, “Screw that.” I get my girl’s point. We’re no longer hiding anything.

  “Oh boy,” I whisper, every set of eyes on me. Another rake of my hand through my hair provides Catherine with the task of fixing me again.

  “What’s up?” Dad asks, approaching, a look of concern all over his face.

  “I think Josh has had an attack of the nerves,” Catherine says, straightening out my suit jacket once she’s finished on my hair.

  “I’m not nervous,” I tell them, swallowing and breaking away, taking over Catherine in sorting myself out. “I’m excited.” Let’s get this show on the road.

  I walk with purpose to my place, Dad following, and join Eddie. He’s grinning. And he’s definitely had a few more swigs of whatever he’s hiding. His cheeks are flushed. “Ready?” he asks, slapping my shoulder heavily.

  “When it comes to your sister, bro, I was born ready.” I turn when I hear the organist begin, as does everyone else in the vast space. Two men reach for the handles of the sky-high double doors, and I take a breath as they slowly creak open.

  The gasps of the hundreds of people must suck all oxygen from the room, because I suddenly can’t breathe.

  And I have not a fuckin’ hope of regaining my ability to draw breath when I spot her.

  “Oh, sweet Jesus,” I murmur, every single detail of my world disappearing. Every single detail except for her. She’s wearing her fuckin’ tiara.

  She stands on the threshold staring down the aisle at me. There’s no veil covering her face. Nothing blocking my view to her beauty. She did that on purpose. I know she did that on purpose. And I’m glad. So glad. There’s nothing between us.

  Her gown is the simplest wedding gown I’ve ever seen. Simple and stunning. It’s all she needs. Off-the-shoulder, satin, and straight to the floor. No train. No embellishment. Just the gown, her Spanish tiara, and her exquisite face.

  My throat starts to swell, and my eyes start to burn with a mixture of pleasure and tears. And as she slowly starts down the aisle toward me—Davenport on one arm, Damon on the other—my mind seems to think now is a good time to remind myself of how I came to be here, in this spot, on this day, ready to swear my life to this woman.

  Every moment from the very first second I encountered Adeline Catherine Luisa Lockhart, to just yesterday when she cooked me steak and washed my hair in the tub.

  “Do you want to get into trouble with me?”

  I smile to myself. Neither of us knew just how much trouble we were getting into. Not the kind of trouble we thought at the time.

  “Maybe I want to violate a princess.”

  I didn’t want to violate her. I wanted to cage her and keep her close forever. A rush of contentment washes over me, my body warm, as I run through the endless images of Adeline I have stored in every corner of my mind. The most special images are those of her sleeping. When she’s naked, peaceful, and unaware of me studying her. When I spend a few minutes every morning tracing the line of her hip, up to her breast. When I move her hair away from her face, over her shoulders, so I can see all of her blinding beauty. When I trace her lips. When I kiss her forehead. And when she eventually stirs and sleepily crawls into my side. Mornings are my favorite times. Undisturbed. Quiet. Reflective. Simply . . . us.

  My head lowers, and I drop my eyes to the floor, pulling in air slowly and steadily, my smile lazily creeping onto my face. I know she’s getting closer, my body becoming more energized by the second, until every nerve ending within me is sizzling with her nearness and my veins are white hot. I look up through my lashes, biting my bottom lip through my smile. And when she smiles right back, my world goes up in smoke. The tip of her tongue trails across her red lips, her eyes falling to my chest, sparkling like crazy. I reach for my breast pocket and tweak the pink handkerchief, keeping my gaze on her. Always on her.
r />   “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” the priest asks as Damon gently breaks away, giving Adeline a soft kiss on her cheek before leaving her in the hands of her father.

  Davenport swallows, his eyes glazed. “I do.” His declaration is low, cut with every overwhelming emotion I know he’s feeling today. He strains a smile through his overcome state as he unlinks Adeline’s arm from his and turns into his daughter, taking her shoulders and kissing her lightly on the cheek. Shit, my own emotion fires up a few notches, and I’m forced to roughly wipe at my cheeks. She smiles and closes her eyes, taking a few moments with her father while I wait patiently. I’m happy to wait. He deserves his time. The world doesn’t know of his status in Adeline’s life. But Davenport does. And I know that is all that matters to him. I live in hope that Eddie will one day accept him fully, too. And then maybe Adeline will get back the fun-loving, strong brother she loves so much.

  My attention jumps to Catherine, finding her discreetly wiping her own eyes with a tissue. And then I take in the rest of the church. Everyone looks as overawed as I feel.

  “Josh”—Davenport takes Adeline’s hand and extends it to me—“she’s yours now.”

  I refrain from correcting him. She’s always been mine. I nod and take her hand, moving in as Davenport moves away, joining Catherine on the front pew. He takes her hand. She smiles at him. It’s a lovely sight.

  I bring our chests together and look into Adeline’s eyes. “Are you ready to get into trouble with me?”

  Her hand takes mine and leads it to her stomach, and I glance down on a discreet smile. She’s barely showing only being three months in. “That ship sailed the second I bowed to you.”

  I have to stop myself from dipping and kissing her midriff. That’s news the world is yet to learn. “How crazy was it out there?” I ask, lacing our fingers together.

  “Anyone would think I’m still Queen,” she replies on a whisper.

  I pull my gaze from her tummy, from my growing baby, and find her eyes. And the pad of my thumb finds her lips, dragging lightly across the red. “You are,” I murmur, dipping and kissing the corner of her mouth, sliding my palm onto the column of her throat, thumbing at her lobe. I pull back and lift her loose hair, finding the earrings I had made for her. I smile. “You’re my queen.”

 
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