His true queen, p.6
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       His True Queen, p.6

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  The scratchiness of the bark on my forehead doesn’t faze me. I’m too blindsided by the reminder of what we share. Hips pushed into my arse, his wet mouth by my cheek, Josh holds me tightly. Possessively. Like he owns me. And I don’t care. He’s the only thing in this world I don’t mind controlling me. “Maybe now I want to violate a queen.” He reaches to my hips and slowly draws my jodhpurs over my backside. His lazy approach could be mistaken for giving me time to deny him. It’s not. He’s merely prolonging my agony. I want him so badly, and he knows it. His hand on my arse. His mouth all over me.

  Bringing my arms up to the tree, I rest my head on them to lessen the risk of grazing my head when he strikes me.

  Thwack!

  As is always the way when Josh tans my backside, I don’t cry out in pain, but rather moan my way through it, being carried to another world. A world where I am not me, but just his. And then his fingers are between my thighs and he’s massaging me gently, my flesh wet and ready for him. “Some things don’t change,” he whispers, biting at my cheek, circling his fingers, plunging them deeply, scissoring my swollen clitoris. “Thank God. Tell me you’ve missed me, Adeline.”

  “I’ve missed you,” I say on demand, my pleasure making it more of a labored whisper than a sure proclamation, as my pulse races and my desire for him multiplies unstoppably. I start to roll my head, my knees becoming weak. And when I reach the pinnacle of pleasure, I feel like every shitty thing in this world pours from my body with my climax, my whole being relaxed for the first time in weeks. I’ve needed this so much. Needed him.

  Josh lets me take a few seconds to regulate my loud breathing, pulling my trousers back into place and turning me around. Brushing my mane from my sweaty face, he cups my cheeks with his palms and rests his forehead on mine, staring so deeply into my eyes. I can’t mistake the twinkle in his for anything less than adoration.

  “I’m in love with the Queen of England, Your Majesty. You need to help me find a way to be with her.”

  His words could make me cry, and for a second my wobbly lip gets the better of me. I mustn’t cry. I mustn’t. “It’s impossible.”

  “Who says?”

  “Everyone.”

  “Well, I don’t. Nothing has changed for me.”

  “But everything has changed for me,” I say. “We’re a train wreck waiting to happen.”

  “My train has already crashed, and it’s in fucking tatters since I left you at the palace. Nothing can feel any worse than that, Adeline.”

  “Trust me, Josh.” I take his hands from my face. “It really can.”

  He looks to the sky, his Adam’s apple rolling with each hard swallow he takes. He’s trying to calm himself down, trying desperately to see reason like me. It pains me to see him like this, as much as it pains me to feel as I do. “You didn’t even break up with me,” he whispers. “You watched them escort me away, and all I could do was watch it all play out on TV. You didn’t answer my calls, my messages.” Dropping his eyes to mine, he circles my neck with his palms and holds me firmly in place. “I wanted to be there for you. I was waiting for the bomb to drop, the news of your succession, and now it finally has. I can see it in your eyes, Adeline. No one else can, but I see it. You don’t really want this. Guilt and responsibility shouldn’t dictate your heart.”

  “And what would you have me do? Throw my mother to the wolves? My brothers, my father, my entire family history? Just to feed my own selfish need?”

  “No, to feed mine,” Josh replies shortly, and I flinch at his frankness. “I’m sorry,” he sighs. “I didn’t mean that. Just . . .” He growls under his breath. “Just don’t be hasty. Don’t write us off yet.”

  I smile, finding his determination admirable, if a tiny bit frustrating. “You’ve already had your warning, Josh. Your hotel was trashed, and that was when I was a mere princess. They’ll ruin you.”

  “They can shove their warnings up their asses.” Releasing me, he stands back, scuffing the mud with his boots. “There must be a loophole somewhere. A chink in the armor of the stupid laws you royal people have to abide by. I’ll find it.”

  There is no loophole, and if there was, it would be sewn shut pretty speedily. “It’s impossible.”

  “No. I won’t let you believe that.”

  I don’t counter this time, because I know he won’t listen. Part of me is wishing he’s right, that there is a loophole, though I know there are none. We can’t be together. “Josh . . .”

  Looking past me, he frowns. “What’s wrong with Stan?”

  Oh goodness. I shoot over to my horse who looks somewhat lethargic. “I think he’s dehydrated. I brought him through here to get him a drink.”

  “Let me see.” Josh takes his head and looks Stan over. “His eyes are dry.” Taking his reins, he clicks him down to the stream, and I thank heavens when my beloved horse slurps some water. “He’s real thirsty. You should get him looked over.”

  “I will,” I promise, stroking down his neck, waiting patiently for him to finish up. God, he might drink the stream dry. “I should go before Damon starts to worry.”

  The solemnness of Josh’s face matches my own downheartedness as I pull Stan back toward the bridle path. “Adeline?” he calls, and I look over my shoulder. He doesn’t say anything, and instead approaches me, giving me a soft kiss on the lips. “This won’t be the last kiss I give you,” he vows, and I inhale a little dreamily, ignoring the voice in my head that’s disagreeing with him. Because I desperately wish it isn’t our last kiss. “I’m leaving for South Africa tomorrow for a week. I’ll be back in London as soon as I can. I’ll call you, and you will answer.”

  I nod, if mildly. “Goodbye.”

  “For now,” he adds, stroking down the bridge of my nose before stepping back and letting me walk away. “I love you, Adeline.”

  I swallow down the wretchedness those words evoke. Words like that shouldn’t make a woman feel so utterly hopeless. They should fill her with life. But I’m no ordinary woman.

  Each step I take is forcefully measured to ensure my stability, and I touch my nose to feel the heat still lingering from his touch. Oh, how I wish I didn’t have to leave. That it wouldn’t involve headline news, MI5, and the government if Josh took me away to a faraway land and hid me there forever.

  When I breach the trees, I force myself to locate my ever-depleting mask and have it firmly in place for when I meet Damon. “I heard you shouting,” he says dryly as I slip my foot into one of Stan’s stirrups and pull myself up.

  Once I’m settled in the saddle, I look across to him. “And you didn’t come to find out why?”

  Flicking away his cigarette, likely the second or third he’s had since I left him, he falls into the seat of the Land Rover. “It sounded like you were handling things just fine on your own, Your Majesty.”

  “I was. It was just—”

  “Or was the American handling you just fine?” His smirk is slap worthy, and my mouth falls open, my shock profound.

  “I have no idea what you are talking about, Damon.”

  “I’ve heard that before.”

  “Drive on,” I order petulantly, only making his smile widen. “This minute.”

  “Yes, ma’am.” He starts the engine and honks the horn, pointing across the field. I’m totally mortified when I see Josh cantering away in the distance.

  My lips twist, my eyes closing. “I’ve only been Queen for a few hours, and I’ve already demonstrated how utterly weak I am. I’m a terrible Monarch.”

  “Love doesn’t change because the world does, ma’am,” Damon says gently.

  His statement, so profound and true, brings more wretched tears to my ever-crying eyes.

  IT HAS TRULY BEEN THE longest week of my life, my bewildered self so completely lost amid the formalities, procedures, and being shown the ropes, if you will. I’ve not made it to the stables either, much to my displeasure, so I’ve had daily calls with Sabina who has kept me abreast of Stan’s condition. He’s d
oing better, drinking plenty, and is on steroids prescribed by the royal vet for a virus of some kind.

  I’m wandering absentminded through the Picture Gallery with Sir Don, words coming at me left, right, and center. When we enter my father’s office, I note two things. Firstly, the cigar stench is completely gone now. The room seems so . . . empty. As if the scent I always hated is the last thing connecting me to my father. And I truly miss it. And secondly, the huge portrait of my father that hung above the fireplace is gone. And in its place . . .

  “What in heaven’s name is that?” I ask, stuck on the threshold, gawking at the monstrosity that has replaced my father’s portrait.

  Sir Don looks in the direction of my horrified stare and straightens. “That, ma’am, is the new Queen of England,” he says dryly.

  I look at him like I hate him, because I think I actually do. Not only because I sense sarcasm in his tone, but because I feel like his sole purpose is to make my life miserable. Pointing at the . . . thing that has replaced my father’s portrait, I get my ticking jaw under control. “That is not the new Queen of England,” I hiss. “That is bloody hideous.” I take another peek at the oil on canvas and cringe. I look at least thirty years older than my current thirty years, and my attire is plain awful—a civilized two-piece skirt and jacket I was forced to wear in my early twenties when meeting the Prime Minister of India. I can only conclude I was feeling uncharacteristically compliant that day. Of all the pictures there are of me over the years, they chose that one? “Get rid of it,” I order, ready to pull it down from the wall myself. “Immediately.”

  “Ma’am, it is tradition for a portrait of the current Monarch to hang in that very spot.”

  “I am not your traditional Monarch,” I spit, marching over to the wall and reaching up to the portrait, squinting to blur the hideousness. “I want my father’s portrait back in its place right this minute.” I struggle and curse as I try to remove the huge frame from the wall. Did they nail it here? I give up and turn to Sir Don. “I want it gone. And in future, you will consult me on all things.” Goodness me, I just know they scoured the archives of pictures for one suitable to hang as tradition states, and I know they were probably losing all hope as they assessed the many colorful pictures of me. Until they found this monstrosity and had it depicted in oil. And rather speedily, too. It still smells freshly painted. I will never be that woman in the painting.

  “As you wish, ma’am,” Sir Don says flatly, clicking his fingers in indication for a footman to see to it. “I will arrange for the royal artist to sit with you and discuss something to Your Majesty’s liking.”

  “Very good.” I avoid the wall above the fireplace and make my way to my father’s desk, already planning what I will wear for that portrait sitting. It won’t be a dowdy skirt suit. “What is all this?” I ask, lowering to the chair, taking in the masses of envelopes on the desk, all held together neatly with string.

  “That, ma’am, is correspondence from across the globe, all checked and approved.”

  “Were there any unapproved?” I motion to the chair for Sir Don to take, which he does, but only because I invited him.

  “Much.”

  I raise an interested eyebrow. “Such as?”

  “I don’t believe Your Majesty really wants to be furnished with such information.”

  I actually do, but I realize my need won’t be fed. “So what do we have?” I ask, pulling the string to release the pile.

  “Invitations from many countries. I suggest we choose wisely.”

  I nod mildly as I scan the papers. An invitation from the Australian Prime Minister, the Chinese Emperor, the Premier of the British Virgin Islands. “Oh, The White House?” I muse, scanning the invitation to a state dinner in my honor.

  “Yes, ma’am. That is one I suggest we accept graciously.”

  “And the others?”

  “You are Head of the Commonwealth, ma’am. Our relationships with many of these leaders is stable and sure. America, however, we should always work diligently to maintain our friendship. They are important allies.”

  I push the pile of invitations across the desk toward Sir Don. “Then I guess you should separate them into piles of yeses, noes, and maybes.” I smile sweetly.

  “Very well.” He goes to his diary. “The Earl Marshall has requested an audience to discuss your coronation.”

  I inhale, my heart starting to thump so much I’m sure Sir Don must see it punching out of my chest. “Already?”

  “It will be one of the biggest, most anticipated events in recent history, ma’am. We cannot begin to prepare soon enough. Of course, we must leave a satisfactory length of time for the world to mourn the passing of the late King.”

  “How long is a satisfactory length of time?” I ask. No length of time will be enough for my family to get over this. “It’s not even been three weeks.” And it already feels like he’s being forgotten.

  “A month, maybe two.”

  “How generous.”

  “The show must go on, ma’am.”

  I sit back and fall into thought, my mind being blitzed with images of broken bits of a helicopter. “Can I ask you a question, Sir Don?”

  He looks up from his diary and rests his pen on the page. “Of course, ma’am.”

  “Why was John on the helicopter with my father? It goes against everything the King stood for. You and I both know he was a stickler for tradition.”

  On a sigh, Sir Don begins to nod mildly. “David and I were helping Dr. Goodridge up after a rather nasty fall when we heard the helicopter blades. We were too late to stop him. We didn’t know John was on board until he sent me a message fifteen minutes into their flight. He told me the King wouldn’t wait for the pilot. He was about to take flight alone.” Shaking his head, he breathes out heavily.

  I knew it. I knew John was trying to stop him. My throat fills with remorse, making my swallow lumpy. My father acted recklessly and hastily, something he wasn’t known for. But why? I will always know I am responsible for his and John’s deaths, but why did he not use his many resources to find me? To deal with me. Did I finally send him over the edge of reason? Yes. Yes, I did. And I killed my brother at the same time. I can’t help but think that John must hate me more in his death than he did when he was alive.

  Sir Don clears his throat, pulling me back into the room. “I believe a royal statement is being drafted to reflect the conclusions of the investigation. The public want to know what happened.”

  I panic a little. Will the statement state why the King was in such a hurry? Of course it won’t. “And what will this statement say?” I ask tentatively.

  “I believe the King stepped away from protocol in a haze of worry when he received word that the Queen had collapsed. A result of stress after the countryside incident involving Prince Edward, I expect.”

  I can only stare in stunned silence. More smoke. More mirrors. Lies to protect us.

  “I will have the statement ready for your approval later, ma’am,” Sir Don says.

  I feel shame eat me from the inside out. “I don’t believe the statement will require my approval, Sir Don,” I murmur.

  A sharp nod, and he’s back to his diary, as if he is unaware of who was actually responsible for my father’s death. As if it’s normal to hide such scandals. Of course, to Sir Don, it is perfectly normal to hide such scandals. “Now, about staff arrangements.”

  Staff arrangements? I don’t like where this conversation is heading. “What about—” I’m cut off when my phone starts ringing, and I quickly snatch it up from the desk when I see who is calling me, hoping Sir Don didn’t catch his name before I managed to hide the screen. Goodness, if Sir Don gets even a sniff of suspicion that I have seen Josh, God only knows what will be done to keep him away. I reject the call and return my attention to Sir Don, fighting to maintain my composure. I’m not sure whether his face is interested, or whether I’m being paranoid. “What about staff arrangements?”

  With his e
yes on my hand that is clutching my phone, he continues. “Obviously you will inherit the late King’s—” This time, it’s Sir Don who is cut off by my ringing phone, and my grip around it increases, hoping I’ll squeeze it silent. “Does Your Majesty need to take that call?” he asks, a certain amount of inquisitiveness in his tone.

  “One is in a meeting.” I stab the reject button once more, wondering why of all the times he could call me today, he chooses now. When I’m with Sir Don. I knew he would be flying back into London today; he texted me to tell me. In fact, he’s texted me every single day. Each time I have told myself not to reply, to not engage with him. And failed. The opportunity to lose myself in the escape he gives me, even by exchanging messages, was too much to resist. Ignoring my feelings is harder. “Continue.” I do the safest thing and turn my phone off, resting it on the desk.

  “Indeed.” Gathering himself and clearing his face of all questions, Sir Don scans the page of his diary again, reminding himself of where we were. “Your staff will be redistributed across other royal households, though some will remain at Kellington. We will confirm once it is established whether His Highness Prince Edward will remain in residence at Kellington.” He turns his page and rambles on, while I just stare at him across the desk. “The royal suite is currently receiving a deep clean and repaint, ready for Your Majesty to take up residence here at Claringdon. A staff meeting has been called so you can—”

  “I will not be residing at Claringdon.” I interrupt Sir Don with no apology, and he looks up, definitely stunned. “I will also retain my staff, and Mother will remain in the royal suite indefinitely. As for Edward, he will remain at Kellington, and he will continue to share our staff with me.”

  Sir Don sits forward, looking gravely concerned. “Ma’am, Claringdon Palace is the home of the British Monarch.”

  “Was the home of the British Monarch. Now, Kellington Palace is.” If he dares to argue with me . . .

  “Your staff—”

  “Is my staff and will remain my staff.”

  “Ma’am, forgive me, but the royal household staff here at Claringdon are trained and experienced in serving the Sovereign.”

 
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