His true queen, p.7
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       His True Queen, p.7

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  “They will continue to serve my mother since she will be living here.”

  “Kellington isn’t equipped to accommodate the extra staff you require as Queen, Your Majesty. Some members of the royal household you must retain without question. If you choose to redistribute any of them, then we will have to contend with a severe drop in morale. They will believe they’ve been demoted.”

  “No one can serve me better than my current staff. They know me. They are more qualified for that reason alone, and if they don’t meet your expectations, then we teach them how to.” Goodness me, if I’m going to have this power, I will at least retain some of the things that keep me sane. My staff keeps me sane. They’ll replace Jenny with someone who’ll have me looking like a middle-aged has-been before I can blink. I won’t hear of it. And Damon? Never. He’s staying. They are all staying. “Damon will become head of security to the Queen. Jenny will be my chief stylist and lady-in-waiting, along with Olive. Kim will continue to serve as my private secretary.”

  “With all due respect, ma’am, your private secretary is far from equipped to tackle such a role. Please, I must insist.”

  “Davenport was my father’s private secretary, but I can’t have him as he’s no longer in royal employment,” I point out. Because you sent him packing with threats and a stern reminder of his blood oath.

  Sir Don, obviously struggling with my defiance, taps his pen on his diary. “I don’t believe Major Davenport was utilized to his fullest.”

  I have no doubt. Davenport always seemed to be with my father, but given what I know now, I suspect that was merely a ploy on my father’s part to keep his enemy close. Everyone knows Sir Don was the man who took on the role of advisor when my father called for it, despite Davenport being more than qualified. After all, he served my grandfather before he served my father.

  “I believe Major Davenport was not given the opportunity to express his full potential.” I cock my head in silent acknowledgement of what we all know but will not speak of. I never had much time for the old stickler major, but through everything, his commitment to my father never wavered. Despite everything, his own personal torture, he was always there, following barked orders. He was underutilized. Wasted. I never thought I would feel sorry for the man who I now know to be at the center of one of the biggest royal scandals in history. But I do. I feel awfully sorry for him. He was a glorified servant, and now I suspect another reason my father didn’t strip him of his position was because he didn’t want to rouse questions. The King and the major were the best of friends. Everyone knew it. My father was a proud man. He wouldn’t want anyone to know of the sordid affair between my mother and Davenport, but at least one person had to know. Someone had to hide the letters between the lovers. And that someone was Sir Don. “We all know the Major was more than qualified to advise the King on all matters.” In a sudden flash of rebelliousness, I blurt something rather obscene but unstoppable. “Major Davenport will be reinstated, and he will serve me as my private secretary alongside Kim. I think they will work very well together, and in my very best interest.”

  Sir Don looks like his head could pop off. “Excuse me?”

  “I do believe your hearing is perfectly fine, Sir Don.”

  He looks utterly stunned. “And me?”

  “You will retain your position as Lord Chamberlain, and you will execute the duties required of that role.” I stand. Meeting over.

  “As you wish, Your Majesty.” Sir Don rises from his chair and nods graciously, when I know he is feeling anything but.

  “Thank you, Sir Don.” I round the desk and make my way to the door, catching sight of the new portrait of the strange woman as I go. “And please do get rid of that thing.”

  I close the door behind me and fall against the frame, utterly exhausted after holding my own. But, at the same time, mighty proud of myself. “Take that, you miserable old bastard,” I say to myself, crossing the landing to the stairs as I switch my phone back on. Endless missed calls flood my screen, and before I can even think about whether or not I’m going to return them, it rings again. A quick scope of my surroundings reveals I’m alone, so I scoot to the huge window and answer. I’m not going to feel too bad about my lack of restraint. I need a pick-me-up after this frightful week, and Josh always picks me up. “Hello,” I breathe, only just stopping myself from supporting my weight by resting my head on the glass.

  “When I call, answer your damn phone.” He’s irritated, making his southern drawl more enhanced, and, right or wrong, I smile, because the past week is forgotten with the sound of his words. Any words, as long as they are his.

  “I’m really rather a busy woman, don’t you know?”

  “Oh, I know, but I would prefer you to be busy with me.”

  I smile to myself. “Why, Josh, you are more demanding than my kingdom.”

  “See me.” It’s not a request, and it soon takes my light mood to heavy and sad. His want is simple, yet the logistics surrounding it so very complicated.

  “How?”

  “I don’t know. You are Queen of fuckin’ England, for fuck’s sake. Make it happen.”

  “Josh, I—”

  “Do you want to see me?”

  That’s a ridiculous question. “Of course, but . . .” But what? I inwardly laugh at my own silent question. But everything. “You’ve been warned to stay away.”

  “I told you what they can do with their warnings. Who the hell is warning me, anyway?”

  I ponder that for a second, looking over my shoulder when I hear a door open. Sir Don exits my father’s office and heads in the other direction, missing me by the window. “The institution,” I answer. “The dinosaurs who have supported the Monarchy for decades. Those who live and breathe for the royals. And probably a few politicians, too.”

  “You need to get your people under control,” Josh retorts, and I roll my eyes.

  “Don’t you get it yet?” I ask, calling on my mother’s words that one time when she was trying to appease me over my father’s demands. “My title symbolizes status, not power.”

  “It’s bullshit.”

  I turn when I hear approaching footsteps, finding Damon across the landing. His thumb waves between up and down. I give him a thumbs up on a small smile before indicating with a finger that I’ll be with him in one minute. “I need to go.”

  “I’m at Hotel Café Royal. The Royal Suite.” He hangs up, and I gawk down the line. The Royal Suite? My gawk turns into a suspicious pout, tapping the corner of my mobile on my chin. The scoundrel. I can’t possibly rock up to the Regent Street hotel and swagger across the pavement and through the doors. What is the fool thinking? I dial him back, taking air, ready to tell him just that, but he gets in first.

  “The Royal Suite,” he reiterates. Then he hangs up again.

  “Well,” I huff, completely slighted by his rudeness. But then I’m smiling, because isn’t that what I loved about him in the first instance? His complete disregard for who I am. Or was. Because, of course, I am someone different now, someone even less attainable.

  And he still doesn’t give a flying hoot.

  My smile widens, and then it drops like a stone when I remember how impossible it would be to see him.

  “Ma’am?” Damon says, appearing at my side. “Should I ask?”

  “Definitely not,” I sigh, turning my phone in my hand. “Please, take me back to Kellington. I’ve had a bellyful of this place.”

  We head for the stairs together, getting stopped by Sir Don as we take the first steps. “Ma’am.”

  “What is it, Sir Don?”

  “I have just got off the telephone with Major Davenport. I’m afraid he has declined your offer.”

  I’m surprised, but at the same time not surprised. And I bet Sir Don didn’t offer the job with grace and encouragement. “Very well,” I say dismissively, taking the stairs down to the foyer.

  Damon is soon close on my heels. “May I ask what job?”

  “You may,”
I say on a sideways smile.

  “What job?”

  “Private secretary to the Queen.”

  Damon isn’t one for showing facial reactions, but he can’t hide this one. “Can I ask why?”

  “You may,” I reply on another tilt of my lips.

  “Why?”

  “Because though it pains me to admit Sir Don is right, Kim isn’t qualified. Davenport never really fulfilled his duties with my father, and you and I know why that was.”

  Damon lightly snorts his agreement and opens the door once we make it through the foyer. “We do.” He looks back up the stairs. “I’ve had a polite reminder to keep my mouth shut.”

  “You, too?” I ask, once again wondering why the hell I’m surprised. Everyone who knows anything of such scandal around here receives polite warnings. “From whom?” I follow his eyes and find them watching Sir Don coming down the stairs. “He just tried to redistribute all my staff,” I whisper.

  “Doesn’t surprise me. I knew I was on death row. How long have I got you for?”

  “You didn’t hear me. I said tried.” I walk to the car. “I told him where to stick it.”

  Damon laughs and helps me into the car. “So I’m stuck with you?”

  “Afraid so,” I reply on an impish grin. “Damon, I would like to go somewhere. Will you take me?”

  His tilted head screams nervous as he holds the car door. “Where would you like to go, ma’am?”

  I don’t answer, but instead call someone who can give me the address of where I need to be. Felix sounds rather shocked to hear from me. “Your Majesty?”

  “Yes.” Damon shuts the door. “Please send me Major Davenport’s address without delay.”

  “Certainly, ma’am.”

  I smile and hang up as Damon gets comfortable at the wheel. That was a lot easier than I thought it would be. The moment the address lands, I pass my phone to Damon so he can see the screen. And he rolls his eyes, starting the car and pulling away. “Please explain your logic,” he says, holding a hand up to the gateman before checking the cars up front and tailing are in place. “You really want Major Davenport as your private secretary?”

  I sit back, looking out of the window. “Something tells me he is the best man to serve me.” I can’t explain it, really. I have the pick of the bunch, could choose anyone to be my right-hand man, but something is telling me to choose him. I just have to convince him, and though it’s probably immoral, I feel like a plea from the heart will work. The Major has never felt needed, and if I have to use my mother as a weapon, I will.

  He loves her. And I know she loves him.

  And two people who love each other should be together. Even if it is in secret to prevent the risk of public skinning.

  My eyes drop to my lap and dart. It’s like a lightbulb moment for me. Everything clear.

  Secrets. Lies. The Royals have always been protected by smoke and mirrors.

  Why change the habit of a lifetime? I can still protect my mother, and she can still have Davenport. Because he’ll be working for me.

  Maybe I’ll be a good queen after all.

  THE WHITE STACCATO-FRONT BUILDING is beautiful and cute, but a little unassuming. All these years I’ve known Major Davenport, I never once imagined where he lived. Now I’m looking at his home, I would never have painted this in my mind. It’s quaint, pretty. Nothing like Davenport. I look down the narrow, cobbled backstreet where I’m standing, a street that is now blocked with cars. All mine. Damon is twitching beside me, his eyes taking in every inch of the area, low and high. I realize it’s making him uncomfortable while I stand here taking my time to absorb what’s before me, and maybe build a little courage, too.

  “Right, then.” I walk up the brick pathway of the tiny front garden and take hold of the shiny gold doorknocker, tapping it firmly once before standing back and straightening my shoulders. Long seconds pass, and I peek at the window to my right. The net curtains prevent me from seeing inside. “I don’t think he’s home,” I say, looking up to the first floor.

  “Then we should go before you attract any attention.”

  “Relax, Damon,” I sigh, looking up and down the street. “It’s deserted.” I hear something from beyond the door, a few mutters of a grumpy, stern voice I recognize.

  “Stay,” Davenport orders, pulling the door open, his body bent to hold the collar of a dog. I recoil, surprised, as does Major Davenport. “Your Majesty?” His years of service has him mirroring Damon, scanning the street.

  I smile, a little nervous. “Good afternoon, Major.” The dog wrestles and wriggles in Davenport’s hold, and eventually breaks free. It runs right at me. “Oh my goodness.” I take a backward step, feeling Damon’s hand land in the small of my back just in time for the dog to launch at me. Its big paws land on my thighs, its tail wagging so fast it’s a blur.

  “Cathy!” Davenport stomps down the path and seizes the dog, pulling it back toward the house. “You are an embarrassment.”

  I stand in shock, but not because I’ve just been ambushed by a dog. “Cathy?” I question, and Davenport pauses at the door. He named his dog after my mother?

  He stands tall and turns toward me, giving my protection team the once-over. “You had better come in before the whole of London finds out you are here and I have streams of reporters on my doorstep.” He opens up the way. “My home won’t accommodate everyone.”

  Probably just as well, since no one can hear what I want to say. Glancing at Damon, I give him a small nod before making my way into Davenport’s tiny little house. “Thank you.”

  “The lounge is to your right.” He shuts the door and follows me through to the charming room, where two old leather rollback couches virtually take up the entire space. “Would you like tea?”

  “That would be lovely.” I perch on the edge of one of the cushions and put my hands in my lap while Davenport leaves the room. I soon hear the sounds of cups chinking and cupboards opening and closing, and only a few minutes later, he’s back with a tray. As I watch him serve, I ponder what to say, how to kick off our conversation, all the while marveling at how he looks so less intimidating when he’s not dressed from head to toe in his crisp suit. His trousers are still rather formal, but his jumper not so much. “Thank you.” I smile when he hands me a cup and saucer. “How are you, Major?” That seems like the obvious start.

  “Very well, ma’am.” That’s it. That’s all he says, and that is plain habit rather than truth. He looks old today. Tired. His hair is still perfect, as is his moustache, but . . .

  I search my mind for another conversation leader, anything to prevent the awkward silence I know is coming. “I didn’t know you had a dog.” I look across to the fluffy thing that’s now past the excitement of a visitor and curled up in her basket by the fire. The Major worked ungodly hours, surely not ideal when you have a dog. “Who took care of her while you were at work?”

  “I only recently acquired her,” he says as he stirs his tea. “A little companionship during retirement can’t hurt.”

  My lips purse, my fingertips squeezing the china handle of my cup. Only recently, and he named her Cathy. “I’m sure.” I take a small sip, and the awkward silence I was trying to avoid descends.

  Until Davenport breaks it. “Forgive me, ma’am, but why are you here?”

  I sigh and slip my saucer onto the wooden table before me. “You declined my offer to reinstate you.”

  “Correct,” he replies flatly, making me pull back.

  “But why?”

  “I am an old man. There comes a time when one must admit defeat.”

  My heart breaks, because something is telling me he is not talking about being too old to work, but more being too old to fight for my mother. “You were forced out. You did not admit defeat, you simply had no choice but to.”

  Major Davenport gives me high eyebrows over his cup. “And why is this any concern of yours?”

  Oh, no he doesn’t. “Major, you can cut the curtness,” I retor
t firmly. “I know it’s all a front. Besides, I don’t think I need remind you of who you are being curt to.” I collect my saucer, if only for something to do with my hands other than twiddle my fingers nervously in my lap. His surprise can’t be hidden, and neither can his ironic smile. “I offered you a job. I would like you to accept it.”

  Sitting back in his chair and crossing one leg over the other, Davenport suddenly looks like the stern, high-handed major I always perceived him to be. I never dreamed I would be pleased to see the sight. “Your Majesty,” he breathes, resting his palms on the arms of his high-backed chair. “With all due respect, you cannot force me into employment.”

  I stare at him defiantly, my back teeth aching from the force of my bite. “Then what the hell can I do as Queen, because so far I’m not seeing any benefits, only disadvantages?”

  His smile widens, and it’s truly a sight to behold in my turmoil. “I see weakness,” he says. “Never show weakness or vulnerability, ma’am. They will skin you alive. That is your first lesson. Lead with assertion and heart, but do not mistake your title as anything more than the highest of privileges. You cannot have an opinion. An opinion opens you up to criticism, and you mustn’t be criticized. When you smile or frown on public engagements, it is being analyzed. Did she like it? Did she hate it? Is that an opinion she is expressing? No matter if you disagree with your cabinet, you cannot stop them from doing what they are going to do. You can only warn and advise. You cannot tell. The best rulers listen. They keep their political opinion to themselves. They observe. The Royal Family is an institution, ma’am. One that is loved and envied across the globe. Your job, first and foremost, is to uphold the status of the Monarchy. To be a national treasure. It has been many years since the Sovereign wielded any true power.” His eyes never once leave mine, and I’m pretty sure he’s relishing in my stunned silence. “That was lesson two to”—his hand waves through the air—“however many. Your father struggled with the concept of a constitutional monarchy. He also struggled to make his country love him. The conflict between his duty as a father and a husband, and of being King, truly played havoc with his mind. He didn’t know how to be all three.”

 
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