His true queen, p.8
His True Queen, p.8Jodi Ellen Malpas
I remain quiet, hoping for more, but by the look on Davenport’s face, he thinks he’s already said too much. “And so my mother fell into your arms,” I say quietly.
“He wasn’t King when your mother and I fell in love. He was a prince, being groomed to rule. He was barely nineteen when he married your mother, and your mother was barely eighteen. Just kids. John came that very year, the boy your father so hoped for. It cemented his future. Your mother felt like she had served her purpose. Your father gallivanted off around the world on royal tours, and stories of his shenanigans reached England. I was your grandfather’s private secretary before I was your father’s, as you know, and watching the beautiful Spanish princess crawl further into her shell each day was truly a saddening sight.” Davenport looks out of the window, thoughtful. “I found her in the library one evening. Researching British history and polishing her language skills. She really wanted to be the best she could be for your father.” Finding my eyes again, he clears his throat. “I’ll let you conclude the result of that meeting.”
“Love?” I ask, relaxed for the first time since I arrived. I never expected any of this, truly I didn’t, but it is very much welcomed, even if he is delivering his heartfelt story in a somewhat detached tone.
Davenport sighs and glances away, as if not quite believing he’s saying these things, least of all to me, but not being able to stop either. “She felt wanted, and, trust me, she was all I truly desired.”
So he knows how it feels to want something so badly and not be able to have it. I don’t know why I take comfort from that.
“Your father returned from duty in 1983. I ended my affair with Catherine. The consequences would have been drastic if our secret was discovered. Your mother would have been an outcast. Suffice to say, she hated me for it, and in a moment of weakness on my part, I gave in to her pleas for comfort. And we were caught. The letters she sent to me were found. Edward was born in 1985, and your father knew the new baby was not his blood. But, you see, he did not want to rock the boat. He would never risk his position as heir. He needed a wife, children, a stable family unit. Your grandfather was a stickler for tradition. So he kept quiet, and he kept me close. You, Your Majesty, were the icing on the cake of his vengeance.”
I balk at him, astounded. “Are you saying I was a pawn to taunt you with?” That he never actually wanted me?
“The moment your grandfather passed away and your father became King, he didn’t fire me, and he wouldn’t allow me to resign. I would receive no pension. It would be made certain I would not receive employment elsewhere. Your father was a ruthless, cruel man, Adeline.”
“You mustn’t speak ill of the dead,” I snap, more out of duty than anything else. I’m shocked, so very shocked by all of this.
“My apologies.” Davenport lowers his head, definitely in shame. I feel wronged, and any good things I have been trying to think of my father are suddenly washed away by dirt. I was nothing more than a tool for my father to wield. A fuck you to Davenport and a symbol to the rest of the world. A demonstration by your father of unity, that all was fine and dandy. His wife, his children, they were all perfect for the perfect king-to-be. More smoke and mirrors. “How on earth did you and Mother share company every day all these years? If you truly loved each other, how did you stay away and—” I stop abruptly, something slotting into place. “You didn’t stay away.”
He laughs, and it’s tinged with sarcasm. “Adeline, your father had me nailed to his side practically day and night. When he wasn’t with me, he was with your mother. He knew where she was every moment of the day. He made sure of it.”
Mother is right. My father was a cruel man. He wanted to see them suffer. “And why weren’t you in Evernmore with my father when I fled?”
“The shock of Edward’s accident. It hit me hard.”
I flinch on his behalf. “This is too much.” I stand, overwhelmed by the extent of the lies that are the scaffolding of my life. I’m about to leave when I think of something. And though I think I know the answer, I go ahead and ask anyway. “Have you spoken to Edward?”
“I don’t believe he would like to speak to me, ma’am.”
“No. It would be wise for me to put that ball in his court.”
“And my mother?”
“I am not in the habit of pestering a grieving woman, Your Majesty. I understand my position. You do not need to warn me.”
“I am not warning you, Major.” I make my way to the door, Davenport following. “Why would I offer you a job if I wanted to keep you away from my mother?” I look over my shoulder, catching the light dash of surprise on his face before I return my attention forward. “I would like you to reconsider my offer. I believe you still have a lot to offer the Monarchy.”
“Very kind, ma’am, but I have other responsibilities now.”
I frown at the front door and turn, finding him smiling at his dog. “Oh.” Cathy circles my legs a few times before sitting back at her master’s feet. “She can come, too.”
“To work with you, she can come.” I don’t wait for him to decline. “I’ll see you tomorrow at nine prompt.” I hit the pavement and head for the open door of my car, leaving behind what I expect is a dumbfounded Davenport.
“How’d it go?” Damon asks as I slide in.
“Enlightening.” It’s the only word. I’ve always thought my father was a tyrant, but cruelty wasn’t on his long list of misdemeanors. It is now, yet one has to question whether it was justified. Regardless, his bitterness toward my mother’s betrayal wasn’t a justified reason for him to be so hard-handed with me. Or, again, were they the actions of a man who simply wanted the best for his daughter? Or maybe he looked at me each day and was reminded I was born out of spite. That he never wanted me. But the more I ruminate, the more it seems to answer a question I often buried deep within me. If my father had his two heirs, why have another child? But now I know. I wasn’t wanted. I was a backup plan only. One born to torment a man in cruelty.
I wince, touching my forehead to rub the ache away. I question my ability to do this job, even without the added handicap of daddy issues.
“Back to Kellington, ma’am?” Damon asks, following the cars up front when they pull away from the curb.
Back to Kellington? What will be waiting for me? Sir Don with more official nonsense that’ll make my brain burn? Kim with endless press announcements for me to approve? Piles of invitations for me to decline or accept? “I think I’d like you to drive,” I tell him, feeling like being trapped in this car is one of the only ways I can escape the ridiculousness of my world. The other way isn’t readily available, and that is just cause for more despondency.
Although he’s clearly not pleased by my request, Damon speaks into his earpiece to advise the other men of the plan for a little drive, and I smile when he gets short with whoever is on the other end. “Her Majesty would like to drive, so that is what we will do.”
So we drive. For an hour, I’m taken on a little jaunt around London, the convoy of cars piquing interest from bystanders and drivers alike, and through my downheartedness, I manage to smile, watching as people stop and stare, obviously curious as to who could need an entourage so large. Possibly only the Queen herself, but she would never simply drive around the city in which she resides. Of course she wouldn’t. The idea is ludicrous. A little like the idea that I am, in fact, the Queen.
I’m lost in my melancholy when the car comes to a stop, and I peek out the window to find out why. There’s no red light, no traffic stopping us from progressing on our journey to nowhere. “Why have you stopped, Damon?”
Turning in his seat, he looks back at me. “I think you need a little pick-me-up.”
I give him a half-smile on a questioning look. “Is there a champagne fridge waiting for me? Or better still, a bottle of Belvedere?”
“No, there’s an American.”
I gawk at Damon like he’s gon
“You’re not the only one around here who’s good at sneaking things in and out of places.” He flicks his head in gesture toward the window on the other side of the car.
I gasp and shoot across the back seat, looking at the building outside. The sandstone bricks tell me nothing. We’re in a tiny side street. “Where are we?”
“The staff entrance of Café Royal.”
My heart kicks. Josh. I know I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be extending my time in heaven, therefore heightening the pain when I have to leave. But I can’t deny, I could choke on my excitement, my nerves, my anticipation. And I could kiss Damon. I could also dive out of the car and run through the hotel just to get to him sooner. But I must be patient, because getting me in this place unseen is not going to be a holiday. Damon spends a few moments talking into his earpiece, scanning the quiet side street, and all the while my impatience grows. I’m fidgeting in my seat, my breathing erratic. “Just put a bag over my head,” I suggest, earning an exasperated shake of Damon’s head as the men from one of the cars up front get out and disappear into the entrance. “Where are they going?”
“To strategize.” Damon turns in his seat and holds me in place with serious eyes. “Do what I say, no questions.”
I nod, more than willing.
“And no sleepovers.”
Once again, I nod. I just want to see him, and I will do anything to get that. “Thank you, Damon.”
“You’ll get me fired.”
“I didn’t ask you to do this,” I point out. “And besides, they’ve already tried to redistribute you. I wouldn’t let them.” And this is one of the many reasons why. No one else would dare takes these risks for me. No one else knows me well enough to know what I need. In fact, no one really cares enough about my needs, emotionally or physically, but Damon. And he knows I really need this. So badly.
“That’s reassuring,” Damon quips on a wry smile. “Now, the men are clearing the way to Jameson’s suite, so hopefully there will be no awkward encounters with any staff or guests.”
“And if there is?”
“There won’t be.” Taking the handle of his door, he lets himself out and fastens his jacket button as he makes his way around the front of the car. Only once he’s received the nod from one of his men does he open my door, having a quick scope of the street before doing so. “Walk straight ahead,” he says, taking his usual position directly behind me, his hand on my lower back. “The men are positioned at various points along the route. If I remove my hand from your back, I want you to stop. When I put it back, we can continue.”
“Okay.” I’m hustled through the corridor and we pass through the first door, but no sooner has it shut behind me, Damon removes his hand, and I stop abruptly, looking at him. His hand goes to his ear, his eyes ever watchful.
“We good?” His hand lands on my back again, and I walk on, my stomach performing somersaults. Excitement? Nerves? Fear?
Each member of my security team we pass joins the procession, some moving on ahead as an extra precaution. When we reach the service elevator, I stop and smile at Damon. “How exciting,” I murmur, making a few of the other men sniff back a chuckle. Damon, however, ignores me.
“In the elevator,” he orders when the doors open, and I quickly put myself in the back corner.
“He’s in The Royal Suite,” I say, scanning the floors.
“I know.” Damon hits a button and puts himself in front of me, shielding me from the doors. “If the doors open before we make it to his floor, remain still and quiet behind me, understand?”
“Understood,” I confirm, for the first time checking myself in the mirror. I pull my hair over one shoulder and pat at my flushed cheeks.
“You look fine,” Damon says flatly to the doors, his hands linked in front of him. I peek out the corner of my eye at him as I dab my lips with a touch of lipstick.
“Just fine? Yesterday I was the most beautiful queen who’d ever lived.”
More suppressed chuckles from his men and another snub from Damon as he stares at the floor counter. “You clearly didn’t get much sleep last night,” he quips dryly.
I splutter my playful disgust and poke him in the back. “I should have let them redistribute you.”
“Behave, Your Majesty. You love our little adventures too much.”
“Oh, ha-ha funny.” The lift suddenly jolts, and my heart jolts with it. I’m going to see Josh, and despite knowing I’m only worsening my situation, only getting more attached to something I shouldn’t get attached to, I can’t help the thrill coursing through me. He’s the only light in my ever-darkening world. He’s the only thing that makes me feel peace.
The doors slide open and two men disembark, checking the corridor before signaling to Damon. When I emerge from the lift, I see men spaced at even intervals. I’m escorted calmly and swiftly, and when we reach Josh’s door unscathed and undetected, my heart doesn’t ease up with the pounds, but increases. Damon gives the wood a firm rap, and I hear movement from beyond. I hold my breath, bracing myself.
And deflate disappointedly when the door opens and it’s not Josh. To be expected, really, but as I look past his bodyguard, Bates, I still don’t see him. “Your Majesty.” Bates grins, clearly finding the shift in my status amusing.
“Hello.” I smile and move forward with the help of Damon’s hand, looking around the palatial suite while Damon and his old friend say their hellos. “Where’s Josh?”
“His interview with Hello ran over, ma’am.” Bates motions to a closed door. “He shouldn’t be too much longer.”
“Journalists are in there?” I ask, pointing to the door.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe.” Bates flips me a rather inappropriate wink, and I blink at him, just as the handle of the closed door rattles. “Oh fuck.” Bates swings wide eyes toward the door, and Damon joins the cursing with a few of his own expletives, diving in front of me. I barely catch the door swinging open, and then I have a wall of men in front of me, blocking my view.
“Safe?” I hiss, resisting poking Bates in the back with my finger.
“Oh, hi,” a woman’s voice chirps, a little bewildered. “Can you point me in the direction of the toilet?”
Silent, Bates points to the left, and I hear her heels as she goes. “Thanks,” she says, definitely wary. The wall of men hiding me starts shuffling around, forcing me to move with them or be revealed.
“Nearly done?” Bates asks the woman.
“Just a few pictures to take, and I might have one more attempt at extracting the identity of this mystery woman from him.”
I stiffen, and Bates laughs a laugh that could not be mistaken for anything less than nervous. “Don’t bother.”
“Come on, you can tell me, can’t you?”
Damon’s stance visibly alters, from alert to hyper-alert. “No,” he answers for Bates.
The woman laughs. “Christ, anyone would think he’s dating royalty.”
My lips straighten, and every man standing before me shifts a little, awkward, nervous, and then a door closes and I’m being ambushed by them all. “Whoa!” I yelp as I’m hustled through the suite and eventually into a huge bedroom fit for a king. “Don’t leave this room.” Damon wags a warning finger in my face before shutting me inside.
“And where would I go?” I say to the door, dropping my bag from my shoulder and straightening out my flustered form. Gazing around the space, I can’t help the small smile that creeps up on me. The Royal Suite. How very mushy of him. Kicking off my heels, I meander around the room casually, taking in the beautiful décor, the grand furniture, and the elaborate wall dressings. It’s palatial.
I could be in a tent in the middle of a muddy field, but if Josh were with me, it would be heaven. I soon find myself in the bathroom, the sense of opulence carrying through. There’s much to admire, but it is the bathtub
Once the bath is full, I slide in on a groan of contentment. And then I lie there in the peaceful quiet, eyes closed, my mind as light as my body.
“Perfect,” I sigh, pouring myself a glass of champagne and taking the first magazine from the top of the pile. Not surprisingly, there’s no news in print of my recent promotion to Queen, since it’s only recently been made public officially, but there is a whole section dedicated to my family’s recent loss, Eddie’s renouncement, and the imminent news of the country’s new Queen. The picture on the cover is a poignant shot, a close-up of Eddie and me walking behind my father’s coffin being pulled by the gun carriage. I swallow and quickly turn the page, finding more photographs from the funeral. And on the next, and the next. My eyes sting, my heart becoming heavier. This isn’t what I had in mind. Just for a moment, I want to forget my loss. Forget . . . everything.
I flick through the pages until I reach something non-me related. Actually, that is not strictly true. I smile. Josh is me related, not that the world knows it. And to think his face is plastered on the other side of a page that has me all over it. How ironic.
His True Queen by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4.6 out of 5 / Based on41 votes