His true queen, p.9
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       His True Queen, p.9

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  I scan the advertisement. “Eau de Parfum,” I muse, tilting my head, happier with my alternative reading material, not that there’s much to read. So I simply admire him, all kitted out in a gorgeous, immaculate three-piece suit, with roughed-up hair that totally contradicts his fine threads. It’s perfectly Josh. My smile widens. It’s perfectly me, too. His smile in the ad is demure, suggestive, a little knowing, the kind of smile where one must wonder what he is smiling about. He could be smiling about our secret. He could be smiling about me. When was this picture taken? All other magazines are forgotten as I sip and admire, sip and admire. I’m quite content, lost in the tub and time, until my phone chiming breaks my utopia.

  I reach for it and open the message from Matilda, laughing under my breath when I see an image of a mug she’s holding. Her message tells me she just bought me said mug. On the circumference, it reads:

  IT’S GOOD TO BE QUEEN.

  I call her rather than replying, sinking down into the tub. “Very funny,” I muse when she answers.

  “What a frightful few weeks,” my cousin breathes. “I know you won’t appreciate my sympathy, so I wanted to make you laugh instead.”

  “Thank you, Matilda.” Despite her intentions, I still feel an unrelenting wave of despondency. There are so many reasons for me to feel downhearted and sad, yet I’m struggling to identify what misery needs most of my broken heart. It is for those reasons I find it easiest to think about the one thing I have to be happy about right now. Josh. But how long can this craziness last? We have an expiry date. In fact, that expiry date has passed. We’re living on borrowed time, if you will. Another sigh. “How are you?”

  “Not as highly in demand as you, though OK! did print pictures of me out with Santiago.”

  “OK!?” I discard my magazine and riffle through the pile by the bath. “Oh, I have it.” Placing my glass down, I flip through until I find Matilda. “Oh my . . .” I breathe, scanning the collection of shots, all of Matilda and the Argentine at various stages of leaving a private function—coming out the door, him holding it open, crossing the pavement with security, and getting into a waiting car. “You look gorgeous,” I chirp excitedly. “When was this?”

  “Our first date. I was desperate to tell you about it, then, of course, John and . . .” She trails off, and I flinch on Matilda’s behalf. “Well, there just hasn’t been the right time since.”

  I feel a little bad for my cousin; I know she would have been desperate to share. Then the world turned upside down. Not only for me, but for everyone. “Did you have a lovely time?” I ask in an attempt to get our conversation away from it all.

  “Wonderful.” She doesn’t sound convincing. “God, Adeline, how could all of this happen? Did you know Eddie was suffering so terribly?”

  “No.” I grab my glass again and start drowning my sorrows. It was inevitable the conversation would end up here. How could it not? But what I must remember is that, like the rest of the world, Matilda is in the dark about the scandal, the lies, and the secrets. She will swallow the stories being fed to her like everyone else. She’ll never know Helen’s baby wasn’t my brother’s. That my mother had an affair with the King’s private secretary. That Eddie is illegitimate. That he isn’t suffering as a result of his service to our country, but because his world isn’t what he thought it was. It’s only now I appreciate that Eddie’s story will probably be easy to swallow. His behavior now could easily be passed off as a side effect of PTSD. “It is certainly a testing time, cousin. My heart hurts, but I don’t feel like I’m being allowed to grieve. To come to terms with what has happened and how I came to be here.” I swallow, determined not to expose my emotions. “This past week I’ve been sent dizzy with protocol. What I must do, how I must do it. All the responsibilities, the expectations. It’s nothing I didn’t know, but goodness, it’s like a mountain on my shoulders. I just want to scream.” I don’t really need to tell Matilda any of this. She knows. “Part of me wants to run, the other part of me wants to take the bull by the horns, so to speak. To show my father and his minions he was wrong. That I am not an embarrassment to royalty.”

  “You are not an embarrassment. Stop that. God, Adeline, I wish I could give you a cuddle,” Matilda says, probably not knowing what else she can say. It’s all very horrific, and that’s that. While the world celebrates my succession, I mourn the loss of my life. “Where are you, anyway?”

  My glass floats in mid-air before my lips as I gaze around the bathroom of Josh’s suite. “Some official nonsense at Claringdon.” I purse my lips, hearing how unconvincing I sound. “Did you know I’m patron to over one thousand charities?” I go on, trying to turn it around before I give my crimes away.

  “Adeline?” Matilda draws out my name, and I shrink into the hot water. “Where are you?”

  I squeeze my eyes closed. “In Josh Jameson’s bathtub.” I can’t lie. There are too many lies. I need someone to talk to about this, and there is no one. No one except Josh and Damon. Josh is bias. Damon will do anything for me. I need someone in Switzerland.

  “Oh my gosh,” Matilda breathes.

  “I know.”

  “Are you crazy?”

  “Yes.”

  “Adeline!”

  “I just needed some space to breathe,” I argue meekly. “Somewhere to go, away from the madness my life has become. He’s the only one who soothes me, Matilda. He’s my only happy place.”

  “Oh good God, you will be—”

  “Sent to Coventry?” I ask. “Dethroned? I’m the Queen, for heaven’s sake.”

  “Exactly,” Matilda says, high-pitched and squealy. “And the Queen must marry suitably, not have kinky affairs with Hollywood actors.”

  “Who says he’s not suitable?” I grumble, reaching for my bottle and refilling.

  “Thousands of years of royal history, that is who. Or rather, what. Every Lord, advisor, and politician in the land. And probably most the population of the bloody world, Adeline. You must marry a carefully selected male and have perfect little princes and princesses.”

  I snarl to myself. “I thought you wanted to cheer me up.”

  “You know they won’t allow it. You will be forced to marry suitably.”

  “Then I won’t marry at all.”

  She laughs. “Like Elizabeth I?”

  “Yes, exactly like her. Strong, independent. She didn’t need a man beside her to rule England.”

  “So you’ll be a virgin Queen, too, will you?”

  I snort. “We all know Elizabeth I was not a virgin. Like her, I will not be pushed into marriage.”

  “And like her, you will die childless, and that will be the end of the House of Lockhart. Your family’s dynasty will die with you, Adeline.”

  A nasty bout of pain pinches my gut. “When did you become a champion of the throne?” I mutter moodily. “If you love it that much, you can have it. I’m sure your mother wants it. How is the battle-axe, by the way?”

  Matilda laughs. “She’s not very impressed with our new Queen.”

  My eye-roll is dramatic. “Fancy that,” I quip. “Will I have to have her banished for treason?”

  “Yes, and banish my father, too, will you? I’m sick to death of hearing about your lacking abilities.” Matilda’s testing parents are probably right. I am lacking, but how dare they say as much? It might be my ego, or maybe my pride, but my father’s sister and her husband are two more reasons for me to want to prove everyone wrong. “But, sod the family.” She chuckles. “The public is thrilled.”

  Will they be thrilled if they learn of my love affair with Josh Jameson? Will they still love me? “It is a small comfort during this testing time,” I admit.

  “Will I have to curtsey when I see you next?”

  I smile. “Even if I say no, you will do it to irritate me.”

  “I will. And since I am your favorite of all relatives, can I put in a few requests?”

  “Like?”

  “My own driver, for a start.”

/>   “You can have the driver who serves The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.”

  “You can’t take away my parents’ driver and give him to me.” Matilda laughs. “I’ll never hear the last of it.”

  “Oh, very well.” I relent, losing the lovely mental image of Victoria’s face when she finds out I have redistributed her allowances and staff in favor of her daughter. “We will discuss soon.” I look up at the door when it opens. The bath water suddenly feels scorching hot. “I have to go,” I all but breathe, my lungs empty, my eyes amazed. “We’ll talk more tomorrow. Something’s come up.”

  “I bet,” she snickers, and I disconnect our call, placing my phone blindly on the edge of the bath. For a second, I catch worry on Josh’s face, but then his lips slowly stretch into a lazy, appreciative smile.

  “There’s a queen in my bathtub.” He moves my phone to the vanity unit, and then reaches for his shirt buttons, unfastening them one by one, revealing a chest that stars in many of my best dreams. “And, fuck, does she look good in it.” His shirt hits the floor, and he starts on his jeans.

  “What took you so long?” Resting my flute on the side of the bath, I lift some bubbles in my palms and send them wafting into the air with a little puff of breath—little because it’s all the air I can find in my depleting lungs.

  “What took me so long?” he muses to himself, slowly working his fly and pushing his jeans down his thighs. I inhale deeply and exhale slowly. God knows, those thighs are the things of dreams, too, and his hips . . . Lord, his hips. His stomach. Every dip and ravine. The perfectly formed V. And my legs are going to be wrapped oh so very tightly around that waist very soon. “Let me tell you what took me so long.” He swaggers over, only his boxer shorts left to discard. Placing his palms on the edge of the bath, he braces himself and bends, eyes flashing with sparks of amber amid the blue. “One very nosy journalist who, like the rest of the world, wanted to know who was being hustled into The Dorchester under my hoodie.”

  “Oh,” I whisper, my eyes dropping to his lips. Those lips. Fantastical lips, lips made for kissing me. “Are they still chasing that information?”

  “They’re like wolves.”

  “Did you feed the wolves?”

  Sensing my want, he edges forward and presses his mouth lightly on mine. “You know I would have loved nothing more.” Making our kiss only brief, he withdraws and searches out my eyes. “But I love you too much to add to your woes.” The sentiment in his voice, in his unbreakable stare, is enough to melt me in the hot water. He loves me. This isn’t a whimsical love affair. It’s the real deal, and I would be a fool to tell myself anything else. “Do you love me, Your Majesty?”

  Yes. I’m madly and stupidly in love with him, too. But I can only nod, that love growing with every second I spend with him. And every second I do not. My plight is very real. “Loving you is the easy part,” I say softly. “It’s everything that comes with loving—” A finger lands on my lips and hushes me.

  “No. Not now.” He gives me another kiss and rises to his full height, my eyes following him. Then he draws his boxer shorts down his thighs and kicks them off. My eyes drop to where they are inevitably going to drop.

  Oh . . .

  “Stand up.” He extends his hand for me to take and helps me to my feet, the water pouring from my body, suds sliding down my wet skin. “You’re a vision.”

  “As are you.”

  “Totally inferior.” He reaches forward and brushes a light fingertip over the peak of my breast, smiling when my torso naturally concaves and my breaths become heavy. “You think you can escape me?” His hand drifting up my chest, he reaches my neck and flattens his palm on my throat. “Throb . . . throb . . . throb.” He takes my hand and rests it on his chest, and the pound of his heartbeat sinks into my palm. I’m worlds away from a life I don’t want to be part of. How can I deny myself this feeling? How can I deny Josh? How can I deny us? “Turn around so I can see that royal ass I own.”

  I slowly turn in the water, losing the calming sight of him. But I still have his touch, and it’s now sliding down my wet spine, wiping away all anxiety troubling me. My body rolls, my skin flames. He’s doing it again, prolonging my agony, taking me to the edge. Proving everything we both know. “Bend and place your hands on the edge.” A firm palm pushes into my back, helping me down until I’m bent and braced, ready for him. And that’s where he leaves me for a few more painful seconds, the only sound in the bathroom that of our weighty breathing. I close my eyes and try to dampen my craving, every inch of my skin burning under his gliding hand. Then his traveling palm comes to a stop on my backside. I fall into a trance, anticipating his punishing blow. Willing it on. Begging for it, knowing I’ll be tossed further into a mind-spin where Josh is the only thing I see, feel, hear. My skin tingles excitedly. “This won’t be the last time I spank your ass.” His hand lifts and comes crashing down on my flesh, the film of water only making the connection louder and the sting more brutal. My eyes spring open, and I grunt deep in my throat, tensing the cheeks of my arse.

  “I hope it’s not,” I confess. I wish he could bless me with his punishing hand every day of my godforsaken life.

  “Up.” He helps me to stand, turns me, and steps into the water. The meeting of our torsos, my wet, slippery boobs sliding across his chest, audibly robs us both of breath. His hand slides into my hair and pulls the hair tie free, and my hair tumbles across my shoulders. I gaze into his stunning eyes, desperation reflecting back at me. “I want you to remember something,” he whispers, his eyes jumping across my face. “To the world you are the Queen of England.” Cupping both of my cheeks with his big hands, he brings my face close to his, and I hold his wrists tightly, preparing myself for words I know will send my already spiraling mind and heart into further bedlam. “But to me, you are everything.”

  If at any point in my life I’ve felt hurt, Josh has just put that pain to shame. Because though his words are beautiful, they are more painful, and they momentarily knock me back a few paces, reminding me of who I am and who he is. Because I can be everything to him, but nothing at the same time.

  “Stop it,” he orders, rubbing his cheek on mine, wiping the tears I hadn’t realized were falling. “Right now, it is just you and me, and no status or circumstance can stop that.”

  “And what about after right now?” My arm slides around his neck and holds him close, as if I am afraid that someone, anyone, could storm his suite and tear us apart.

  “There will only ever be right now.” He reaches to the back of his neck and pries my hand away, holding my forearms and pushing me back a fraction so he has my face again. “You and I will only ever live in the moment, because that’s the only choice we have.” It’s like he knows I need to hear that. Like he’s finally concluded it’s the only option for us.

  And all I can do is nod.

  “Good.” Pulling me close again, he seals our mouths, and I’m back in the beautiful game we play, kissing the living daylights out of him. “And right now, I’m going to screw you hard. Make you scream.” He lowers, pulling me down with him, submerging us in the water. Sitting and resting back, he arranges me on his lap, and I find his mouth again, losing myself in his kiss and lifting myself when he reaches between my thighs. Forgoing his shoulders for the edge of the bath behind him, I grip and whimper as he guides me down onto him. He fills me on one, easy plunge, and I still atop of him, fighting to breathe while maintaining our sealed mouths. Our kiss is serene, flows easily, and the consistent, soft groans from Josh are overflowing with passion. He lets me be for a short while, waiting for me to become accustomed to his thickness within me, before he gently takes my hips and flexes his fingers into the hollows. “Okay?” he asks, nibbling my bottom lip and breaking away.

  Okay? I’m so much more than okay. Right now, I’m in a faraway land, away from the status, power, and privilege that has always ruled me. Right now, my status is his, my power is love, and my privilege is having Josh with me. Right now, when
my head is heavy with raw emotions, love being the strongest, I wish Josh had told that journalist about me. Right now, I could easily demand he call her back so he can introduce me. It’s impossible, but Josh makes the impossible seem possible.

  Instead of answering him, I sit up straighter, rolling my hips, taking him deeper.

  “Oh, she’s sure okay,” he rumbles low in his throat, helping me find our rhythm. It takes one grind, two groans, and a million crashes of my heart. As we gaze into each other’s eyes, I wedge my hands into his shoulders and flex with him, every plunge achieving unthinkable depths. The pleasure is beyond description. The intensity of our sex is off the charts. Together, we share something that tilts both our worlds, and right now, it’s all that counts. Us. Nothing else, just us.

  And then a lazy smile crawls across his lips, one loaded with satisfaction and knowing, and mine naturally mirrors Josh’s as he strokes his palms across my wet back. I fall forward to kiss him again, but he eases me back. “Stay there,” he orders, flipping his hips on a teasing jolt, quickly followed by a lazy grind, extending my exhale. His stare falls to my boobs, his hand cupping one and massaging roughly.

  “I want to kiss you,” I complain.

  “Yeah, well, I want to lie here and know that while the rest of the world is happening, I’m here with the Queen riding me in my bathtub.” His head rests back, his smile crooked with pleasure, his eyes firing sparks of burning happiness. “Because I’m pretty damn sure it beats everything.”

  “Is that so?”

  “That is most definitely so. Now, concentrate, woman. You have a man to please.” He flips a cheeky wink, the rogue, and what do I do? I lift and slam myself back down, wiping that roguish grin clean from his otherworldly face. Water splashes everywhere, and Josh hisses and curses, reclaiming my hips. “You want to play dirty?” he practically gasps, digging his fingertips into me to the point of pain.

  My answer: another lift of my hips and a hard smash down.

  “Fuck.” Josh’s head drops back, and I reach forward and run my wet hand through his hair, dampening the strands. His breaths are sharp, his lips parted, his eyes wild. “Don’t challenge me, Your Majesty.” There’s that drawl again, deep and southern, gravelly and alluring.

 
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