His True Queen eBook: Page2
Jodi Ellen Malpas (2018)
“Prime Minister,” I say, letting him bow and take my hand.
“Your Highness. My deepest sympathy.”
My lips straighten as I brace myself to hear those very words from every single person in the room. I should have joined Eddie, my need for a cigarette and a drink suddenly strong. Duty forces me to greet everyone with a smile and a few words, my strength waning with each person I present myself to. The faces begin to blend, their words a distant buzz in my ears. Important people, royalty from various lands, leaders from dozens of countries, cabinet members, and distant relatives, all talk at me.
But I hear only one voice. The voice that always calmed me. His voice. My American boy.
HOURS INTO THE UNBEARABLE SCENE, I feel like I could collapse, my head becoming light. It’s all too much, so overwhelming, and the added knowledge that this will be my life almost every day—the duty, the fortitude, the front—is enough to make me want to stop in the middle of the room and cry. To scream at the top of my voice that I want out.
I whirl around, ready to find Eddie and join his pity party, but my path is blocked, and the heavy scent of something familiar, masculine, and primal, hits my nose and makes me dizzy. He shouldn’t be here. It’s only because of his father’s friendship with the late King that he is. And, perhaps, so he could corner me like this.
“Your Majesty.” His soft southern drawl enhances my despair, spikes flashbacks that I’ve fought with all my might to keep at bay. I train my eyes on his chest, afraid of eye contact. Afraid of the feelings swirling inside me getting out of control.
“You must not call me that,” I whisper to my feet.
“Why? You’re Queen, aren’t you?”
My jaw tenses, anger creeping forward. I shall not waste my breath explaining to Josh that no one yet knows of my position. That as far as everyone is concerned, I am still Her Highness and not Her Majesty. Because he already knows that. He’s simply emphasizing my royal status, reminding me, as if it had escaped me how impossible my life is now.
“Thank you for coming,” I murmur, stepping to the side as I fight to keep my heartbeats steady. Josh steps with me, keeping my escape just out of reach. “If you don’t mind,” I breathe, “I need to excuse myself to use the bathroom.”
“I do mind.” His tone is cut, short and . . . angry. I can’t possibly blame him. He was escorted from Claringdon on that fateful day of my father’s death, and I haven’t answered his calls since, have deleted every message he’s sent. I can’t face my further loss. Can’t face . . . anything. “You can’t even look at me.” Taking one step closer, I virtually feel the heat of his breath on my skin.
“I’m afraid I must go.” Another step to the side is once again blocked by Josh.
“Why are you doing this?”
His question stuns me, as evident in the lift of my wide eyes to his. As soon as our stares meet, the swirl of emotions in me go into overdrive, every snippet of our love affair playing through my mind like the perfect kind of torture. A reminder of how I came to be here. At my father’s funeral. How I came to bury my brother only a few days ago. How, now, I am destined to be the Queen of England, and how much I hate that prospect. “My father and my brother are dead because of me. The country has lost their Sovereign because of me. My destiny has been written, a destiny I cannot bear, yet it is my own doing. It is my punishment.”
His jaw, so tight it could pop, rolls in anger. “You can’t blame yourself.”
“Then who else can I blame?” I ask, taking a wise step back, away from him and his potency. “I can’t be with you, Josh. Because every time I look at you, I think about my selfishness and the consequences of that.”
“You’re not the only one suffering the consequences, Adeline.”
No. No, I am not. I only have to look around me to see the lives that have been turned upside down. Lifting my chin, I ignore his statement and yank down the protective barriers I’ll have to depend on for the rest of my life. “You may address me as Your Majesty, Mr. Jameson.” My tone is even and strong, albeit forced, and the result is a pang of further guilt in me and straight lips from Josh. “Thank you for coming. Please, excuse me.” I make to pass him and quickly drink in air when he seizes my wrist, holding it by his side to conceal his aggressive gesture. He doesn’t look at me, and I refuse to look at him. Damon catches my eye nearby, his body twitching to come over. A mild shake of my head warns him away. I do not want a scene. Not here. Not now.
“I don’t care if you’re Adeline, a princess, or the Queen of fuckin’ England. You will not treat me like you are superior. It doesn’t suit you. We are equals. Man and woman. Lovers. Friends. You love me.”
I close my eyes, forcing back the tears. Love him. I do. With everything I have. Yet I no longer own my feelings. I mustn’t love him. And I don’t deserve his love. Those thoughts set the anger dormant within me alight. His words are yet another reminder of my loss.
With my nostrils flaring, I yank myself free of his harsh grip. “Good day to you, Mr. Jameson.” Urgently breathing in oxygen to stop me from passing out with the effort it takes me to walk away, I make my escape. Panic rises in me, people moving in from every direction ready to drown me in more sympathy. I can’t talk. Can barely walk.
“Your Highness.” The Prime Minister is suddenly in my way, smiling and talking. I catch the odd word as he harps on about political nonsense, how he’ll miss his weekly meetings with the King, but looks forward to his first with Edward, how he thinks my brother will rule with strength and compassion. My brother won’t be ruling with strength and passion. He won’t be ruling at all. But how does the Prime Minister think I will rule?
“Ma’am?” Damon’s voice is the only one I hear clearly, his tone soft and soothing, and I look up to find my head of protection gazing at me with concern. Of course, he knows of the mess I’m in. Of the lies that have been unearthed in the wake of my father’s death. “Shall we get you out of here?”
My lip quivers with relief and gratitude. “Please,” I croak, barely able to hold myself up any longer. He has a supporting arm around me within a second, virtually carrying me away from the crowds. People move from his path, his persona threatening anyone to try and stop me to talk. He takes me through the Claret Lounge, through the library, takes a shortcut through the kitchens, and into the garden. And the moment he closes the door behind him, he ensures I’m steady on my feet before pulling out his cigarettes and putting one between my lips. He lights it and stands back, letting me take a long, needed draw. My exhale of smoke has a sorrowful whimper stream out with it.
Damon sighs and lights his own cigarette. “Is the hopelessness due to a certain American’s presence, or the fact that the Prime Minister has literally bored you to tears?”
“I can’t do it, Damon,” I blurt, my hand shaking as I guide the cigarette to my lips to take another pull, leaving the white stick bumping across my red lips before I manage to grip it and draw. “I can’t be Queen.” Pointing to the doors we just exited, I shake my head, my reality becoming more real by the second. “I mean, I’m sure everyone in that room disapproves of me. And I’ve never cared to furnish myself with political information. I’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.”
A small smile crosses Damon’s lips. “Your Majesty, it has been a very long time since the Sovereign has had any say in how their country is run.” He puffs out his smoke and points down the path for us to walk. “That is why you have a cabinet and a government. They do it all for you. All you have to do is listen to the Prime Minister tell you, out of courtesy, what they are doing and how they are doing it. You may need to pass the odd law here and there, too.”
“That’s just a formality,” I mutter.
“That is how a constitutional monarchy functions, ma’am. You’re a status symbol for your country. A historical institution.”
I laugh. “Yes, the stable British Monarchy. The envy of every country. Respected and admired. But it’s all just smoke and mirrors, Damon. You kno
His nod is mild, but his understanding is great. “How’s Eddie?”
“Drunk,” I answer, taking great pleasure from flicking some cigarette ash at a solid granite cherub statue. “I’m rather jealous.”
He chuckles lightly. “And your mother?”
“Ever the amazing actress.” I stop at the end of the path and look toward the palace. “I don’t want to go back yet, Damon. Would you walk some more with me?”
“Of course, ma’am.” He leads on, our pace lazy and easy.
“Has there been any breakthroughs in the investigations?” I ask, more out of habit than curiosity. I know Damon wouldn’t know, as he’s not been included in any of the meetings held in the King’s office. It’s all just MI5 big-bods being courteous by giving us morsels of information.
“The King was piloting the helicopter.”
I throw my stare his way. “What?” Damon was at Evernmore. He must have known this already. “My father hasn’t operated a helicopter in years.” I know he used to make time for flying in his military days, but that was years ago. What was he thinking?
His expression is blank. “I know. No pre-flight checks were performed. There was a mechanical fault midflight. An experienced pilot would have likely dealt with the issue and brought the helicopter down safely. But your father . . .” He fades off and sighs. “Your father was on a mission, Adeline.” I wince. On a mission to stop me. “Where was the pilot?”
“Taking supper in the kitchens.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“Nothing was certain. Besides, you’ve had enough to deal with.”
I swallow hard, staring at the small stones at my feet as I continue to wander. Damon hasn’t told me before now because he knows how guilty I feel already. Now? Now I feel positively wretched. “John was trying to stop him. That’s why he was on the flight, too.” That guilt squeezes my heart.
He hums, and we continue to walk in silence, until Damon breaks it. “There is one thing I would like to run by you, if you don’t mind.” Damon reaches into his inside pocket and pulls out his phone, and I cock my head in question, prompting him to go on. “Josh’s security team sent me some images.”
I feel my throat tighten. “Of what?”
“Of the person possibly responsible for ransacking Mr. Jameson’s hotel room the night of his premiere.” He points his phone to me, and I look at the image. It’s blurry, terribly blurry. I can only really make out the shape of a man exiting the elevator, the lighting dim. “Do you recognize him?”
I squint, looking closely. Whoever it is took great care to conceal themselves, a hat on his head, his chin dipped. “No, I don’t, but what does it matter?” I look at Damon. “Mr. Jameson’s reputation is safe now, I believe.” I glance back at the palace again as Damon puts his phone away, wondering if Josh is still there. People were starting to leave. Has he? “I suppose I should be getting back before my absence is noticed.”
Damon looks at the palace, too, as he flicks his cigarette onto the grass. I can’t help but smile at the thought of the gardener’s face when he stumbles upon something so disgraceful littering his preened lawn. “I think your absence will have already been noticed.” He plucks the cigarette from my fingertips and adds it to the lawn with his.
“Would you do me a favor, please, Damon?” I ask, knowing I could only ever ask him.
His smile is knowing. “Why don’t you have a few moments to yourself while I go ensure some of the guests get home safely.”
God, what would I ever do without my Damon? I nod my thanks as he leaves to check that Josh has left, and I start to wander toward the entrance of the maze, coming to a stop at the threshold. Venturing into the labyrinth of greenery would be silly, yet it is the only place I can hide around here. I need to hide. To escape. I start meandering through unhurriedly, picking a few leaves from the bushes as I go. I could find my way to the center within minutes, but today I take endless wrong turns in an attempt to stretch out my walk for as long as possible.
Half an hour later, I breach the opening that brings me to the center where my grandfather’s statue looms. The solid marble homage isn’t the only thing I find. “Sabina?” I say to myself, watching as she stands at my grandfather’s feet, staring up at him. She’s lost in her thoughts, and it keeps me from disturbing her for a few moments, until I feel guilty for intruding and make my presence known. “Sabina?” She whirls around on a little gasp, and though I have seen her today, it’s only now I appreciate how utterly tired she looks. “Are you okay?”
“Your Highness.” She bows her head a fraction. “Yes, yes, I am fine. Just taking a moment to myself.”
I know that desire all too well. Approaching her, I look at the statue. “My grandfather was quite a frightening man, don’t you think?”
Turning to mirror my position, Sabina looks up, too. “He had his moments.”
“Every picture I’ve seen of him, he looks so formidable. Of course, you knew him a lot longer than I did. Was he always so heavy-handed?”
“More so after your grandmother passed away.” She looks across at me and smiles. “Before that, he could be quite the charming man.”
“I don’t know if I should believe you.”
“I can understand that. Things in this world are sometimes very hard to believe.” She cocks her arm, and I slip mine through hers, smiling when she pats it affectionately. “How are you, Adeline?”
“Still in shock, I think.”
On an understanding nod of her head, she turns us, and we start to amble casually through the maze. “And Prince Edward? I haven’t seen him since your return from St. Paul’s.”
I swallow. And so the lies begin, and I truly hate that I have to lie to Sabina. She’s the only person in my life I feel I can talk freely to, and now that privilege is lost amid more secrets and deceits. “He’s struggling to come to terms with it all,” I reply quietly. That’s not a lie, though why Sabina thinks he is struggling will be a little misleading. “I can’t believe my father tried to fly the helicopter. And I cannot understand why on earth he would allow John to travel with him. Every reason for that rule to be in place has now been proven.”
“David is deeply shocked, too. Apparently, they were all set to go on their hunt, rifles loaded, their hipflasks topped up.”
Given what Sabina has been through herself recently, her husband passing, I can only be grateful that her son was not on the helicopter. The poor woman has had her fair share of losses, and though David is far from being my favorite person, I wouldn’t wish him harm, if only for Sabina’s sake.
“As I understand it, His Majesty was in quite a hurry to return to London,” she says quietly. “I have no idea why.”
“It’s all my fault,” I whisper dejectedly, not thinking, feeling my guilt beginning to overflow. I can see it now, my father marching to the royal helicopter in a blind rage. His advisors trying to stop him. John trying to stop him. I made him too mad to listen to reason. “I shouldn’t have left Evernmore.” Has David shared with Sabina the circumstances of my row with the King? Has he told her I was cavorting with Josh Jameson, and that is the very reason my father was on the royal helicopter? And if he has, would she ignore it like everyone else who was at Claringdon when I arrived with Josh that day? Will she pretend he was never there? Like our affair never happened? My internal questions lead to more. Does she know about Eddie? Does she know I am now Queen?
“How could it have been your fault, Adeline?” Sabina asks softly, not helping me decide whether she simply doesn’t know anything, or if she’s pretending she doesn’t. Of course, she’s been around this family for long enough to know protocol, and protocol might be telling her that if she knows, she shouldn’t let on. But I don’t want her to play ignorant. I want to talk to someone about my woes, someone who won’t judge me, and the only person I can to talk to is her.
“It is not your fault.” She cuts me off with a ste
She stops and turns into me, and then does the unthinkable. She covers my mouth with her palm. “One has to be a fighter in this world, ma’am. Defeated isn’t a dress you wear well.”
Her words hit me hard, catapulting me back to the time when I overheard a conversation she had with my father at the stables. The resentment in her expression when the King complimented her on her strength. That she’s always been a fighter.
One has to be in this world, she had replied. I take her hand and pull it away from my mouth, pondering my slowly dawning thoughts. There was another time when she told a very angry David that some secrets should never be told. I inhale a little, something slowly slotting into place. My conclusions don’t tell me if she knows of my affair with Josh, but they do tell me one thing. “You knew about my mother and Davenport all along.” I drift off when she recoils a little. “When you were with David at the stables, you said some secrets should never be told.” I bite my lip, everything beginning to make sense. “David was angry because you knew about my mother’s affair with Davenport, and you kept it a secret from him all this time. He was mad because my father was his friend and he didn’t know. Only Sir Don knew.” I laugh. “And you. Did my father know you knew? Does my mother?”
“Goodness, no.” Her eyes close and she breathes out. “Adeline—”
“You knew Eddie wasn’t the King’s child. And you now know the crown will soon land on my head.”
Her eyes open, glassy eyes, eyes full of regret. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty.”
Your Majesty. I can see the apologies pouring from her gaze, and though part of me is so very cross, I really cannot blame Sabina for not telling me. She’s never told anyone.
“How?” I ask simply.
“I’ve been around your family for a very long time, Your Majesty. Sometimes one sees things one isn’t supposed to.”
I turn away from her, hating the remorse splashed all over her tired face. “And how did David find out?”
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