The Controversial Princess (The Smoke & Mirrors Duology #1) eBook: Page2

Jodi Ellen Malpas (2018)


  Her little chubby hands come up to the metal rods, clasping them, her face pushed as close to them as she can get. “I’m six, and I’m going to be a princess when I grow up, just like you.”

  I let my mouth drop open in feigned shock. “Wow. You will make a beautiful princess. Will you live in a castle or a palace?”

  “A palace,” she declares. “And I’ll be pretty like you, too. But I have white hair, and you have brown. And my eyes are blue, and yours are brown. And I’ll wait for my Prince Charming to come find me.”

  “Me too, sweetheart.” I smile at her little naïve face. “Me too.”

  “Where is your Prince Charming?” she asks.

  My mind sees Haydon Sampson, the man I’m promised to. But he is most definitely not my Prince Charming. “Heading this way on his noble steed,” I assure her, and maybe me, too. Looking at my wrist, I ponder something for a moment. But only for a moment. Pulling off the solid silver bracelet, I hand it to her through the bars. “Happy birthday, Clara.”

  Her little blue gaze stares at the bracelet, her tiny mouth agape. Then she quickly snatches the silver from my hand, like I might retract my offer. “Clara,” her mother says, admonishing her.

  “It’s okay,” I assure her, watching as Clara zooms off, hustling herself through the crowds, calling for her daddy in excitement. I watch her go, wild and free. And then I focus on the bars before me, bars that could be mistaken for a cell, a reminder that I am anything but free. Slowly rising to my feet, I feel my mouth automatically stretch into a smile as I turn and make my way back to the car.

  WE’RE DIRECTED TO THE GRAND Claret Lounge at Claringdon by the master of the household, Sid, where the family is gathered and awaiting our arrival before we make an over-the-top, elaborate entrance into the gardens like the united, strong royal family we are. Or conceived to be. Father’s face is aggravated when we enter, Major Davenport looking equally displeased with our lateness. And in the corner sipping water, the King’s private doctor. Short, round, with ill-fitted suits and his black leather doctor’s bag to hand, Dr. Goodridge is never far from the King.

  I ignore my father’s displeasure and home straight in on Matilda, my cousin and daughter of my father’s sister Victoria. “You’re in trouble,” she whispers in my ear as she hugs me.

  “Same story, different day,” I reply, moving on to Matilda’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, neither of who wish me a happy birthday. “So wonderful to see you, Victoria,” I gush, embracing my aunt enthusiastically before moving to my uncle. “And you, Phillip.”

  “You look . . . lovely,” Victoria says dubiously, while Phillip shakes his head in dismay.

  I smile sweetly. Like them, I can be falsely gracious, too. “Thank you for coming.”

  “Adeline.” My father’s younger brother, Stephan, approaches, and this time my smile is genuine.

  “Uncle Stephan.” I throw my arms around him and hug his tall, lanky body tightly. “How awful has it been?”

  “Holed up in here with the King while waiting for the guest of honor to arrive? Truly thrilling, my darling.”

  I laugh softly and break away from my favorite uncle, straightening out his round spectacles as I do. “Thank you for coming.”

  “Wouldn’t miss my niece’s thirtieth for the world. I’ll even endure this circus for it. Be grateful.”

  “I am.” I greet his wife, Sarah, with a kiss to each of her pale cheeks. She is dutifully at his side, but the marriage is a sham—just for show—because Uncle Stephan’s sexuality is one of the best-kept secrets in England. “Although I’m not sure I’m the guest of honor.” I point across the room where everyone has gathered around the King and Eddie. Eddie’s arrival home is cause for celebration too, and I’m not the least bit bothered. Anything to divert the attention. “Lieutenant Colonel Lockhart,” our father announces, clasping Eddie’s upper arms with his big hands. “I’m proud of you, my boy.”

  Eddie soaks up the King’s rare display of affection, smiling brightly as he salutes. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

  Father laughs loudly, presenting him to the family who have gathered around. “Like his grandfather, his father, and his older brother, Edward is now a Royal Marines Officer, the elite of the elite.”

  Everyone claps, including me. Uncle Stephan lowers his mouth to my ear. “Notice I didn’t get a mention? My dear brother, the mighty king of this prosperous land, can hardly bear to look at me. The homophobic old fool.”

  I smile, glancing at him fondly. Poor Uncle Stephan has to live a lie, so not to rock the stable monarchy. “Run away,” I suggest, not for the first time.

  “And forgo my monthly allowance?” He snorts in displeasure. “One barely survives on the peanuts the King throws one’s way now. Besides, I live in luxury for free, and my wife has long given up trying to turn me. I’ll carry on sneaking around and keeping my communications team busy. It’s entertaining, if nothing else.”

  “You are a rogue, Uncle Stephan.”

  “Pot, kettle, dear niece. Pot, kettle.”

  I smile, this one natural. I love Uncle Stephan. He understands me.

  I watch as Father makes a big fuss of Eddie, but I can’t be anything less than happy for him. John’s always been the favorite, the faithful, reliable, conscientious one of the King’s children, and the perfect heir to his precious throne. John married who he was told to marry, the wonderfully compliant Helen. Eddie is a backup heir, and I’m a backup for the backup, and one our father has openly expressed he’s relived he’ll never have to depend on.

  But whereas Eddie has been kept out of trouble since he joined the Marines, I have had no such distraction from trouble.

  “And the birthday girl.” The King moves in on me, his suited body decorated with a sash displaying his many medals of honor.

  “Father,” I breathe, ignoring his less-than discreet disapproving look at my attire. I bow a little before he embraces me in a hug. “You are late,” he says quietly in my ear. “And what of this nonsense walkabout?”

  I peek across the room, seeing Sir Don, the King’s chief advisor and Lord Chamberlain. He takes his job very seriously, informing the King of . . . everything. “News sure does travel fast around here,” I say under my breath, noticing Sir Don watching me with predictable disapproval in his eyes. “Maybe, Your Majesty, an impromptu walkabout from yourself every now and then might go down well with the public.”

  “Do not test me today, Adeline.”

  I brush off the King’s scorn and paint on my smile, ready to face the guests invited to celebrate my thirtieth. It’s all rather marvelous, but I’ve been here for twenty minutes and still haven’t had even a whiff of champagne.

  We’re all assembled around my father and mother, in the usual, neat fashion, just inside the opposing French doors that lead to the topiary-filled gardens, where fountains trickle peaceful water at every turn, and the lawns look artfully painted, not a blade of grass out of place. The whole palace is perfect, just like the Royal Family.

  Breathing in, I widen my smile and straighten my shoulders as the doors are opened and the crowds, many of whom I will not know, all clap and smile in greeting. Father and Mother both roll their wrists, slowly waving, as we stand at the entrance, a united front, letting everyone here receive the honor of marveling at us for a few minutes.

  At the first sign of movement from my father, I break away and swipe a glass of champagne from the closest tray. “Fed up already?” Eddie asks, pulling his green beret off and smoothing down his dark blond hair. I’m the only one of the three of us who inherited our mother’s Spanish looks. John took Father’s fair hair and blue eyes, and Eddie fell somewhere between the King and Queen Consort, his hair dark blond, his eyes hazel.

  “It is a farce, really, is it not?” I sip my champagne as I watch our family break off in various directions, being accosted by guests, who are all simply dying to shower the royals with compliments and praise. I laugh to myself. They’re all monarchists, the best
of the best when it comes to licking royal arse. There won’t be any anti-royalists here. Oh no. We keep those bastards well away. Though I’m secretly smug that they are not so anti-royal when it comes to me.

  I point my champagne across the lawn, where my gay uncle is showing a united front with his wife while chatting to guests. “The King’s brother is as gay as the day is long,” I muse to Eddie. “His marriage is fake and loveless.” Moving my pointed glass to Aunt Victoria and Uncle Phillip, who are laughing and smiling, I rest my weight on my hip. “Aunt Victoria and Uncle Phillip, the wonderful Duke and Duchess of Sussex, can hardly bear to even look at each other, let alone talk. And then there is our wonderful brother, the perfect Prince John and his perfect wife, Princess Helen, who have all the ingredients of being the perfect successors to Father and Mother, except for one thing.”

  “What’s that?” Eddie asks, truly interested.

  “They have been married for eight years and still no heir.”

  Eddie laughs. “Do you think our perfect brother is shooting blanks?”

  “Not so perfect,” I muse, motioning a footman over and swapping my empty glass for a full one.

  “Impossible. Like every other royal couple, they had fertility tests before they married. Maybe they’re just not compatible.”

  “What’s not compatible?” Matilda joins us, and the three of us, the most normal three of the entire family, stand and sip champagne.

  “John and Helen,” I say over the rim of my glass. “The heir has not yet got himself an heir.”

  “Adeline thinks he’s shooting blanks,” Eddie adds as he looks across to our brother, who’s looking super official in a mess jacket, trousers, cummerbund, and black bow tie.

  “Adeline is wrong,” Matilda counters, pulling both Eddie’s and my attention her way. She grins. “I heard Mummy talking with the King. Seems you will have a niece or nephew very soon.”

  “She’s pregnant?” I ask, my champagne flute lowering from my mouth. Matilda nods. “Nice of them to share the news. When were they planning on telling us?” Just as I say those very words, my father calls for the attention of everyone in the garden, and I know it’s not to wish me a happy birthday.

  “Now?” Eddie quips, grinning at me.

  “First you steal all the attention, and now this?” I scowl playfully as Eddie wraps an arm around my shoulders and kisses my temple. “When can we have some real fun?”

  “Patience, little princess,” he soothes me. “Duty first.”

  We listen as the King makes an award-worthy speech, expressing his gratitude for such a wonderful family to support him in his reign as King of England, the same old mumbo-jumbo, before he delivers the exciting news of a new addition to the Monarchy. John’s wife circles her stomach with her palm, smiling at my brother. She is power-hungry, always has been. This will thrill her, being impregnated with what will be the second in line to the throne, meaning Eddie and I have slipped down the line of succession. Well, damn.

  “That throne is getting further from your reach, brother dearest,” I whisper in Eddie’s ear, making Matilda laugh hysterically, followed quickly by my brother. “What?” I ask innocently, pouting. “You don’t want to be king some day?”

  “About as much as you want to be queen.” He chuckles to himself and puts his green beret back on as he wanders across the lawn to join our mother.

  “You two are terrible.” Matilda knocks my shoulder with hers as someone catches my eye. Someone I actually do recognize, though what he’s doing here is a mystery. “Is that Josh Jameson?” I ask Matilda, nodding discreetly through the crowds.

  “You mean the actor? The hot American actor?” Her neck cranes to see, and then there is a small gasp from my cousin. “Oh, golly, yes. What is he doing here?”

  “I have not the faintest idea,” I say quietly, taking a few small steps to the right to get a better view. I breathe in controlled, but exhale a little shakily. By gosh, he’s even more striking in the flesh. One is a little speechless. Twinkly blue eyes that harbor mischief and pure sex, permanently roughed-up brown hair, and scruff to match. He’s perfectly rugged and dangerously handsome. Josh Jameson. I sigh, smiling to myself, enjoying my new delightful view. He was recently voted the World’s Sexiest Man Alive and has an Oscar under his belt to boot. He is the perfect male specimen, every woman’s fantasy. A Hollywood poster boy. A bloody god. But to me, he is prohibited. The World’s Sexist Man Alive is off limits. Typical. I pout to myself as I continue to admire his fine form, silently damning my royal bones to hell and back. But then he looks in my direction and our eyes meet. I quickly turn away from him, a little taken aback by the blaze in his stare. What is he doing here?

  “It’s the London premiere of his new movie soon,” Matilda muses, popping a canapé in her mouth. “I read it in a magazine.”

  “But why is he here? At my birthday party?”

  She ignores my question, her eyes widening somewhat. “Oh, gosh. Adeline, he’s coming over.”

  “He is?” I feel my body straighten out, all the stressed muscles unkinking. “Why ever would he do that?” Josh Jameson’s face and body is splashed on millions of billboards and magazines across the world, his playboy reputation renowned, and now he is here? In the flesh? In a suit, looking all handsome and ruggedly distinguished? At my birthday garden party?

  A slow, lazy smile stretches my red lips through my increasing fluster. Josh Jameson.

  My, oh my.

  “Your Highness.” The rough American accent takes my simmering blood and directs it to my epicenter. And I don’t mean my heart, though it is certainly thrumming. The thrill is electrifying. Your Highness. Never before have those words turned me on. I always feel the inclination to shove them back down the throat of whoever has spoken them to me. Not today. I turn slowly and cock my head in question, suggesting he should prompt me on his name. Of course, I know exactly who he is, yet a deep desire in me does not want to let on that I am privy to his identity.

  “Josh Jameson.” He smiles, all bright and dazzling, with a hint of cheek, but it is one hundred percent knowing. Who doesn’t know who this man is?

  I don’t try to conceal my demure grin. “What a pleasure, Mr. Jameson. Please, there is no need for formalities. You may call me Adeline.” I’m lying. There is every need for formalities, as expressed in Matilda’s shocked look when I catch her eye. But the truth is, I want to hear him say my name. Softly. In that gorgeous, rough American drawl.

  “Adeline,” he muses delicately, taking my charging blood to boiling point. I am far from disappointed. On the love of the King, holy bloody hell. “Happy birthday.”

  I inhale deeply, allowing my eyes the pleasure of journeying his long, svelte body to his feet. His three-piece screams bespoke, and his shoes are without doubt handmade. But he looks effortlessly well turned out, the pale pink hanky poking out of his breast pocket not neatly folded, but more stuffed inside as if it could have been a last-minute addition to his attire. He does perfectly roughed-up so well, a mix of neat in his clothes and messy on his face. Goodness, he is edible.

  A nudge in my elbow knocks me out of my silent admiring, and I turn to find Matilda staring at me with too many questions in her eyes. I quickly gather myself and shoot my gaze up, immediately finding Josh Jameson regarding me closely, no doubt relishing the scrutiny he’s under. Clearing my throat, I raise my glass to my cousin. “Mr. Jameson, this is Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent.”

  “Pleasure, Mr. Jameson,” Matilda purrs. “You may call me Matilda.” Her sarcasm has me peeking out the corner of my eye to her.

  “The pleasure is all mine.” Josh smiles, another knowing smile. It is almost too much.

  “So how did you come to be at my birthday celebrations?” I ask flippantly, trying not to express too much interest.

  “My father met the King during his time in the military many years ago.”

  “But you are American.”

  “No shit,” he retorts quickly, reining in a
cheeky smile. I’m both outraged and in awe. “You Brits and us Yanks are allies, ma’am.”

  “I know that.” I roll my eyes dramatically, buzzing with something wild and electric. He cursed at me. It’s unheard of to use such vulgar language in the presence of a royal.

  “My father is now a senator.” He points across to the King, who is talking to a rather round man in a black tux. “He was in town, and the King thought we might like to join him and his wonderful family today.”

  “How lovely,” I muse. “So you are gatecrashing, for a lack of a better term?”

  “Well”—he shrugs—“no man in his right mind would turn down the opportunity to meet the beautiful and illustrious Princess Adeline of England. And I must say, Your Highness, your pictures do you no justice.”

  I force my eyes not to widen, gathering myself. “Touché.” My murmured reply is loaded with lust and suggestion. I toast the air, smiling around my pout. “I hope you are having a splendid time.”

  “Oh, I am. And you?”

  “Things are looking up.” I take a measured sip of my champagne, mesmerized by the sparkle in Josh’s blue eyes.

  On a smile, he looks around the grounds. “I’ve often thought how alike we are.”

  “Oh? How so?”

  “You seem very passionate.”

  “I do?”

  “Yes.” His smile is now suggestive. “As am I.”

  “Interesting.”

  “And you seem to know what you want.”

  “Indeed.”

  “I like to have fun.”

  “As do I, Mr. Jameson. As . . . do . . . I.”

  “So we’re a match made in heaven.”

  I laugh lightly, feeling Matilda’s despair as she endures this outrageous flirting match. I plan on winning. “In your dreams, Mr. Jameson.”

  “Or maybe, Your Highness, in yours.” Josh flashes another one of those dashing smiles, and I’m ashamed to admit it, but I am struggling to maintain my composure. So I do what is best and free myself from the suffocating intensity of Mr. Jameson’s presence before I make a fool of myself and start dribbling. “Excuse me.” Putting one foot in front of the other is far more difficult than it should be. “Delightful to meet you, Mr. Jameson.” I silently scorn myself for such a poor choice of word as I walk away. Delightful?