Risking his life to save a princess is all in a day’s work for Sergeant Joe Wenlock, a Close Protection Officer detailed to protect the royal family. After months of recovery following his brush with death, Joe’s ready to return to duties. But Alejandro Fuente-Sastre, as infuriating as he is fabulous, is the last royal Joe wants to be assigned to.
Alejandro isn’t quite the sort of queen that the British royal family is used to, but when Joe learns that Her Majesty’s step-grandson is also drag bombshell Paloma Picante, it makes his job a whole lot tougher. But is there more to Alejo than sulking and sequins?
When Alejandro’s life is threatened by an unseen tormentor who progresses from internet trolling to arson and violence, Joe must keep his charge safe from harm.
Living in close quarters with the man he shouldn’t be falling for, Joe begins to discover his true self. But as Alejandro’s enemy prowls ever nearer, Joe must make the impossible choice between duty and love.
Joe took another sip of tonic water. He wished it contained gin, because being the only sober person at the table was hardly his idea of fun, but as he watched the bottle of champagne being passed around, he knew he didn’t really want any alcohol anyway. He couldn’t go back to work the worse for wear. Not after months of sick leave. Best foot forward, as his dad would say.
And it wasn’t only his decision not to drink that made Joe an oddity at the table. These were all Wendy’s friends, out for her birthday. Solicitors, legal types, who’d spent most of the evening already talking shop. Joe looked on, his mind on other things. Would he cope on his first day back? Would they trust him to ever do a good job again?
“So, Joe, we’re taking bets on who you’re going to be coddling next week!” Wendy put her second bottle of Prosecco on the table and settled into her seat. Her leg brushed Joe’s momentarily and she shifted, putting air between them again. “Izzy thinks one of the Fergie duo. Barnaby’s bet his bonus on Wills and Kate. I think it’s going to be the queen. The top job for a top bobby!”
“I don’t know yet.” Joe shrugged. “Maybe one of the corgis?”
“I bet you do know, and you’re teasing us!” Wendy’s friend Jemima brayed. “Have you signed the Official Secrets Act?”
Joe turned the plastic stirrer through his fizzing drink, rattling the ice cubes against the glass. He didn’t pester Wendy’s friends about confidential matters, so why did they think he was fair game? “As you know, if I had, I wouldn’t be allowed to say.”
“Whoever it is,” Wendy told them, “let’s hope they don’t put my poor old hubby in hospital again! He’s getting too old to play the action hero!”
Wendy’s friends laughed, and Joe tried to look happy, but he really didn’t want to be reminded of the accident. The headlamps coming straight for him in the evening darkness—and after he’d pushed the Duchess of Albany out of the way, there had been no time for Joe to leap aside. Just that crushing pain as the car slammed into him. Joe had slumped over the bonnet and found himself eye to eye with the idiot who’d just tried to deliberately run down the Duchess.
“He’s not that old!” Verity giggled. She patted Joe’s leg and he tried not to flinch. “And still in fine form, too, Wendy, you lucky thing!”
“Lucky old me!” Wendy’s smile looked like a grimace. How would she know what form her husband was in when it had been over six months since they’d so much as kissed, let alone more? She refilled her glass and whispered to Joe, “For God’s sake, have a real drink.”
“Come on, you know I can’t,” Joe replied. “I can’t risk it. First day back and all that.”
“It’s my birthday.” Her pink lips grew thin and she drew in a deep, sharp breath, as sharp as her fresh blonde bob. Then she put her lips to his ear and hissed, “Stop showing me up, Joe, have a drink.”
“I’m drinking a stunt gin and tonic. That’s enough.” Joe held up the glass. It had the brand name of a well-known gin printed down its side. “They do tests, you know. I want to be nice and clean when they poke through my bodily fluids, thank you very much.”
“Barnaby!” Wendy subtly turned away from her husband, the centre of attention all over again. He was dismissed, just as he had been so many times over the five years of their miserable married life. “So, we’re all dying to know how your Tokyo merger’s going. It’s all everyone’s talking about. Tell us all the latest from the front line of big money!”
Joe sat his glass down on the table. The last thing he cared about was Barnaby and his bloody merger, which he’d heard snippets of for weeks as Wendy had made business calls at home. Barnaby this, Barnaby that, ‘Barnaby’s going places.’
So am I.
Joe nudged his seat back and stood to leave. Verity glanced at him, as if she was surprised he was going, but her attention turned to Wendy and Barnaby. Joe wasn’t sure where he’d go, but he needed fresh air. He wanted to be away from loud drinkers, away from Wendy’s carping. His head was pounding and as he stepped outside the pub, a car drove by close to the kerb. He instinctively jumped back, pressing himself against the wall behind him.
Calm down, Sergeant Wenlock, he told himself.
The night was cold, as cold as the pub had been hot, and Joe took a deep breath of autumn air. London tonight seemed even more surreal than ever, the streets a curious mix of the same well-dressed professionals who filled Wendy’s group and those who had embraced Halloween, escaping the real world in the form of cats and devils, vampires and aliens, some already stumbling, others only just starting out. And there in the middle of them was Joe, who would rather be anywhere else but there.
Maybe Joe should’ve thrown aside his tweed jacket and sensible open-necked shirt for a costume. He’d have made quite a good Frankenstein’s monster, maybe, though that said, when he’d first been taken to hospital and had plaster casts and bandages in places he hadn’t thought possible, he’d have been a brilliant cursed mummy.
Joe decided to go for a wander. Once he was working again, he’d have little time to call his own. He’d take his freedom when and where he could. Music blared from pubs and bars, people laughed, taxis pulled up and disgorged their passengers. And up ahead, someone was shouting.
Bloody people, can’t hold their drinks.
“Don’t you ever, ever bloody do that again! Do you hear?”
It was a man’s voice up ahead. Joe could see two figures, one in a black suit with a skeleton painted on it in white. He was wagging his finger—jabbing it—at the red-headed woman walking beside him in heels so high Joe wondered how she didn’t fall flat on her face.
“It’s so important to me, so fucking important, and all you have to do is just nod, and instead, you’re pissing about, making a fucking joke of yourself!”
“I’m sorry!” Her voice sounded almost desperate and she recoiled from her companion’s stabbing finger, jerking away as though it were the blade of a knife. She hurried after the skeleton when he stalked onwards, scooping up the silken hem of her shimmering red evening gown to follow. “Don’t be angry, I’m sorry!”
“I’m sorry!” he mimicked. Joe could almost see him in profile. The man’s face was disguised by makeup that turned his face into a skull.
Seemed a bit rich for him to be accusing someone of making a joke of themselves.
“The man’s an investor in my film, and I wanted him to know that I’m serious about my art, and then you’re there hanging over my shoulder, interrupting and gobbing on about God knows what!” The man clenched his hands. Even they were tricked out in skeleton makeup. “Why do you wind me up like this? You do it on purpose, for fuck’s sake, then it’s all I’m sorry! Well, you bloody well will be!”
“He was laughing too,” the woman said, a fresh note of desperation in her sing-song voice. No, not desperation. Fear. “He was having a good time, you’re not thinking straight! Just—please, don’t be like this!”
“My thinking’s perfectly clear!” The man gave a long sniff then, and Joe knew exactly what was going on.
The drugs are talking.
The man stopped where he was and raised his hand at the woman. The way she flinched back told Joe that this wasn’t the first time it had happened. As she drew away, he saw her makeup clearly, a glamourous sugar skull in a rainbow of colours that nearly took his breath away.
“Please don’t,” was all she said.
Joe increased his pace. The man’s raised hand trembled, but in a split second he slapped the woman across her painted face.
He was on the couple in only a few steps and interposed himself between them. He didn’t look back at the woman, but could hear her frightened breathing just behind him. “That’s enough. Time for you to go.”
“And who the fuck are you, James Bond?” the man sneered.
“I’m not going to stand around and watch a bully like you slap a woman.” Joe clenched his fists, resisting the temptation to give Skeletor a taste of his own medicine.
“A woman? That’s a fucking joke. She’s a drag queen—a bloke!”
Joe turned to look at the woman.
Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.
Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London.
She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.
Notice: This competition ends February 2nd, 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.