From London, With Love by Bec McMaster

Chapter 1

The queen was not amused.

In fact, the Duke of Malloryn was counting on it.

“What do you mean by ‘we need to discuss succession plans’?” she repeated, in a very clear, very precise voice that may have made others quiver.

Malloryn eased back in his chair, feeling the weight of seven pairs of eyes coming to rest upon him. The Council of Dukes had come together to discuss the rebuilding of parliament following the bombing of the Ivory Tower, and he’d managed to throw in this little agenda item at the last moment.

It was hardly unplanned.

“Precisely that, Your Majesty,” he said. “You have no legitimate heir, and Lord Balfour came awfully close to killing you six months ago—”

“He failed,” she snapped.

“You’re not invincible, Your Majesty.” He caught a glimpse of several of the other councilors exchanging glances—most notably the Duchess of Casavian and her husband, Lord Barrons. They’d be two of the more important ones to convince. Mina was the queen’s dearest friend—and loudest supporter—and if he didn’t have her vote, then the queen might escape his latest ploy. “We’ve spent the last dozen or so years trying to overthrow a tyrant. We succeeded, but weeding out the last of his supporters has taken some doing. For the first time in… God, over a century, London has peace, but it’s so newly forged and you are the figurehead of that peace. If something happens to you, then it shall be war again. I’m tired of war. I want to take a bloody holiday with my wife without the palace going up in flames. And as much as none of us would like to discuss the unthinkable, the truth remains: You have no heir.”

Only several bastard cousins who would squabble over the crown like a pack of bloody magpies.

“And since you have no intentions of marrying and providing one, something must be done. You must name one of your cousins as your heir.”

“My cousins are illegitimate,” she replied through clenched teeth. “And the Countess of Drewsbury went to great lengths to produce a forged marriage certificate between her grandparents in an attempt to place herself on my throne all those years ago. I will burn the damned throne before I let her sit on it.”

He leaned forward, trying not to smile now she’d taken the bait. “You have other cousins.”

“Eugene?” The queen’s voice rose. “He’s an idiot. And his sister, Imogen, would be the one pulling his strings.”

“While we can agree on the first,” he pointed out, “I doubt Princess Imogen would be the one in command.”

Queen Alexandra’s eyes narrowed. “A regency, Malloryn? We’ve already had one of those, and it ended badly.”

“Eugene’s your best option. If something happened, he’d be declared non compos, and a regent appointed.”

“Imogen would never allow it.”

He merely crossed his palms over his middle and arched a brow. “Accidents happen, Your Majesty.”

“You are not going to murder my cousin, no matter how greedy and grasping she may be,” the queen said, pushing to her feet and slamming both hands on the table. “And you are not going to sit that idiot on my throne.”

Excellent. His lashes hooded over his eyes. “You won’t marry. You won’t provide an heir. You won’t name an heir. What are we meant to do, Alexandra?”

The queen’s lips pressed together firmly. She was so bloody stubborn, and while he could understand her aversion to marriage, the realm didn’t have the luxury of it.

“I see,” she said coldly. “All this talk of heirs. Of Eugene. Of Imogen. This all bloody goes back to marrying me off, doesn’t it?” Then she laughed. “You want me to marry, and if the halter won’t work, then the prod might. I can’t believe I actually thought you were seriously thinking my cousin might be a potential king.” She stabbed a finger in the air. “Don’t think you can fool me. I know exactly what you’re up to, Malloryn.”

He allowed a faint smile. I quite doubt it.

Help came from an unexpected source. “As much as you dislike the idea, Alexandra,” Mina, the Duchess of Casavian, murmured, “Malloryn does speak the truth. There have been several assassination attempts on you in the past year alone. We can wrap you in a suit of armor, we can guard you day and night, we can do everything we can to protect you, but all it will take is one stray bullet and England will be facing another civil war.”