From London, With Love by Bec McMaster

The queen looked at her dearest friend with an aghast expression. “You want me to marry?”

Mina looked up, and it was clear something silent was exchanged between them. “Some of us do not have the luxury of forgoing such alliances,” she said softly. “But this time, the choice will be yours. This time, the power will be yours. This time, your husband need only be a consort in truth.”

The queen quivered with suppressed fury as she cut the room a sharp glance. “And the rest of you?”

Lynch, the Duke of Bleight, looked troubled. “I’ve been on those streets and I’ve seen civil war up close. The potential to return to those days is simply too great a risk. I must concur with Malloryn, Your Majesty.”

“As do I,” said his wife, Rosalind.

Leo Barrons drummed his fingers on the table, his gaze slanting toward his wife, even as his face remained impassive. “In this instance, I agree with my wife.”

Malloryn turned to the remaining two council members.

“I ain’t one to force a lady where she ain’t want to go,” Blade replied, tipping his head toward the queen. “So it’s a no from me.”

“And a no from me too,” Sir Gideon snapped.

Four votes to two.

The queen could override them if she chose—the power was ultimately hers—but she rarely, if ever, did so.

“Rot you, Malloryn.” The queen tipped her chin up haughtily, then swept her skirts behind her. “If I am forced to take another husband, then so be it. But I shall be damned if it is one of your choosing. I will make my decision by the end of midsummer. Send whatever invitations you wish, trot out your prospective suitors, wine and dine your foreign princes…, but the choice will be mine.”

“I would never expect anything else,” he conceded, feeling the faint stir of victory shiver through him.

It was done.

And perhaps, when this was all over, she’d forgive him.

But right now, she swept from the room, her shoulders squared as if she faced a firing squad and her face as stony as he’d ever seen it.

Malloryn released the breath he’d been holding. Excellent. The first roll of the die had been cast, the game now afoot. He only had to maneuver the last little piece into place.

And right on cue….

“You play a dangerous game, Malloryn,” said Sir Gideon Scott, pushing his chair back with a squeal. “Didn’t our last prince consort do enough damage for you?”

Malloryn schooled his features, and deliberately quirked a brow. “Perhaps the queen will finally find happiness? Do you not wish that for her?”

Sir Gideon’s eyes narrowed. “Of course, I wish for my queen’s happiness. But forcing her into another marriage, when she’s barely recovered from the ordeal of her last one? It seems nothing short of cruel.”

“Ah, now, Sir Gideon,” Malloryn chided. “Not all marriages are prisons. Some are quite joyful.”

“Did he just say marriage was joyful?” Barrons joked to Mina. “I fear Malloryn may have been inserted with that mind-controlling chip that Lord Balfour was using last summer. Quick. Someone shock him with a stunner to see if we can short-circuit it.”

“If anyone comes near me with a stunner, then I’ll shove it up their—”

“This is no joking matter.” Sir Gideon still seemed flushed. “Perhaps you should see to her,” Sir Gideon suggested to the Duchess of Casavian, his voice softening a little.

Mina winced.

“I should,” she said, “though she may not welcome my presence just yet, after I voted against her wishes.” The duchess’s brow furrowed in misery. “Perhaps it would be best if you went after her, Sir Gideon? You were the one to vote no.”

“Blade also—”

“Think she ain’t wantin’ to see my sorry mug,” Blade said bluntly. “I don’t mince around the palace much. You’re ’er friend, ain’t you?”

Sir Gideon glanced toward the door, then cast Malloryn one last dark look. “She won’t forgive you for this.”

Malloryn merely shrugged. “I think she will.”

The door swung shut behind Sir Gideon.

Silence reigned in the council chambers, and Malloryn deliberately refused to meet anyone else’s eyes.

“You’re playin’ dangerous games,” Blade said, pushing to his feet. “You sure it’s gonna end well for you?”