From London, With Love by Bec McMaster

Malloryn merely smiled. “I think I’ll be forgiven once all is said and done. They just need… a nudge.”

“Your Majesty.”

The queen paused in the hallway, closing her eyes briefly against the stab of pain that lit through her chest. Just a single moment of grief before she resumed the mantle of the throne. Sweeping her face clean of expression, she turned to confront her tormentor.

“Sir Gideon,” she replied.

He strode toward her, his face stern. “I’m sorry. I tried.”

“That’s quite all right,” she murmured as he paused five feet away from her. “You are only one voice. And Malloryn is clearly pursuing an agenda, if he has the rest of them in his pocket.”

“Apart from Blade.”

“Sir Henry votes as he wishes,” Alexandra murmured. It was one of the reasons she enjoyed having him on the council. It was, as Sir Henry would have said, like setting the cat among the pigeons.

Or some grammatically slaughtered version of that sentence.

Silence fell across the pair of them like a shroud.

She hated these sudden lingering silences.

Once upon a time, they might have shared a certain period of quietness, simply enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company, but ever since her sojourn at Sir Gideon’s country manor six months ago, the quiet seemed filled with all the memories they dared not speak of.

“I think—”

“You can overrule them—”

They both stared at each other.

Sir Gideon tried again. “You’re the queen. You’re the only one who can override a council vote. If you don’t wish to marry, then that option is entirely yours.”

Alexandra turned to the window, staring down at the vast gardens of Kensington Palace. “I could,” she admitted softly. The second they’d cast the vote, it was what all her instincts had urged her to do. Cast the vote back in Malloryn’s smug face and let him choke on it. But she was the queen. She was England, damn it. And while the woman’s heart that beat in her chest wanted to hit something, the part of her that was a queen had to look at the proposition from all angles. “But Malloryn does have a point.”

England deserved better than the current instability of the realm, with no named heir and a handful of illegitimate cousins and power-hungry nobles waiting in the background to pursue a claim. Her realm had suffered so much more than she ever had, and she owed her people a stable, secure future.

No more civil wars. No more brutality and uncertainty.

If she was to truly forge the future she wanted for her people, then she would have to swallow down one more indignity.

“Malloryn’s going to drown you in potential suitors,” he warned.

She snorted. “Don’t think him a fool. Malloryn’s already chosen my future husband, I’ll bet my life upon it. He doesn’t gamble unless he’s got a certain hand.”

Sir Gideon’s lips thinned. “A foreign prince, no doubt.”

“No doubt.”

It made sense to forge strong ties with another country, but she hated the way he could speak of it with such composure.

“Then I shall wish you luck,” Sir Gideon murmured. “I hope he’s someone you can forge a friendship with, in the least.”

The queen agreed.

But the woman inside her wanted to lash out.

Is that all you have to say to me? Good luck?

Can you not be just the slightest bit angry about it all? Or… jealous?

But that was not Sir Gideon’s way.

Especially not after the incident at Haver Hall.

Those lips had found hers ardently in the conifer maze in his gardens. If she pressed her fingertips to her mouth, she thought she might still be able to feel the tingle.

It had been a moment of madness—for both of them. Good sense giving way to desire, all the unconfessed yearnings of her heart spilling out of her like a torrent of need. And his touch, God, his touch…. So gentle, so reverent…. Until passion swept them both away, and Sir Gideon had pushed her back against the stone wall of the folly, pinning her wrists there.

Instantly, desire had faded.

That moment had taken her back into the past, and suddenly it wasn’t Sir Gideon’s mouth on hers, but the tainted memory of her husband’s dead fish lips—taking, consuming, demanding.

She’d fought her way free, and it was only then she realized she was in Sir Gideon’s garden, with the man himself—rather than enslaved by a ghost.