Sir Gideon had been horrified and apologized profusely. And the moment of madness had ended, leaving the pair of them in this never-ending dance of politeness and aloof silences.
“Friendship,” she whispered. Once upon a time, she might have wished for more, but she was no longer that foolish young princess. “Yes. Hopefully I may find friendship, at least.”
Sir Gideon bowed his dark head. “I’ll take my leave then, Your Majesty. I only came to ensure you were not upset.”
“You’re welcome.” He seemed to hesitate, as if there was something else he wished to say, but then the moment was lost.
And he was striding away from her, his broad shoulders straight and the edge of his dark hair tumbling to his collar, always a half inch in need of a trim. Her fingers seemed to constantly itch to stroke through it.
But she was the queen.
She could not afford to be a woman, especially one who yearned, no matter how much she wished to.
“Curse you, Malloryn,” she whispered. “Curse you.”
It was an intricately plotted affair.
It ought to have been. The Duke of Malloryn had organized the entire thing.
The first ball of what Malloryn was affectionately calling “the husband hunt” commenced with a quadrille. Foreign dignitaries and princes abounded. Epaulets gleamed. Blud-wein spilled into elegant flutes. And through it all, the queen reigned with a smile on her face that never once touched her eyes.
“She’s hating every minute of it,” said a soft voice at his side.
“She’s doing her duty,” he replied.
His wife’s gilt hair gleamed beneath the light of a dozen chandeliers as Adele laid her gloved hands on the balcony and surveyed the ballroom. “As you did once, when you married me. Hopefully this ends the same way—with the queen desperately in love with her husband. And the favor returned by the groom.”
“Desperately? That’s a little gauche, is it not?” he teased. “I’m a duke. I do nothing ‘desperately.’”
“Considering I had you on your very knees in the rubble of the Ivory Tower, my love”—Adele cocked a haughty brow—“‘desperately’ is the precise term I would use.”
“Ah.” He couldn’t suppress a smile. “And how many times are you going to remind me of that proposal? I had one moment of weakness—brought about by the emotion of finally thwarting my nemesis, no doubt—and you’ve thrown it in my face ever since.”
“Every day,” she promised. “For the rest of my life.”
Malloryn stroked his finger and thumb down a golden curl that spilled over her shoulder, twirling it idly around his finger. He’d seen the marriages of his companions and had once thought them a combination of physical chemistry conspiring to lure the unsuspecting to their doom. He’d even succumbed to such madness himself, though he hadn’t realized affection held just as much weight as lust in bringing a man to his knees. Every day with Adele by his side brought new revelations—including the fact he’d never have thought to enjoy teasing her so much.
“I think you like seeing me kneeling as penitent before you.”
Adele turned her face, biting his finger with a challenge in her eyes. “If you’re a nice husband and promise me a waltz tonight, I may return the favor.”
His finger stilled. Jesus. “Then I shall promise you all of my waltzes tonight.”
“Just one, Malloryn,” she said with an impish smile as she disengaged his finger from her hair and then twirled away. “Perhaps you should offer the queen one of your others. Save her from her misery.”
“I don’t think seeing me will rouse any joy in her. I’m currently at the top of a list of people she would care to avoid at the moment.”
“I disagree.” Adele shrugged, her gaze sliding across the room to where a tall, taciturn man scowled into his wine and very carefully did not look anywhere in the queen’s direction. “I think she might be concentrating on avoiding someone else, to be honest. I daresay you’re merely an annoying gnat at her ankle.”
“A gnat, am I?” And to think that once upon a time, princes and kings had cowered when he arched an icy eyebrow in their direction. He shook his head as he turned for the stairs. “Sometimes I think you consider it your prime duty in life to keep me humble.”
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