Adele’s twinkling laughter filled his ears as he made his way down to the ballroom.
It took him half a minute to intercept the queen, holding out a hand. “May I?”
Alexandra arched a brow, but gracefully accepted, and he swung her into the waltz. “Pleased with yourself?”
“It’s your ball,” he replied. “I think you should be the one graced with congratulations. The blud-wein is an excellent vintage, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, and you certainly seem not to lack for dance partners.”
“It appears word has gotten around that I seek a consort. I cannot imagine how that happened.”
“Neither can I,” he replied smoothly. “Though I did invite half of Europe’s eligible bachelors to attend the exhibition, so perhaps some of them are merely ambitious and reading between the lines.”
“Ah,” Alexandra said with a bitter little twist of her lips. “And which one do you care for, Malloryn? I see we have some Russian Blood princes, all with ties to the tsarina. But you don’t want me to choose one of them. The Blood play by their own rules, and you’d never be able to control one of them.”
“True,” he admitted. “Nor would you accept one. They’re merely here to keep up appearances. Besides, I have some interest in business with one of the princes. That’s why they’re here.”
“One of the princes?” She scanned the crowd. “Ivan Feodorovich? What business could you possibly have with him?”
“It’s personal,” Malloryn told her.
“Malloryn,” she warned. “You don’t do personal.”
“I am merely tying up some loose ends from that entire ordeal in Russia,” he assured her. He suddenly smiled. “And I may need a friendly Russian prince one day.”
“Always meddling, Malloryn.”
“Always,” he promised.
She returned her attention to the crowd. “So it’s not one of the Russians. I see we have a few swarthy Hapsburgs, but you disapprove of their means of leashing verwulfen.”
“I disapprove of collars in general.”
“And it cannot be one of the verwulfen candidates—not with the risk I might contract the loupe and die. So the Scandinavians are off the list. And the Spanish are only here for appearances, what with their ties to New Catalan and the Illumination. I daresay you wouldn’t want those policies polluting London.” She pursed her lips. “Hmm. I daresay you wish to promote blue blood interests in the wake of the revolution. Too many humans on the council and the throne. Time to balance the accounts. Which leaves me with the blue blood candidates from London. Of course. The rest are a distraction. You’re trying to screen your ideal candidate from me.”
He gave her a considering look. “The choice is yours, Alexandra. I merely offer a buffet from which to consider your options.”
“If you think I don’t know that you’ve already chosen my husband, then you either consider me a fool, or a queen who doesn’t know her spymaster well enough.”
It provoked a laugh. “You’ve never been a fool.” He’d have never been able to help her and the Duchess of Casavian overthrow her husband if she was. “I shall concede: Yes, I’ve already chosen your husband.” Capturing her hand, he pressed a kiss to the back of it. “But I doubt you’ll ever guess who.”
The queen’s eyes narrowed. “So be it, Malloryn. Let the games begin.”
And she waded into the melee with her head held high, astutely studying the crowd of suitors.
Malloryn gestured to one of the servants, taking a small snifter of brandy as he watched the queen laugh and placate, and search for his ideal candidate.
A year ago, he’d have never even considered Sir Gideon.
The man was humble and honest and alarmingly human, with a humans first agenda. He was also the sentimental choice, and Malloryn had never held truck with sentiment.
Adele had shown him the error of his ways.
The queen deserved to be happy. She deserved a husband who would cherish her and help her steer the monarchy into a safe, secure future for humans, verwulfen, and blue bloods alike. And Sir Gideon could be reasoned with.
And then, catching the eye of Sir Gideon Scott, who was watching proceedings with a thinly disguised look of irritation on his face, he lifted his glass as if in mutual celebration.
Dukes. Princes. Barons. Counts.
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