From London, With Love by Bec McMaster

Malloryn captured his forearm, but Gideon was having none of it.

Grabbing the duke by his collar, he shoved him into the wall, searching for Alexandra. “Where is she, damn you? What happened? Have you sent for the doctor, or the—?”

“Sir Gideon. That’s enough.”

Alexandra. There. His breath eased in his chest as the queen pushed to her feet from the chair by the window. Moonlight painted silver fleur de lis across the patterns of her gown, but she looked whole and hearty, and as well as he’d ever seen her.

“You weren’t poisoned?” he gasped.

“Evidently.” Malloryn pried Gideon’s clenched fists off his collar. “You’re lucky I like you. That cravat took a half hour to knot.”

Damn it. He let the bastard go, scrubbing at his mouth. Malloryn could have handed him his teeth, and they both knew it. “You’re lucky I trust you with the queen’s continued health.”

Malloryn arched a cool brow. “I wasn’t aware the queen’s health was of your particular concern.”

“Of course, it’s of my concern,” he countered, though heat flushed through his cheeks. The words were dangerously close to the truth he tried to hide every damned time he looked at her. “It’s of concern to all the council. All of London.”

“And yet, none of them are barging into her private chambers like a Suffolk bull given a glimpse of a red rag.”

“That’s enough,” Alexandra repeated. “The both of you.” Her voice softened. “Gideon, I’m fine. Luckily, one of Malloryn’s agents scented the cyanide in the cordial, and another one of them knocked it from my hand before I could drink much of it.”

He couldn’t help crossing toward her, though he paused at the edge of the carpet. A decent five feet of distance. “Do we know who it was?”

“No,” she murmured. “Malloryn’s agents are attempting to find us some answers. It could be anyone. There are so many foreign dignitaries here, anyone could have seized the chance.”

“That makes little sense. Half of them are here to… to meet you.” He couldn’t say the words. “Who would wish you dead?”

Before a potential wedding?

“Someone who would enjoy seeing England cast into chaos,” she said. “The French, perhaps? An unruly member of one of the foreign parties? Someone with a grudge against a potential suitor? One of the Echelon who hasn’t yet forgiven me for changing the nature of London?”

“Do we have a suspect?”

“Everyone in the castle,” Malloryn replied, “aside from myself and my agents, the queen, a handful of guards under lockdown, and yourself. Who told you she’d been poisoned? I was under the impression we’d managed to keep it quiet.”

Gideon thought back to the ballroom. “The queen had been gone for half an hour. Then the rumor started circulating. I heard it from Lady Baumbury.”

“Interesting. Especially considering I and my agents were the only ones with that knowledge.”

Gideon looked at him sharply. “You think someone’s slipped up?”

“I think that if I find the source of that rumor, I’ll find someone who knows something they shouldn’t.”

Malloryn’s thin smile set the hair on the back of his neck on end.

Sometimes he forgot just how dangerous the duke was. Malloryn wore a thin veneer of civility at all times, but there were claws and teeth beneath the polish, and the cool gleam in those gray eyes was never short of calculating.

“What do you want me to do?’ Gideon demanded.

Malloryn turned, cutting a swift glance toward the queen before his lips thinned. “Guard her. With your life, if need be.”

“Always,” he pledged fervently.

“I’m sure that’s hardly necessary,” Alexandra broke in. “Sir Gideon has his own affairs to attend to. And I am surrounded by an entire coterie of loyal guards and servants.”

Gideon looked down, the swirls in the rug capturing his attention. He couldn’t trust himself to look at her in this moment, not without Malloryn seeing the truth in his eyes.

The incident at Haver Hall hovered between them.

He’d kissed her and she’d shoved him away, fright filling those dark eyes. He had pushed too far—taken far more than a mere gentleman like him was owed—and she had pushed back, and quite rightly.

He had tried to be the epitome of restraint and politeness ever since, but the ghost of that encounter lingered between them every damned time they were in a room together.