“If there is poison in the castle, then we cannot trust even the servants,” Malloryn said. “One member of the council must be with you at all times.”
“Sir Gideon is human,” she protested. “He won’t even be able to smell poison.”
“No,” Malloryn admitted, “but he is emphatically loyal, and while he and I may disagree on several matters of the realm, I trust him with your life.” Malloryn tipped his head toward Gideon with a wry smile. “I say that about very few people.”
The duke simply strode toward the door, ignoring her, as he was wont to do at times. He fetched his cane. “I don’t care what personal grievance the pair of you have at the moment.” He gave her a stern look. “You have a responsibility to the realm to keep yourself alive and bloody safe, and you will obey my instructions in this. Stay with Sir Gideon until we can sweep Kensington and discover who put cyanide in your cordial.”
The door swung shut behind the duke.
And then they were alone.
“Curse that blackhearted bastard.” The queen balled her hands into fists. “How dare he walk away? How dare he!”
But she didn’t respond to the hint Malloryn had thrown into the room like a live bomb.
Sir Gideon waited for half a minute, until he was certain Malloryn would be out of hearing distance. When he looked at her face, he couldn’t help catching his breath, for she looked like every single one of his dreams, molded into flesh.
And just like a dream, he feared his hopes toward her would evaporate if he ever dared reach out and touch her again.
“You will be safe, Alexa.”
“You shouldn’t call me that,” she said tartly.
He gave a sad little shrug. “Safe from everything—including my attentions.” At the sight of her startled look, he headed toward the door. Best to set matters straight before she worked herself into a state of nerves. Though she’d never said a word about the encounter, they hadn’t been alone in a room together ever since. “I’ll ring for some tea. I daresay it’s going to be a long night.”
“What have you got for me?” Malloryn demanded as he entered the makeshift headquarters the Company of Rogues had commandeered at Kensington Palace.
“Tea, Your Grace,” Charlie said, handing him a cup of bloodied tea.
“Not precisely what I had in mind.” He took a sip regardless. “Gemma?”
The entire membership of COR was gathered around the table. Gemma lounged at the head, looking as though she’d singlehandedly broken the hearts of everyone in the court that night. Leadership suited her. And so did love. It cast a glow across her features that he’d never seen her wear before.
“We’ve questioned the maids who handled the tea service,” Gemma replied, her shoulders squaring. “I’m fairly certain the pair of them had nothing to do with the poisoning. One is absolutely distraught at the thought, and the other has been in the queen’s service since she was on short strings. She’s so emphatically loyal to the queen, I thought she was going to throw me through the window at the mere suggestion she’d had a hand in it.”
He glanced at Obsidian, who nodded.
“Both maid’s emotional reactions rang true,” the former assassin said. “It’s too easy. It’s not the maids. They’d be the first to be suspected.”
“Who else had access to the queen’s antechamber?”
Gemma started listing members of the royal household.
“Your Grace?” Ava lifted her hand. Though she was rapidly approaching the birth of her first child, it had done nothing to hamper her effectiveness as an investigator.
“I suspect our poisoner isn’t an expert.”
Ava only ever spoke when she was certain of the evidence. “Go on.”
“Firstly, there were several of the queen’s favorite lemon cakes on the tray, which were also laced with cyanide. Sugar seems to dull the effect cyanide has on a body. A good poisoner would know that. Her cordial is also sweet. I haven’t finished analyzing how much cyanide was laced within the drink, but why risk diluting its effects?”
“Hmm.” He rubbed at his jaw. “Interesting. What else?”
“Barrons said rumor began circulating throughout the ball barely half an hour after the queen removed to her rooms following her dance. Alexandra said she couldn’t have spent more than fifteen or twenty minutes refreshing herself before she returned to the antechamber where Ava was waiting,” Gemma added.
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