On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service (Royal Spyness Series #11)

On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service (Royal Spyness Series #11)

by Rhys Bowen
On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service (Royal Spyness Series #11)

On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service (Royal Spyness Series #11)

by Rhys Bowen

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reissue)

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Overview

Lady Georgiana Rannoch juggles secret missions from the Queen, her beau, and her mother in this mystery in the Royal Spyness series.

When royal sleuth Georgie Rannoch receives a letter from her dearest friend Belinda, who's in an Italian villa awaiting the birth of her illegitimate baby, she yearns to run to her side. If only she could find a way to get there! But then opportunity presents itself in a most unexpected way—her cousin the queen asks her to attend a house party in the Italian Lake Country. The Prince of Wales and the dreadful Mrs. Simpson have been invited, and Her Majesty is anxious to thwart a possible secret wedding.

What luck! A chance to see Belinda, even if it is under the guise of stopping unwanted nuptials. Only that's as far as Georgie's fortune takes her. She soon discovers that she attended finishing school with the hostess of the party—and the hatred they had for each other then has barely dimmed. Plus, she needs to hide Belinda's delicate condition from the other guests. And her dashing beau, Darcy's (naturally) working undercover on a dangerous mission. Then her actress mother shows up, with a not-so-little task to perform. With all this subterfuge, it seems something is bound to go horribly wrong—and Georgie will no doubt be left to pick up the pieces when it does.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425283516
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/26/2018
Series: Royal Spyness Series , #11
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 122,194
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Rhys Bowen, a New York Times bestselling author, has been nominated for every major award in mystery writing, including the Edgar®, and has won many, including both the Agatha and Anthony awards. She is the author of the Royal Spyness Mysteries, set in 1930s London, the Molly Murphy Mysteries, set in turn-of-the-century New York, and the Constable Evans Mysteries, set in Wales. She was born in England and now divides her time between Northern California and Arizona.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Monday, April 8, 1935

Kilhenny Castle, Ireland

Darcy has gone. Not sure what to do next.

I should have known it was too good to last.

I had spent the last two months at Kilhenny Castle, Darcy's ancestral home. I had experienced the merriest Christmas I had ever known, with Darcy, his eccentric family and the Polish princess Zou Zou Zamanska. We had fought hard to prove Lord Kilhenny's innocence when he was wrongly accused of a crime and had managed to gain back his castle. The next month was spent making it habitable again. It had been a wonderful, almost miraculous time to be close to the man I loved, to actually be planning our wedding in the summer. Darcy had also been helping his father to restore the racing stable, now owned by the princess, to its former glory and they had succeeded in winning the gold cup at the Punchestown races.

But all good things must come to an end. Darcy had never been the sort to stay in one place for long. Neither had the princess. She had flitted between Ireland and London in her little aeroplane as casually as if she was going down to the corner shop for a loaf of bread. Then one day in March she announced that she was leaving to enter a round-the-world air race. Darcy's father, usually never one to let his feelings show, had stomped around miserably for days after she had gone. They were clearly fond of each other, but as far as I knew he hadn't declared his love for her. Perhaps his stupid pride made him think that he didn't have enough to offer her, either in rank or in fortune. Not that she would have cared. Zou Zou, as she liked her friends to call her, was one of the most open and generous people I have ever met. And I think she had definitely fallen for the roguish Lord Kilhenny. Who wouldn't? He had the same rugged good looks and wicked twinkle in his eye as his son!

Then shortly after Zou Zou flew off in her tiny plane, Darcy came to me and said he'd have to leave for a while. He had an assignment that he couldn't refuse. Even though we were engaged to be married he had never revealed to me for whom he was actually working, although he had dropped hints that it was the British secret service.

"How long will you be gone, do you think?" I asked, trying to look light and cheerful.

"I have no idea," he said.

"And I suppose you can't tell me where you'll be going or what you'll be doing?"

He grinned then. "You know I can't. And actually I don't know myself yet."

I stood there, looking at him, thinking how incredibly handsome he was with those wild dark curls and alarming blue eyes. I took his hands. "Darcy, will it be like this when we're married?" I asked and heard a little catch in my voice. "Will you always be going off somewhere and leaving me at home to worry about you?"

"You don't need to worry about me," he said. "I'm a big boy. I can take good care of myself. But as to what I do when we're married, we'll just have to play it by ear. Maybe we'll move back here to the castle and raise our children the way I was raised. But I want to make enough money to provide for you. You know that."

"Yes, I know," I said, fighting back an embarrassing tear, "but I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too, you silly old thing." He stroked back a curl from my cheek. "I'll be in London first," he added. "I'll make an appointment to see the king's private secretary and see how things are progressing."

He was talking about our wedding, of course. In case you don't know, I am the daughter of the Duke of Rannoch, great-granddaughter to Queen Victoria and second cousin to the king. As such I am part of the line of succession-currently thirty-fifth in line to the throne. And members of the royal family are not allowed by law to marry Catholics. Darcy was a Catholic so the only way to be allowed to marry him was to renounce my claim to the throne. This was all rather silly as there was little likelihood that I'd find myself crowned Queen of England (not unless there was a plague or flood of biblical proportions). But the whole thing had to be done properly. Darcy had presented a petition on my behalf. Then it had to be approved by Parliament. The petition had been presented, but we had heard nothing. So the wedding date was in limbo and it was most unsettling. I rather wished we had managed to reach Gretna Green, as Darcy had once tried to do, and been married in secret.

But left alone in the Irish countryside, now doubts crept into my mind. What if Parliament refused to let me renounce my claim? Could we defy them and marry? We'd have to leave England and live abroad if necessary because I was going to marry Darcy. Nothing was going to stop me. But it was an unsettling time, suddenly finding myself alone at Kilhenny Castle with Darcy's father. He had never been the most genial of men. Now he was clearly worried about Zou Zou so he went around with a scowl on his face and became annoyed by the smallest of things-much the way he had been when I first arrived there in December.

I, in turn, was worried about Darcy, about the future of our marriage and to what dangerous part of the globe he might be sent. More than anything I wondered what I should be doing next. I sensed that Lord Kilhenny welcomed my company and would sink into deeper gloom if I left. And yet I felt lonely, unsettled and out of place in Ireland. I enjoyed visits to Darcy's eccentric great-aunt and great-uncle, who lived in a rambling old house nearby, as well as walks through the countryside, where roadside hedges were now blooming with spring flowers and the air smelled of spring. But I wanted to be gone.

My thoughts often turned to my friend Belinda who had fled to Italy to have a baby that no one should know about. Was she feeling equally lonely? She had suggested when I last saw her that I come and stay with her in Italy, but I had heard nothing since and had no address in Italy to write to. I hoped she was all right. I also worried about my grandfather in London. I had written to him several times, but had heard nothing in return since Christmas, when I had received a rather lurid card and a box of Quality Street chocolates. I knew he wasn't much of a writer, but I was concerned about his health. He had a weak chest and the London fogs were often brutal in winter. I would have gone to London to visit him, but I had nowhere to stay. My brother, the current duke, owned our family home, Rannoch House on Belgrave Square, but he and my dreaded sister-in-law, Fig, had gone to the south of France for the winter and Fig had made it clear to me that I was not to use their house while they were gone.

Zou Zou had also said that I was always welcome to stay with her when I was in London, but she was on a round-the-world race, which might take months. So I stayed on in Ireland, rushing to the post every morning in the hope of news from somebody. And then one morning I went out for an early walk. It was a perfect spring day. Daffodils were blooming all over the castle grounds. Birds were singing madly in the trees, which now sported new buds. The air smelled fresh and fragrant. It was the sort of day to go for a long ride, but the only horses at Kilhenny these days were at the racing stable and I didn't think Darcy's father would trust me with one of his prized mounts.

I was halfway down the path to the front gate when I met the postman, coming toward me on his bicycle.

"Top of the morning, my lady," he said, coming to a halt beside me. "'Tis a grand day, is it not? And a letter for yourself from London, no less."

He handed it to me. A fat envelope. I looked for Darcy's black, impatient scrawl, but instead I saw my brother's handwriting. So they were home in England again.

"I see there's a crest on the back of that envelope," the postman said, eyeing it curiously. "So it's from some lord or lady, is it? I expect it's important, then."

He was hovering, waiting for me to open it. Although I was dying to know why my brother might be writing to me after such a long silence, I certainly wasn't going to open it with the postman peering over my shoulder, ready to spread the news to the rest of the village.

"Thank you very much," I said. "I'd better go indoors and read it, hadn't I?"

I saw him watching me with disappointment as I went back up the path to the castle. Once inside I went into the dining room and poured myself a cup of coffee. There was no sign of Darcy's father. He went to the stables at the crack of dawn most mornings and I had become used to eating breakfast alone. I had just sat down when the housekeeper, Mrs. McCarthy, came into the room bringing a dish of smoked haddock.

She started when she saw me. "Oh, your ladyship, I didn't know you were already up, and me with no breakfast ready for you."

"Please don't worry, Mrs. McCarthy," I said. "I was going out for a walk and then I met the postman and he had a letter for me, so I wanted to come inside and read it right away."

"Oh, how lovely. A letter for you." She beamed with pleasure. "It's not from Mr. Darcy himself, is it?"

"Unfortunately, no," I said.

"My, but that's a grand crest on the envelope," she said, hovering behind me with the dish of haddock still in her hands.

"It's from my brother, the Duke of Rannoch," I said.

"Oh, your brother. Well, isn't that grand." She showed no sign of moving away. I was beginning to think that curiosity was a local trait. "No doubt he's got some news for you. That looks like it could be a long letter."

"Well, he's just come back from the south of France," I said. "I expect he's giving me a full report on his time there."

"Oh, the Riviera. Now, isn't that grand? I expect they had a lovely time there. All those yachts and things."

It was quite clear she didn't plan to move.

"Don't you think you should put the dish of haddock onto the warming tray or it will get cold?" I said.

She chuckled. "Would you look at me. I'd quite forgotten I'd got the thing in my hands."

As she headed for the sideboard with the various breakfast dishes on it I opened the envelope. Two more letters fell out as well as one page of writing paper with the Rannoch crest on it. I read that first.

My dear Georgiana,

I hope this finds you in good health. We were not sure where to send the enclosed, but I'm mailing them to O'Mara's address in Ireland in the hope that you might still be there. We did read in the English newspapers about the amazing turn of events concerning Lord Kilhenny and I must say I am very glad for you that he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

We arrived back from Nice to find the enclosed letters waiting on the hall table. It appears they had been posted some time ago, but the house had been shut up with no servants until we returned home. I see one of the letters comes from Buckingham Palace. I do hope it was nothing urgent. I took the liberty of dropping a line to Their Majesties' private secretary to say we had all been out of the country and I was forwarding the letter to you.

We all had a splendid time at Foggy and Ducky's villa-well, not exactly splendid. It was a trifle crowded. The term "villa" is actually somewhat of an overstatement. It's an ordinary small house on a backstreet in Nice, but is within walking distance of the sea. The water was too cold for bathing, but we took some nice walks. Podge was disgusted that the beach was not sandy, but he's a good little chap and amused himself well.

We'll be in London for a couple of weeks before we head back to Scotland and look forward to hearing from you.

Your affectionate brother,

Binky

I looked up. Mrs. McCarthy had now deposited the haddock on its warming tray and had returned to hover behind me.

"All is well, I trust, your ladyship?" she asked.

I folded the letter. "Thank you, Mrs. McCarthy. All is indeed well. And I think I'll leave the other letters until I've enjoyed your delicious smoked haddock."

I think I heard her sigh as she admitted defeat and went back to the kitchen.

When I had finished my breakfast I retreated to my bedroom and opened the other letters. The royal one first, naturally. It was from the queen, not dictated to a secretary but written with her own hand.

My dear Georgiana,

I trust you are well. I understand from the king's secretary that your young man has indicated that you wish to marry him and, given his Catholic faith, have expressed yourself willing to abandon your place in the line of succession.

This is indeed a big step, Georgiana, and one not to be undertaken without a great deal of thought. I would expect to hear from your lips that this is indeed your intention and that you are quite sure of the ramifications. To that end I hope you will come to the palace and we can discuss your situation over tea. Please let my secretary know when might be a convenient date for you.

His Majesty sends you his warmest wishes, as do I,

Mary R.

(You'll notice that even in an informal letter to a cousin she was still Mary Regina. One never stops being a queen.)

I stared at the letter for a long time while my stomach twisted itself into knots. Did this mean that they might not approve the marriage, nor give me permission to abandon my claim to the throne? It all seemed so silly. They had four healthy sons and already two granddaughters, with the promise of many more grandchildren to come. I should go to London immediately and sort things out with her. Let her know that I intended to marry Darcy no matter what. I felt my stomach give an extra little twist when that thought popped into my mind. Queen Mary was a rather terrifying person. I had never crossed her in my life before. I don't believe many people have dared to do so. The only exception being her son and heir, the Prince of Wales. She had let him know quite clearly that she did not approve of his friendship with the American woman Mrs. Simpson. Not only was that lady currently married to someone else, but she had already been divorced once. The Church of England, of which the king is the head, does not countenance divorce. I don't think the queen ever believed that her son would contemplate marriage to such a person. She trusted that he would do the right thing when the time came and make a suitable match, like his younger brother George, whose wedding to the Greek princess Marina I had just attended.

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