Queen of Hearts (A Royal Spyness Mystery)

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9780425260647: Queen of Hearts (A Royal Spyness Mystery)

Lady Georgiana Rannoch is off to solve a Hollywood homicide in the eighth mystery in the New York Times bestselling Royal Spyness series.

England, 1934. Georgie's mother, the glamorous and much-married actress, is hearing wedding bells once again—which is why she must hop across the pond for a quickie divorce in Reno. To offer her moral support, Georgie agrees to go along on the all expenses paid voyage across the Atlantic.

While her mother meets movie mogul Cy Goldman—who insists on casting her in his next picture—Georgie finds herself caught up in the secret investigation of a suspected jewel thief. Lucky for her, the lead investigator happens to be her dashing beau, Darcy!

Her mother's movie and Darcy’s larceny lead everyone to Cy’s Hollywood home, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin are hanging about and there’s enough romantic intrigue to fill a double feature. But they hardly get a chance to work out the sleeping arrangements before Cy turns up dead. As if there wasn’t enough drama already...

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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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

KINGSDOWNE PLACE, EYNSFORD, KENT

MONDAY, JULY 9, 1934

Dear Diary: Weather fine but absolutely nothing to do. Dying of boredom.

I was sitting in a white wicker chair under a spreading chestnut tree on a manicured lawn. Behind me the stately battlements of Kingsdowne Place, seat of the dukes of Eynsford, were reflected in the perfect mirror of the lake, its surface ruffled only by a pair of gliding swans. Before me was a tea table, groaning under tiers of cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, strawberries and cream, éclairs, Victoria sponges, petit fours and scones with clotted cream. It was about the most perfect afternoon one could wish for, one of those rare English summer days when the only sounds are the buzzing of bees among the roses, the clickety-clack of a distant lawn mower and the thwack of ball on bat at the cricket match down in the village.

I gave a long sigh. It should have been of contentment but actually it was one of boredom. I have a confession to make. Being almost royal isn’t always a piece of cake. For one thing it isn’t always easy keeping that stiff upper lip in the face of royal relatives, lunatic suitors, and dead bodies. And it’s certainly not easy doing nothing all day. I know that ordinary people who have to catch the eight-twenty to Waterloo every day envy our leisure but frankly most of the time our lives are a battle against boredom. I’d love to be doing something useful. I’d love to be making money too. But alas there are no jobs for a young woman whose education has only equipped her to walk around with a book on her head and know where to seat a bishop at a dinner party. My royal relatives would certainly not have been amused if they learned I was working behind the counter in Woolworths or serving tea at Lyons. And in this horrid depression even people with strings of qualifications can’t find gainful employment.

What I should have been doing was my duty by marrying some half-batty Continental princeling, thus ensuring the continuation of some outmoded dynasty (while running the risk of being assassinated by anarchists). So far I had managed to avoid all half-lunatic princes that had been thrust in my direction. And in case you think I was against the idea of marriage, actually I did have a candidate for marriage lined up, but he, like me, was penniless with no prospects. A pretty hopeless situation.

And so I did what other young ladies of my station do until they find a husband—endured long empty days punctuated by meals, healthy walks through the countryside and occasional bursts of excitement in the form of hunts. And since the weather in England is usually bloody, even more days of sitting reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, writing letters and counting the hours until the next meal.

A few months ago I thought I had fallen on my feet for once when I was asked to educate the newly discovered heir to the Duke of Eynsford into the ways of polite society. Kingsdowne Place, seat of the dukes of Eynsford, was everything a stately home should be—impressively opulent and elegant with gorgeous grounds, a stable full of fine horses, and meals that were a succession of extravagant courses. There was no hint at Kingsdowne Place that the rest of the world was in a depression. But my stay had not exactly gone according to plan. There had been plots and a murder, and when the dust had settled I had stayed on out of duty to give companionship to the dowager duchess. My nanny and governess were very hot on duty. I had had it rammed down my throat since I could toddle. Rannochs prized duty above diadems. (Actually I’d have prized the diadems if I’d owned any.) Did I mention that I am Lady Georgiana Rannoch, and cousin to His Majesty King George?

I confess that my task had been made more pleasant because Darcy O’Mara, the man I hoped to marry one day, had stayed on with me. But Darcy never remained in one place for long. He was a true adventurer and was always off on strange missions to far-flung parts of the globe. Anyway, he had gone again, the younger members of the Eynsford clan had dispersed and I was left at a great house with a dowager duchess, her two half-dotty sisters and several dozen servants. I was longing for younger company and a change of scenery when my mother came to the rescue.

For those of you who don’t know my mother, let me assure you that she is not the maternal type. But on that afternoon when I was having tea on the lawn with the three weird sisters the dowager duchess Edwina paused with her teacup raised on its way to her lips.

“That sounds like a motorcar coming up the drive,” she said. “How extraordinary. Whoever could it be?”

“We aren’t expecting anybody, are we?” her sister Princess Charlotte Orlovski asked, swiveling around in her seat so that she could get a better look at the drive. “My spirit guide didn’t warn me of a visitor.” (The Princess Orlovski was heavily into spiritualism.)

“It’s about time we had company,” the third sister, the naughty and poorly named Virginia chimed in. “It’s been as dull as ditchwater since everybody left. I’m sure poor young Georgiana is dying of boredom and frustration. I know I am.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” I said hastily and untruthfully.

The sound of an approaching motorcar grew louder. Edwina put down her teacup and picked up her lorgnette, peering through the trees as the black shape of a motorcar came into view. It was an open-topped sports car, low and sleek, and it was being driven rather fast. My heartbeat quickened as I watched it come closer. Could it possibly be Darcy, home from foreign missions and coming to sweep me away?

Then I realized that the driver was certainly not Darcy. It was a small person, hatless, with blonde hair that blew out in the breeze. It was only when the driver spotted us and the car screeched to a halt in a shower of gravel that I recognized who she was.

“Who on earth?” Edwina started to say.

“It’s my mother, Your Grace,” I said as a trim little person in bright red slacks and a white halter top climbed out of the car. She was wearing big sunglasses that hid half her face, and her hair, in spite of having been windswept, now looked perfectly in place. She waved then came toward us, tottering on high platform espadrilles.

“There you are, Georgie,” she called in that voice that had delighted theatergoers across the world. “I’ve been looking all over for you. I telephoned Castle Rannoch but your brother didn’t seem to know where you were. You weren’t at the house in London where I left you a few months ago. I was quite despairing until I ran into your friend Belinda at Crockfords last night and she told me you were staying with the Eynsfords.” She had reached us now, picking her way carefully across the lawn. She seemed to notice the three elderly ladies, all sitting and staring at her in her flamboyantly modern outfit, for the first time. “How do you do,” she said. “Sorry to barge in on you like this.”

I intervened hastily. “Your Grace, may I introduce to you my mother, the former duchess of Rannoch.” I thought it wise to give Mummy the only acceptable title she’s ever had. I wasn’t actually lying. She was a former duchess of Rannoch. It’s just that since that time she had been a great many other things to a great many men. It was possible that the dowager duchess knew a lot of this, but as always her manners were impeccable.

“How do you do,” she said, extending a hand. “Delighted to meet Georgiana’s mother at last. Although I do believe we met many years ago when your dear Bertie was still alive. I was his mother’s lady-in-waiting, you know. He was such a lovable little boy, such a sweet smile. So sad that he died too soon, just like my own sons. One should not have to outlive one’s children.”

My mother, presumably not having heard of the demise of the Eynsford sons, wisely said nothing.

“Do sit down and have a cup of tea,” Edwina said, motioning to the maid who was standing nearby to bring another cup. “Of course you must have been missing your dear daughter. And if only you’d let us know you were coming, we could have had a suitable room prepared for you.” It was the nearest to a reproach that manners allowed.

“Most kind, but I’m not intending to stay,” Mummy said, accepting the teacup and sinking into a wicker chair. “I only came to collect Georgie.”

“To collect me?”

“Yes, darling. We’re going on a trip together.”

“A trip? Where?”

“America,” she said as if this was no more startling than a shopping expedition to London.

“America?” I blurted out.

“Yes, darling, you know that big place with the skyscrapers and cowboys.” She gave the elderly sisters an exasperated smile that her only child could be so dense. “Why don’t you run along and get your maid to pack your things while I have tea with these delightful ladies.” She was already helping herself to a cucumber sandwich.

“But I can’t just leave like this, Mummy. It wouldn’t be right. Her Grace has been through a most difficult time. I can’t walk out on her when she needs me.” But even as I said the words a voice in my head was whispering, “America! I’m going to America with my mother!”

Edwina reached across and patted my hand. “You have been a wonderful comfort to me in my hour of need, Georgiana. Such a kind girl. But I wouldn’t dream of preventing you from going away with your mama, especially not to America. Transatlantic crossings are delightful and a young thing like you needs to see life, not be cooped up here with three old women. Of course you must go.”

“Of course she must,” Virginia echoed. “New York, such an exciting city. And they say that cowboys are wonderfully virile. In fact I remember a thrilling episode with a saddle and a particularly large whip. . . .”

Edwina cleared her throat. Virginia’s sex life had probably even outdone that of my mother and she never minded recalling it in the most vivid detail.

“You’d better run up and pack, Georgiana,” Edwina said, “if your dear mama is really intent on leaving this evening. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay the night and leave in the morning?”

“Kind of you, Your Grace, but I’m afraid not,” Mummy said. “We have secured passage on the Berengaria and she sails on Thursday from Southampton.”

“The Berengaria.” Virginia gave a sigh of envy. “The ship of millionaires, they used to call it.”

“Still do,” Mummy said. “Who else can afford to travel these days? Anyway, she sails on Thursday and there is so much to be done that I couldn’t spare an extra minute. Do get a move on, darling.” She glanced at the motorcar. “I don’t see how we’re going to fit in your maid and your trunk. Do you still have that ghastly girl who looks like a hippopotamus?”

“Queenie? Yes, I’m afraid I do.”

“She’ll never fit into the backseat, darling, let alone with the luggage. Have her come up by train with your things. Brown’s Hotel, of course. I wouldn’t stay anywhere else.”

“Ah, Brown’s Hotel. Such fond memories.” This time it was Princess Charlotte who gave her sisters a wistful look.

“Off you go, then.” Mummy clapped her gloveless hands impatiently.

“If you’re sure, Your Grace?” I looked at Edwina.

“Don’t keep your mother waiting, Georgiana,” Edwina said. “We old ladies will carry on as we always have done.”

I put down my teacup, and tried to rise gracefully from my deck chair. Unfortunately I stepped on my skirt so that my graceful ascent turned into a stumble that nearly caught the tea table. I righted myself and set off, red-faced, with as much dignity as I could still muster.

“Typical Georgie. Always was a walking disaster area, I’m afraid,” I heard Mummy saying as I moved out of earshot. “Has she wrecked your house yet?”

Oh dear. I’d actually done rather well until now with nothing broken and no elderly ladies knocked off their feet. But unfortunately she was right. I am rather accident-prone when I’m flustered—like the time I caught my heel in my train at my debutante presentation and was propelled rapidly toward Their Majesties instead of backing from the chamber.

There was no sign of Queenie when I entered my bedroom. I tugged on the bellpull and waited. No maid appeared. I tugged again and started taking items of clothing out of the wardrobe. After a few minutes there was a tap on the door and Edie, the head housemaid, came in.

“Did you ring, my lady?” She curtsied.

“For my maid,” I said. “Have you seen her recently?”

“She was at tea,” Edie said. “I’m afraid I haven’t seen her since.”

“Then please have somebody find her. I need her right away.”

“I will, my lady.” She bobbed a curtsy and took off.

Why couldn’t I have a maid like that, I thought. Willing, efficient, a joy to be around . . . Of course I knew the answer. Because I couldn’t afford to pay her. Queenie had one advantage. She worked for almost no money, knowing that no gentlewoman in her right mind would employ her. The situation suited both of us most of the time.

I had emptied the contents of the chest of drawers onto my bed when I heard sounds resembling a stampede of elephants coming up the hall toward me. Queenie burst through the door, red-faced and disheveled.

“Bloody ’ell,” she said, observing the large pile of clothing on the bed. “What the devil’s going on ’ere?”

“We’re leaving,” I said. “I need my trunk retrieved and my clothes packed.”

“Leavin’? What do you want to go and leave for?” she demanded, hands on very ample hips. “First decent food we’ve had in months.”

“And I see you’ve taken full advantage of it,” I replied, noticing that her uniform was now bursting at the seams. “Where were you? I rang twice.”

“Well, I had three pieces of seedy cake at tea today and I felt a bit sleepy afterward so I just went up to my room to have a bit of a kip, and before you know it I was out like a light,” she said. “So where are we going, then? Not back to that god-awful castle in Scotland.”

“Queenie, I’ve pointed out to you before that you should not criticize your employer or your employer’s family. You should be glad you have a job in these hard times.”

“Oh, I ain’t got nothing against you, miss,” she said. “It’s her what lives at the castle in Scotland. The ruddy duchess. She don’t like me, does she? She thinks I’m too common.”

“Well, you are. You’ve seen how other lady’s maids behave, haven’t you? You haven’t even learned to call me by my proper title yet.”

She sighed. “I know you should be ‘my lady’ but that sounds awful toffee-nosed, if you ask me. And you’re so nice and normal and friendly that you’re more like an ordinary miss.”

“Nevertheless, Queenie, society demands that an aristocrat should be addressed in the correct manner. My cousin Elizabeth is a friendly little girl but one still has to address her as ‘Your Royal Highness.’ Now please get a move on. My mother is waiting.”

“Your mum? We’re going off with your mum? Oh, that’s all right then. She’ll make sure we eat properly. Where are we going? Back to London?”

“No, we’re going to America.”

“Bloody ’ell,” she said.

Chapter 2

AT BROWN’S HOTEL, LONDON

JULY 9

An hour later Mummy and I were speeding through the Kentish lanes on our way to London. Queen...

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