Crowned and Dangerous (Her Royal Spyness #10)@Rhys Bowen

Chapter 1

DARKEST NIGHT , THURSDAY , NOVEMBER 29, 1934

In an Armstrong Siddeley motorcar with the Honorable Darcy O’Mara, heading northward.

No idea where we are going, but Darcy is beside me so that’s all right.

I was in a motorcar, sitting beside Darcy, and we were driving northward, out of London. He had whisked me away earlier that day, after we had both attended Princess Marina’s wedding to the Duke of Kent. I first thought I was being taken for a romantic dinner. Then, as we left the streets of London behind, I began to suspect it may not be a dinner we were going to but a hotel in a naughty place like Brighton. But we were heading north, not south, and I couldn’t think of any naughty places to the north of London. Surely nobody goes to the industrial grime of the Midlands to be naughty? I suppose in a way I was relieved. Much as I wanted to spend the night with Darcy, and heaven knows we had waited long enough, there was also that element of worry about the consequences.

Darcy was being enigmatic, driving with a rather smug grin on his face and not answering my questions. Eventually I told myself that we were probably going to a house party somewhere in the country, given by one of his numerous friends, which would be quite an acceptable thing to do, if not as exciting as a night at a hotel in Brighton, signed in as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But as the lights of London vanished and we were driving into complete darkness I couldn’t stand it a minute longer.

“Darcy, where on earth are we going?” I demanded.

He was still staring straight ahead of him into the night. “Gretna Green,” he replied.

“Gretna Green? Are you serious?” The words came out as squeaks. “But that’s in Scotland. And it’s where people go when—”

“When they elope to get married. Quite right.”

I glanced at his profile. He still had that satisfied smile on his face. “I know you too well, Georgie,” he replied. “You’re altogether too respectable. You’ve inherited too much from your great-grandmother.” (Who, in case you don’t know, was Queen Victoria.) “You don’t want to take that next step with me until there is a ring on your finger and I respect that. So I aim to remedy the situation. If we drive all night then by tomorrow you will be Mrs. Darcy O’Mara and I can take you to bed with a clear conscience.”

“Golly,” I replied. Not exactly the most sophisticated of answers, I know, but I was taken by surprise. I found myself grinning too. Mrs. Darcy O’Mara. Not quite as lofty as Lady Georgiana Rannoch, but infinitely more satisfying. I couldn’t wait to see my sister-in-law Fig’s face when I returned to London and waved my ringed finger at her. The thought of Fig led me to a more practical consideration. Darcy was a young man of no fixed abode. He had an impeccable pedigree. He had grown up, like me, in a castle. He would inherit a title one day. But, also like me, he was penniless. He lived by his wits and accepted clandestine assignments he wouldn’t talk about. He slept on friends’ couches or looked after their London houses while they were away on their yachts or on the Riviera. That sort of life was fine for a single man, but I could hardly share a couch at a bachelor friend’s establishment, could I?

Tentatively I broached this matter. “So, Darcy, if I’m not being too inquisitive, where had you planned for us to live?”

“I hadn’t,” he said. “You’ll go back to your brother and I’ll go wherever I am offered an assignment. I’m saving any money I earn and when I have enough to establish us in a suitably proper form of residence, then we’ll announce our marriage. Gretna Green is just to make sure that if anything untoward happened and you found yourself”—he paused and coughed—“in the family way, we could then wave our marriage certificate at them and all would be well and your honor would be intact.”

I had to laugh at this. Actually I think I giggled, nervously, but these were such heady topics to be talking about with a man.

“So how long do you think it might take, until we can afford a place of our own?” I asked.

“Not too long, I hope.” He sighed. “If only my father hadn’t lost all his money and had to sell the castle