Georgie is back and hanging the stockings with care when a murder interrupts her Christmas cheer in this all-new installment in the New York Times bestselling Royal Spyness series from Rhys Bowen.
Georgie is excited for her first Christmas as a married woman in her lovely new home. She suggests to her dashing husband, Darcy, that they have a little house party, but when Darcy receives a letter from his aunt Ermintrude, there is an abrupt change in plans. She has moved to a house on the edge of the Sandringham estate, near the royal family, and wants to invite Darcy and his new bride for Christmas. Aunt Ermintrude hints that the queen would like Georgie nearby. Georgie had not known that Aunt Ermintrude was a former lady-in-waiting and close confidante of her royal highness. The letter is therefore almost a royal request, so Georgie, Darcy, and their Christmas guests: Mummy, Grandad, Fig, and Binky all head to Sandringham.
Georgie soon learns that the notorious Mrs. Simpson, mistress to the Prince of Wales, will also be in attendance. It is now crystal clear to Georgie that the Queen expects her to do a bit of spying. There is tension in the air from the get-go, and when Georgie pays a visit to the queen, she learns that there is more to her request than just some simple eavesdropping. There have been a couple of strange accidents at the estate recently. Two gentlemen of the royal household have died in mysterious circumstances and another has been shot by mistake during a hunt. Georgie begins to suspect that a member of the royal family is the real target but her investigation will put her new husband and love of her life, Darcy, in the crosshairs of a killer.
Down the hallway we walked, past the dining room, through the baize door that led to the servants’ part of the house and down a flight of steps to the cavernous kitchen. On rainy days I expect it could be rather gloomy unless the electric lights were shining. Today the windows, high in the south wall, sent shafts of sunlight onto the scrubbed tables. Queenie was standing at one of them, her hands in a huge mixing bowl. She gave us a look of pure terror as we came in.
“Hello, Queenie. We’ve come to stir the pudding,” I said.
“Oh yeah. Bob’s yer uncle, missus.” She sounded distracted. I noted she now called me “missus” instead of “miss.” I suppose it was a small step forward. After several years she had never learned to call me “my lady.” Or perhaps she knew very well and was just being bolshie about it. I sometimes suspected Queenie wasn’t quite as clueless as we imagined.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Wrong?” Her voice sounded higher than usual.
I walked toward the pudding bowl, with Darcy a step behind me. Inside was a big sticky mass of dough and fruit. It looked the way puddings were supposed to look, from my limited experience.
“It’s just that you had both hands in the bowl when we came in. Doesn’t one usually stir with a spoon?”
“What? Oh yes, right.” Her face had now gone red. “It’s just I was looking for something.”
“Looking for something?” Darcy sounded puzzled, but then he hadn’t had close contact with Queenie for as long as I had.
Her face was now beet red. “It’s like this, you see. A button was loose on my uniform again. I meant to sew it on but I forgot and I was giving the pudding a bloody great stir when all of a sudden—ping—it popped clean off and went flying into the pudding mixture and I can’t for the life of me find it again.”
“Queenie!” I exclaimed. I knew I should be firm with her and scold her for not keeping her uniform up to snuff, but it really was rather funny.
“What exactly is this button made of?” Darcy asked. “It’s not celluloid or something that might melt when it’s cooked, is it?”
“Oh no, sir. It’s like these others.” She pointed at the front of her uniform dress, where there was now a gaping hole revealing a red flannel vest. “I think it’s bone.”
“Well, in that case nothing to worry about,” Darcy said breezily. “If someone finds it—well, people are supposed to find charms in puddings, aren’t they?”
“Silver charms,” I pointed out.
“We’ll tell them it’s a tradition of the house, going back to the Middle Ages,” Darcy said. “It’s a button made from the bone of a stag that was shot on Christmas Day.”
“Darcy, you’re brilliant.” I had to laugh. “Just as long as someone doesn’t swallow it or break a tooth. Please keep trying to find it, Queenie, only use a fork and not your fingers.”
“Would your ladyship like to stir now?” Mrs. Holbrook asked. She handed me the big spoon. I took it and stirred.
“You’re supposed to wish, my lady,” Mrs. Holbrook reminded.
“Oh, of course.” I stirred and you can probably guess what I wished for.
Then Darcy stirred and I wondered if he was wishing for the same thing. Mrs. Holbrook opened a little leather box and handed us the silver charms. “You’ll want to drop these into the pudding,” she said.
“Oh yes. What fun.” We dropped them in, one by one: the boot, the pig, the ring and silver threepences.
“And the bachelor button,” Darcy said, dropping in a silver button and giving me a grin.
“Thank you, sir. Thank you, my lady,” Mrs. Holbrook said. “I’ll help Queenie look for the unfortunate button, don’t you worry. We’ll find it between us.”
As we came up the stairs from the kitchen Darcy put a hand on my shoulder. “Now do you agree that we need to get a proper cook before Christmas?”
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