Table of Contents
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Rhys Bowen
Royal Spyness Mysteries
HER ROYAL SPYNESS
A ROYAL PAIN
NAUGHTY IN NICE
Constable Evans Mysteries
EVAN HELP US
EVAN AND ELLE
EVAN CAN WAIT
EVANS TO BETSY
EVAN ONLY KNOWS
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Copyright © 2011 by Janet Quin-Harkin.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
ISBN : 978-1-101-54381-8
1. British—France—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 3. Nice (France)—Fiction. I. Title.
This book is dedicated to Marie O’Day,
whom I have elevated to the ranks of royalty for this story.
January 15, 1933
Weather forecast: showers turning to sleet later. Outlook:
The Riviera had never looked more inviting. The sun sparkled on a sea of deepest blue. Elegant couples strolled beneath the palm trees on the Promenade des Anglais. The scent of mimosa blossoms hung in the air while a seagull soared lazily overhead. . . . I gave a contented sigh.
“ ’Ere, watch it, love. You’re slopping soup all over.” The gruff voice brought me back to the present with a jerk. I wrenched my eyes away from the poster on the wall and down to the scene in front of me. A long, gray line of shabbily dressed men, muffled against the bitter cold, snaked across Victoria Station. They clutched mugs or bowls and stood patiently, eyes down or staring, as I had been, into a world that nobody else could see but them. I was currently helping out at the station soup kitchen. It was a bitter and bleak January day, and I felt as cold and miserable as those poor wretches who shuffled past me.
“Oh, crikey. Sorry,” I muttered as I noticed the trail of soup splashed across the oilcloth table. “I wasn’t concentrating.”
“It’s all right, love. It can’t be much fun doling out soup all day, not for a young lady like you.”
“Oh, I don’t mind,” I said. “Help yourself to bread.”
“Thank you kindly, miss.” The man gave me a half nod, half bow. “You’re a real toff, you are.”
He was correct, of course. I am a real toff—Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the second Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, thirty-fourth in line to the throne of England—and I was helping out at the soup kitchen for several reasons: The first reason, naturally, was that I couldn’t find a proper job. I had been educated to curtsy without falling over (most of the time), to know whether a bishop takes precedence over a duke (depends if it’s an archbishop or a royal duke) and which fork to eat oysters with (trick question: oysters are tipped from the shell straight into the mouth). I had never learned useful things like typing or bookkeeping or even cooking. Besides, the world was in the throes of a terrible depression and even people with strings of qualifications couldn’t find jobs.
My second reason for working in the soup kitchen was that Her Majesty the Queen approved of voluntary service for the good of the community at this sad time. “It’s up to us to set an example, Georgiana,” she had said to me more than once. And I have to confess that maybe this particular volunteer job was attractive because a certain Mr. Darcy O’Mara had been known to help out here when he was in London. However, the most compelling reason for my selfless ladling of soup into tin mugs was that my sister-in-law, Fig, had taken up residence in our London house. Any excuse to escape from her was welcome.
After a month of soup ladling, and scrubbing out vast vats of caked-on cabbage, it had begun to lose its appeal. Especially as Darcy had done another of his disappearing acts. I should explain that while Darcy could be described as my young man, he was not in any position to make me an offer, as his family was as penniless as ours. He lived by his wits, and, I suspected, on occasion he worked as some kind of spy for His Majesty’s government. He would never admit to this latter fact, however. If I had been a halfway decent temptress, like Mata Hari, I might have inveigled the truth out of him during a moment of passion. But I wasn’t, and we hadn’t, yet. It was a case of too much Fig and too little opportunity.
My brother, Binky, the current duke, and his wife didn’t usually spend much time at our London house. Binky preferred country life on our estate in Scotland. But this winter an amazing thing had happened. Fig was about to produce a second little Rannoch. How Binky could have plucked up enough courage to have created a first child with Fig is still a matter of speculation. Why he did it a second time indicates insanity in the family.
Anyway, she was beginning to swell up like a ripe watermelon and felt in need of more pampering than could be achieved in the vast, cavernous halls of Castle Rannoch, where the wind howled down the chimneys. And so they had chosen to spend the winter at Rannoch House, our London home, where I had been camping out alone, more or less successfully, for the last year. I’m an easygoing sort of person, but it would take a saint to spend more than three days with Fig.
I sighed and ladled another spoonful into a waiting mug. Every day while I manned my post, my fingers numb with cold, that poster of the Riviera looked down from the station wall, as if mocking my currently hopeless position. And the situation was made worse because every morning travelers passed us on their way to the boat train and the Continent. Each time I looked up, porters with great mounds of luggage preceded fur-clad ladies and well-dressed men. Amazingly some people still seemed to have money in this depression.
“So you’re off to the Riviera, then?” A man’s voice floated across to me through the smoke from the steam engines. “You lucky chap. It’s all right for some. I have to show up at the office every day, come rain or shine, you know. Nose to the grindstone and all that. The pater demands it.”
“Well, if you will have a father who owns a private bank, what can you expect?” replied the second voice with a similar Old Etonian accent. And two young men came into view, one of them wearing a bowler hat and carrying a brolly, the other accompanied by a porter and the requisite mountain of luggage. They were a little older than I; in fact, I thought I recognized one of them as a one-time dance partner at a hunt ball. For a second we almost made eye contact, but then his gaze moved on without a flicker of recognition, as if he couldn’t possibly know someone wearing a cabbage-stained apron and doling out soup.