Chapter 1 July 31, 1935 On a houseboat, outside Marlow, Bucks This is my first diary entry as Mrs. Darcy O'Mara. I can hardly believe it. We've been married three whole days now and frankly I haven't found much time for writing in my diary. We seem to have been awfully busy. . . . "You know what I really fancy right now?" I sat up, almost banging my head on the roof of the small cabin of our houseboat. I looked down at Darcy, who was lying beside me. Lying naked beside me, actually, but with a sheet draped discreetly over the important bits. It was a hot and muggy afternoon and we had been taking a rest from more strenuous activities (it was, after all, the fourth day of our honeymoon). Darcy opened his eyes slowly and they flashed with that naughty and sexy look I had always found so irresistible. "Really? Again? Already?" I slapped his naked shoulder. "No, silly. Not that. What I really fancy right now is a cucumber sandwich." "But we don't have any cucumber. Or any fresh bread." "Precisely." I sighed. We had been lent this houseboat on a deserted stretch of the Thames outside Marlow in Buckinghamshire and had escaped here right after the wedding. Darcy's pal who had offered his boat had also stocked it with all kinds of good things-oysters, smoked salmon, runny cheeses, chocolate, peaches and lots of champagne. In short, everything anyone would want after the stress of a wedding that included the king and queen, not to mention the two little princesses as bridesmaids. Amazingly the ceremony had gone off without a hitch. I had not caught my foot in my train and pitched onto my face halfway up the aisle. I had not dropped cake down my front. It had been wonderful, magical, the perfect start to a life of bliss ahead. And the houseboat had been a brilliant idea too. Nobody around for miles. No servants to intrude at awkward moments. Only a couple of cows behind a fence to spy on us. We had eaten, drunk, made love and repeated the aforementioned over and over. We had lain out on the top deck with a glass of champagne in hand and watched the stars. We had even seen shooting stars, which was remarkable so close to London. It had been absolutely perfect. But now reality was creeping in. We had eaten all the good food. The ice had melted in the icebox. The bread was stale. The chocolate had turned into a brown puddle. And we had no cucumber. This meant a long hike along the canal path to the nearest shop. Which was not particularly inviting, given that we were experiencing a heat wave, or that my maid, Queenie, had packed only my elegant shoes and not my summer sandals. The other alternative meant admitting the first stage of our honeymoon was over and we should return to civilization where cucumber sandwiches, a long soak in a real bathtub and changes of clothes awaited and I could wash my hair. The joys of living in primitive conditions are glorious, but one does miss basic comforts after a while. Also the height of the cabin ceiling and the doorway from the galley had meant several bruises on our heads. Neither of us had wanted to admit it, but we were ready to go home. Well, not home exactly. I wasn't ready to go back to Eynsleigh-the country house I had sort of inherited-back to life with my mother, my grandfather and Sir Hubert, much as I loved them all. I wasn't too keen to go over to Darcy's castle in Ireland, although it was certainly remote enough. I was not ready to stay with my brother and sister-in-law at Rannoch House in London. Golly-can you imagine Darcy and me trying to have interesting sexual encounters knowing that my sister-in-law, Fig, was listening? Probably trying to peek through the keyhole? It would inhibit my sexual freedom for life! The same would be true for our friend Zou Zou, the Princess Zamanska, in whose elegant London home we were always welcome. She wouldn't mind what we got up to in bed. She'd probably even offer suggestions. But none of the above seemed right at the moment. It was our honeymoon. We were supposed to be alone, getting to know each other without outside interference. Before we married, Darcy had actually promised that he would take care of the honeymoon. "Don't worry. I have it in hand," he had said. Somewhere wonderful and exotic, he had said. I didn't like to say anything, because I knew he didn't have oodles of money to fly me around the world. But at this moment I was wondering whether these four days on a boat outside London were it-my entire honeymoon. All I had to look forward to. I hadn't even had a chance to wear my new silk knickers! Darcy was still looking up at me. "So what do you think?" he asked. "Have we had enough of seafaring life?" I laughed. "You can hardly call a houseboat moored to the bank of the Thames 'seafaring.' But yes, I am finding it a little confining. I'd love a proper bath and not in the river and I really would love a cucumber sandwich." "So you want to go home?" "I suppose so. What about you?" He sighed. "I admit, I have banged my head on that bloody doorway one time too many." "Are you allowed to swear in my presence now that we're married?" I asked with mock primness. "Oh absolutely. Abso-bloody-lutely." He laughed and wrestled me down to the bed again. "I have to make sure you don't start turning into your great-grandmother now that you are married." "But she adored Prince Albert. They had the happiest marriage in creation." "But she was also not amused by a risquZ joke," he pointed out. "Although some do say she had a fling with her Scottish chappie, Mr. Brown." "It was hardly a fling. She was seventy-something, wasn't she?" I started to laugh. "Anyway." Darcy turned me toward him and stroked back my hair. "You're going to have to put up with me as I am, including my faults, of which occasional swearing is one. And we'll be as happy as Victoria and Albert and have at least nine children." "Nine?" "You like children, don't you?" "Yes . . . but nine?" He laughed and ruffled my hair. "We're going to have a lot of fun, Georgie. Life is going to be an adventure." "I hope so." I nestled up against his naked chest, feeling safe and secure for the first time in my life. I hadn't really thought about it before but my mother bolted when I was two. My father spent his time in Monte Carlo and eventually killed himself. I was never allowed to see my nonroyal grandfather. I had a kind nanny and then a strict governess but nobody who clearly loved me and cherished me. And now I did. I was wife of the Honorable Darcy O'Mara, heir to Lord Kilhenny of Ireland. I would still retain my own title and be addressed as Lady Georgiana because I was the daughter of a duke. It was all very satisfactory. I sat up again. "So, talking of adventure, do we have something planned after this? And you'd better not tell me that you've been called away on some kind of hush-hush assignment." (I should mention that my husband doesn't have a proper job but he does seem to be whisked away to strange parts of the globe doing something for the British government. He won't exactly tell me what he does.) "There won't be any more hush-hush assignments now, Georgie," he said gently. "I told you that they offered me a desk job at the Foreign Office." "But you don't really want it, do you?" I gave him a worried look. "It's more fitting for a married man, isn't it? We'll start having children. It's important that their father is at home. It's important for you that I'm there." "Let's not talk about it now," I said. "Let's not worry about the future, except perhaps where we are going to go when we leave this boat." "We could go back to Eynsleigh," he said. "It's got lovely grounds. We could maybe persuade your godfather to put in a swimming pool." "I agree it is lovely, but it also has my mother and grandfather in residence as well as Sir Hubert and the servants. Mummy will surely be barging in on us and we'll have no privacy. Besides, Eynsleigh is where we'll live from now on. It will be going back to real life and I'm not ready for that yet." "Then what are the alternatives?" he asked. "We could always pop over to Kilhenny Castle. I know my father would like that. Zou Zou might be there too." "Precisely," I said. "And your crazy aunt and uncle . . . too much family too soon." "I presume that also means your brother and sister-in-law." "Certainly not Rannoch House with my darling brother and sister-in-law," I replied, more sharply than I had intended. "I mean, they were jolly nice to host our wedding reception, but I can only take Fig in very small doses." "We haven't looked at our wedding presents yet," Darcy reminded me. "We should at least put in an appearance and arrange to have them shipped down to Eynsleigh." "Yes, I suppose we'd better do that. Actually that will be rather fun, won't it? I'm dying to see what we have been given, aren't you?" "I'd say Eynsleigh is quite well furnished right now," he said. "I can't think what we still need." "It would be nice to start life with one's own china and silver, wouldn't it?" He made a face. "I suppose women do think that way. For me, as long as I have a plate to put my food on I don't care if it's Royal Doulton or tin." "You're awful," I said as he grinned at me. "Less than four days married and you are calling me awful," he sighed. "I guess the honeymoon really is over." "Oh golly, I hope not," I said. "I thought we might be going somewhere special." "You don't consider this special?" "It was absolutely lovely," I agreed. "Perfect, in fact, but I had hoped for a little longer time on our own. I'm not ready to face Fig and my mother and the world." "We'll go somewhere else, I promise," he said. "But at this moment . . ." "You don't have anything else planned, do you?" He could hear the disappointment in my voice. I was about to remind him that he had proclaimed, in front of witnesses, that he had a wonderful honeymoon surprise for me. Was this it? I wondered. I knew I should be grateful. There were plenty of people in this world who worked in factories or were out of work, standing in soup lines with no hope of the sort of life we took for granted. Time to grow up, Georgie, I thought. "I have a few things that need sorting out first," Darcy said. "You just need to be patient." I managed a bright smile. "All right," I said. "We'll go and look at our wedding presents at Rannoch House. If we hurry we'll be in time for tea and I know Mrs. McPherson will make cucumber sandwiches." Chapter 2 July 31 Rannoch House, Belgrave Square, London W.1. Back to the real world. Sigh. I wish our delicious bubble could have lasted longer. I mustn't show myself to be disappointed that Darcy hasn't managed to wangle a long, exotic honeymoon for us. I'm sure he tried. And I do have the rest of my life to be with him! "Welcome home, my lady." My brother's elderly butler, Hamilton, beamed at me as I stood at the front door of Rannoch House on Belgrave Square. "I was not informed that you were returning so soon or I'd have had the maids air out your room." "Hello, Hamilton." I smiled back at him. "You weren't to know. It was an impulsive decision on our part, due to a sudden desire for cucumber sandwiches." "Indeed? Then let me go and inform Mrs. McPherson immediately that sandwiches are requested and I'll have them brought out to the terrace, where Her Grace is currently awaiting her tea. Would you like me to go through and announce you?" "I think we can find our own way, thank you. Please go and arrange the sandwiches." Hamilton nodded to Darcy, who had just joined me after paying the taxicab driver. "Welcome, Mr. O'Mara," he said. "If you leave the bags there, I'll have them taken up for you in a jiffy." "Thank you, Hamilton," Darcy said. "Good to see you looking so fit." "It's the fine weather, sir. It works wonders for my rheumatics after Castle Rannoch, which does tend to be just a tad damp and cold." He gave a little nod of a bow before retreating belowstairs. Darcy slipped an arm around my shoulder as we went through the front hallway. "If only we manage to find a butler like Hamilton," he muttered. "They are in short supply, I'm sure," I whispered back. "They don't make them like that anymore." We opened the door to the ballroom at the back of the house. The room itself was not often used but it had French doors that opened onto a lovely terrace beyond. That was rarely used too, given the normal English summer weather. But we had held our wedding reception out there and jolly nice it had been too. The French doors were now open to the terrace and someone was sitting in a deck chair. Darcy gave me a little push. "You should probably be the one to let your sister-in-law know we are here." "Coward," I hissed. He grinned. "Just following protocol. It wouldn't be right for a mere son of a baron to precede the daughter of a duke onto a terrace." I stuck my tongue out at him and stepped from the darkness of the ballroom into the blinding sunlight. Fig was reclining in a deck chair, wearing shorts and a halter top of a rather lurid shade of pink, which matched the color of her skin and made her look like a large cooked prawn. "Hello, Fig," I called cheerily. She sat up, startled, blinking at me. "Good God, Georgiana. We weren't expecting you so soon. Ah well, don't say I didn't warn you." "What on earth do you mean?" "Well, the marriage is obviously over. You've discovered the truth about your husband and his depraved habits. I knew you would. One has heard rumors, you know." Excerpted from Love and Death among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. 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