Authors: Rhys Bowen
BERKLEY PRIME CRIME TITLES BY RHYS BOWEN
Royal Spyness Mysteries
HER ROYAL SPYNESS
A ROYAL PAIN
NAUGHTY IN NICE
THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS
HEIRS AND GRACES
Constable Evans Mysteries
EVAN HELP US
EVAN AND ELLE
EVAN CAN WAIT
EVANS TO BETSY
EVAN ONLY KNOWS
MASKED BALL AT BROXLEY MANOR
Heirs and Graces
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Heirs and graces / Rhys Bowen.—First edition.
1. Aristocracy (Social class)—Fiction. 2. Inheritance and succession—Fiction.
3. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 4. England—Fiction. I. Title.
Cover illustration by John Mattos.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
This book is dedicated to three wonderful women: Carolyn Hart, Eve Sandstrom and Jan Giles, who sat with me all night in an emergency room last year when I broke my pelvis and then looked after me until I was flown home. They helped me get through a horribly difficult situation and I’ll never forget their kindness.
THE IDES OF MARCH 1934
15 CHEYNE WALK, CHELSEA
One thing I should have learned about my mother was that I could not count on her. After all, she bolted from the family home, abandoning my father and me when I was two, and by the time she resurfaced again in my life she had worked her way through a global list of men. These included an Argentinian polo player, a French race-car driver and an English mountaineer. The latter wanted to marry her and to adopt me. I adored him, but Mummy tired of playing second fiddle to mountains. As an actress, Mummy never played second on any bill.
She was in many ways like a cat, only showing interest in people when she wanted something from them, on which occasions she could be devastatingly charming. She definitely saw the universe with herself at the center and lesser beings orbiting around her, waiting for her to turn the full glow of her sunshine on them when they were needed. So I should have realized when she told me that she was taking a house in London, intended to write her memoirs and wanted me to be her secretary that it was too good to last for long. We had started off well enough in a delightful little house in Chelsea overlooking the Thames. Mummy was full of enthusiasm. She bought me a sturdy Underwood typewriter, and I had made some progress at mastering it, reaching a typing speed of several words per minute without getting my fingers trapped in the keys. I won’t say it was easy, even then. Mummy would start on some story while I tried to keep up with her, taking frantic notes, only to find that she’d stop with a look of amused horror on that perfect face. “Oh, no. Scratch that, Georgie. I can’t possibly let anyone know about what happened that night,” she’d say. “It would bring down the government (or create a new world war or even the pope would be furious),” leaving me dying of curiosity.
I was coming to the conclusion that there wasn’t much about her life that could be told to the general public, unless the book were to come out with a plain-brown cover, like
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
, when the blow fell. We’d been at work for over a month, interrupted only by impulsive visits to her milliner for a new hat or her masseuse for a knot in her shoulder, when she breezed into the breakfast room one morning, waving a letter.
“It’s from Max, darling.” She sounded breathy, excited. Max von Strohheim, German industrialist, ridiculously wealthy, was her current beau.
“He’s still pining for you?”
“More than that, darling. He can’t live without me a moment longer.” I wasn’t quite sure how she knew this, since she spoke no German and Max’s English was limited to monosyllables, but she went on, waving the letter at me. “He says he knows that March in Germany is too gloomy for words so he’s bought us an adorable little villa on Lake Lugano. He knows that I adore Switzerland—so safe and tidy, and the Swiss are so good at hiding one’s money, aren’t they?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never had any money to hide.”
She ignored this, still caught up in her own rapture. “A villa on Lake Lugano sounds like exactly what I need right now. I do miss sunshine and good Continental food. And I do miss Max too. The sex was truly magnificent. He’s like a rampant stud bull in bed, although I probably shouldn’t discuss such things with my daughter.”
“Mummy, you’ve been revealing your intimate secrets to me for six weeks,” I said. “And I am twenty-three. So does this mean you’re off to Lake Lugano, then?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “Tomorrow’s boat train, if my maid can get everything packed up in time.”
“But what about this house?” I wanted to ask “What about me?” but I was too proud to do so.
She shrugged, as if this had only just occurred to her. “I’ve paid the rent through the end of the month,” she said. “Feel free to stay on if you want to.”
That wasn’t the response I had wanted. For one heady moment, I had hoped that she’d invite me to Lake Lugano with her and we’d continue with her autobiography on a vine-covered terrace overlooking the lake with a pot of good coffee or maybe glasses of champagne beside us.
“What about your book?” I asked. “Aren’t you going to finish it?”
She laughed. “Oh, darling, it was such a silly idea, wasn’t it? I don’t really want my adoring public to know the sordid details of what I’ve been up to, and as you saw for yourself there’s not much I can divulge without fear of lawsuits. I don’t know why I wanted to do it in the first place.”
“I do,” I wanted to say. You wanted a reason to spend some time in London with your only daughter. I felt a lump come into my throat.
“Come on, get your coat on,” she said, attempting to drag me up from the table. “That food isn’t fit for man or beast anyway. We’ll get something out.”
“Where are we going in such a hurry?”
“Shopping, of course. I have nothing to wear that’s suitable for a Swiss lake. Harrods or Barker’s, do you think? Both so stodgy and English, aren’t they? I wonder if I should stop off in Paris for a quick run on Chanel? Of course, Coco won’t be there. She’s bound to be at her villa in Nice—or on someone’s yacht.”
My thoughts sped back to the heady time the year before—Mummy’s villa, Chanel’s dresses; so many adventures. I wondered what it would be like to be the kind of person who mentions casually that she should make a quick run on Chanel. I did at least own one Chanel outfit now, plus some elegant clothes that Mummy had bought me, and it occurred to me that it was rather pathetic of me to feel so let down.
I followed Mummy into the front hall as she threw a blonde mink stole around her shoulders and placed an adorable cloche hat on her head. I shouldn’t be relying on my mother, I told myself. I should be making my own way in the world. Actually, there was nothing I wanted more. God knows I had tried. But the world was still in the grips of the Great Depression and there were no jobs even for people with oodles of qualifications. My education at a posh Swiss finishing school had only equipped me to walk around with a book on my head, to curtsy without falling over (most of the time) and snag a suitable husband.
In case you think I was a pathetic specimen unable to attract a man, let me tell you that I was unofficially engaged to an absolutely dreamy chap called Darcy O’Mara. What’s more, he was the son of an Irish peer—which should make him eminently suitable for the daughter of a duke like me, except that he was as broke as I was, lived by his wits and made money in dubious ways. So there was no wedding in my foreseeable future, unless Darcy struck it rich somehow. When I last heard from him, he was in Argentina, involved in some kind of secret undertaking—probably an arms deal.
“Come on, darling. Let’s go and find a taxicab. I’ve got absolutely masses to do if I’m to get out of here tomorrow.” Mummy yanked at me again as I tried to put on my coat.
“I thought you weren’t going to bother with London shops, and were going to stop in Paris,” I said.
“One does need some basics,” she said. “Good woolen underwear, for example. We might go skiing in the Alps. And Harrods can come up with something tolerable occasionally. Is it too late for cashmere in Lugano, do you think?”
Without waiting for an answer, she dashed into the street and started looking for a cab. I was about to follow her out of the front door when the lugubrious figure of Mrs. Tombs appeared from the kitchen area. “Done with your breakfast then, are you?” she asked in that voice that always implied that life was an unbearable burden.
“Yes thank you, Mrs. Tombs.”
“Going out then, are you?”
She did have a talent for stating the obvious. I was on the front step, with my coat on. “Yes, Mrs. Tombs. My mother needs to do some shopping.”
“Always shopping, she is. Don’t she have enough clothes by now? She’s already got both wardrobes full upstairs.”
Privately, I felt that my mother would never have enough clothes. Shopping was a major sport for her, but I wouldn’t dream of being disloyal in front of a domestic. “I don’t think that Miss Daniels’s shopping habits are anything to do with us,” I said, referring to my mother by her stage name, which she preferred to use over her current legal one. She was still officially married to an American oil tycoon called Homer Clegg, who had so far refused to grant her a divorce, owing to a Puritanical religious streak my mother hadn’t known about when she married him.
“So do you reckon you’ll be back for your dinner?”
I sighed. She was becoming more annoying by the minute. “Mrs. Tombs, remember I reminded you that the midday meal is called lunch among our type of person, and dinner is served at eight o’clock in the evening.”
She sniffed, wiping her hands on her pinny. “Well pardon me for breathin’. Yer lunch, then. Are you going to want lunch?”
“Who can tell?” I said. “Have something ready anyway. Maybe something light like a salad?”
“You won’t find no lettuce down the greengrocer’s on the corner. Only in your highfalutin sort of shops at this time of year.”
“Very well, a—” I broke off. I had foolishly been going to suggest a soufflé or even an omelet, both of which would have been beyond her.
“We’ll bring back smoked salmon. Make sure we have brown bread, thinly sliced.”
“Right you are then.” I had long ago decided that there was no point in instructing her on the correct way to address the daughter of a duke. She wouldn’t use it.
She sniffed again and shuffled off to clear the breakfast away. Really, she was a most depressing woman, but she came with the house. “How convenient,” Mummy had said. “We won’t have to hunt for servants.”
She was what was termed a cook general, although the word “cook” was debatable. Her cooking skills were nonexistent and if we’d let her have her way we’d have dined on gray, overstewed mutton and boiled-to-death cabbage. Fortunately Mummy liked to eat well, and a constant stream of deliverymen from Harrods and Fortnum’s kept us from starvation.
Mummy had already found a taxicab, one of her many miraculous talents. Cabs just appeared out of nowhere for her. I climbed in beside her.
“Mrs. Tombs wanted to know if we’d be in for lunch,” I said.
“That woman should have been drowned at birth,” Mummy said. “Isn’t it funny how people seem to have appropriate names? She has a face like a gravedigger. And I’m sure all the previous tenants died of her cooking. If I weren’t leaving, I’d write to the owner and let him know what a disaster she is. Of course, he doesn’t care. He’s in Monte Carlo.”
“She does clean quite well,” I pointed out. “It’s not her fault she can’t cook.”
“You are too nice natured, darling. You won’t get anywhere in this world being kind and generous. You must turn into a lioness like me and gobble up people who disagree with you.”
“I’m not very good at gobbling,” I said. “And I want to like people, and be liked by them.”
She sighed. “The sooner you get married and have babies to adore the better.” She paused, looking out of the window at the side wall of Harrods. “No news of the delectable Darcy then?”
“Nothing for ages.” I sighed.
“You must make him want to come rushing back to your side, my darling. You must learn how to turn into a little tigress in bed. It’s a pity I’m going or I could have given you a few pointers.”
“Mummy, we’re not married yet,” I said in a shocked voice.
She laughed merrily at this. “Darling, since when did sex and marriage have anything to do with each other. Our kind of people marry so they can legally get their hands on nice pieces of property and someone else’s title and fortune.”
I smiled out of the window but said nothing. Mummy was hardly “our kind of people,” having been born in a two-up, two-down house in the East End of London to a Cockney policeman and his wife. Fortunately, her acting skills and stunning good looks had snagged her my father—the Duke of Glengarry and Rannoch, who was Queen Victoria’s grandson and thus cousin to the king, which made her “Your Grace” for a while, until she bolted. It was the title she regretted giving up most. She still liked to play the role of “Your Grace.”
The taxi pulled up outside the front entrance to Harrods. A braided doorman leaped forward to open the door, as if knowing instinctively that Mummy was inside.
“Hello, Albert,” she said, turning the full force of her radiance on to him. “How are you today?”
“All the better for seeing you, Your Grace,” he said as his fingers closed around the generous tip.
“How sweet of you to remember me,” she said. As if he wouldn’t.
Then she swept through the cosmetics department, pausing only long enough to request a jar of her favorite face cream to be ready for her on her way out; the glove department, pausing only long enough to ask for emerald green kid gloves and a matching scarf and then she was in the lift going up to the dress department. During the next half hour, she must have tried on at least twenty and discarded them all as too frumpy and too last-season.
So we were off again, at whirlwind speed, collecting gloves, scarf and face cream, and commissioning someone to run to the food hall and have smoked salmon delivered by noon to the house. As usual, I was in awe of her energy, efficiency and the way she took it for granted that every employee of Harrods was there only for her. If only I could have been a little more like her, in temperament and in looks. I sighed. She was petite with huge, blue eyes, giving a quite false air of being helpless and delicate. I was tall and angular with the healthy, outdoorsy appearance of my hardy Scottish ancestors.