AN: I love this series. I think this is what should happen next, considering the time period they are in. No copyright infringement is intended, no money is being made. It is able to be a stand-alone one-shot, or I may continue it as my flighty muse desires. Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Doom. Ruination. And worse: the high probability of being shipped off to some country house to be a spinster lady-in-waiting. No, that isn't the worst of it. The worst is that I haven't heard from Darcy in nearly three weeks time, my boyfriend of sorts, and the cause of the current commotion.
Darcy was the one who told the king and queen of Bulgaria that he and I were sleeping together. And although technically true, it was not as damning as it would seem at the outset. We were sleeping next to one another and while not entirely chaste, I still maintained my (presumably permanent) status as a virgin. But we let people believe otherwise, so I would not have to marry Fishface, the crown prince of Bulgaria.
Quite the pickle I'm in, and rather high intrigue, especially considering I'm 34th in line to the throne of Great Britain, which means normally I do not get involved in such matters. But my great-Grandmother, Queen Mary, had set her cap for me and Seigfried, the aforementioned 'Fishface', to marry. She didn't outright mandate it, which would have made me obligated to marry him, but she made her wishes known and set me up with a trip to Romania to meet Seigfried's family.
Which brings us back to issue number one. When Fishface heard I had been with another man, he withdrew his proposal for marriage. I couldn't be more relieved by that action. He was cold, clammy, preferred men to women and most importantly, I was in love with someone else. I came home, not engaged, nervously awaiting either my great-grandmother's wrath, and what would happen between me and Darcy.
Darcy O'Mara is an Irishman, son of a noble who has lost everything with the economic downturn and he and his son are both now penniless. Of course, I am as well. It may shock some, but being 34th in line to the English throne does not necessarily convey great financial benefits. My father had been a heavy gambler and had heavier death dues, which forced my brother, Binky, to sell most of the family land to pay. Binky is the eldest, and as such, he is the current Duke of Rannoch, along with his wife Fig and son Podge. Not their Christian names of course, but as how they are commonly referred.
Darcy and I have been courting for some time, albeit unofficially. Most things with Darcy are rather unofficial I've noted. He tends to show up when there is trouble afoot and lend a hand in solving it. I've not yet decided if that is his career, or merely the 'luck of the irish', as he attributes it. He tends to fly by the seat of his pants, which is lovely at times, but at twenty-two, I am rapidly approaching spinsterhood and would wish to settle down soon.
And this leaves us here, today, reading my post which included a letter saying in no uncertain terms that the queen wishes to speak with me. This can only mean that she has finally heard of my disgrace from the Bulgarians and is soon to assign me to spinsterhood, far away from London where I cannot bring any more shame to the royal family. Bloody hell.
I should perhaps also mention that I managed to obtain a lady's maid for my trip to Romania and decided to keep her on, despite her being a complete disaster at just about everything. She tries hard, provides me with entertainment and new vocabulary to master, especially of the common and guttural sort. I hope that she will find her stride as a maid prior to either of our deaths or the ruination of all of my good gowns.
O o o o O
When the appointed day arrives, I am pacing nervously in the hallway. I debate over whether I should attempt walking, hire a taxi or whether she will send a car for me, seeing as this is an official visit. Just as I was about to hire a taxi, so I would not have to be road rumpled when I arrived, an official sedan pulled up. I gave a sigh of relief; one concern for the day down.
I am escorted to the sitting room where I have had several audiences prior, made more nervous by the fact I am the only one in attendance. She could be truly angry with me for not securing the alliance through marriage to Bulgaria.
She does not keep me in suspense for long as she enters the room. I stand and curtsy to her, kissing her hand lightly when offered. "Your highness, thank you for the invitation." Less an invitation and more a summons, but queens are allowed to do such things and still be thanked for them.
"Georgiana. Please, have a seat." Her tone does not betray anger, but neither is there a smile on her face. "I have heard that the wedding between you and Prince Siegfried will not be occurring."
It's not exactly a question, but she is clearly displeased and expecting an explanation. "I am sorry ma'am." I don't know exactly what she has heard, so I aim for brevity and apologies to avoid more information than is needed to incriminate myself.
"Please, do go on. I've heard some rather strange stories as well about the situation, of which I would be most interested to get your side." Her voice is still stern. Clearly she heard about me being in bed with a man, an Irishman no less.
I clear my throat nervously, though proper ladies likely never need to do that; they also likely have not found themselves in this particular predicament. "It isn't as it seems on the surface of the story," I begin.
She cuts me off with a wave of her hand. "I do not care for excuses, but I do care for our reputation and standing." Her eyes bore into me.
I had few options. I took a deep breath and told her the truth. "I allowed Lord Darcy O'Mara to lead Prince Siegfried to believe that I was…" I searched for the word that would be proper in the presence of the queen.
"Besmirched," she supplied sternly.
A small gulp. "Yes, and he decided to withdraw his proposal of marriage." I dared a look up at my at times very frightening great-grandmother.
"Is there anything else you wish to add?" she replied coolly.
"No, ma'am." My head hung lower. She already stated she did not wish to hear excuses, nor would casting aspersions toward Fishface help matters.
"I see." There was a long pause in which I was fearful of even breathing. "After sullying your reputation, does Lord Darcy have plans for your betrothal?"
"No, ma'am." My voice was quiet and to my dismay it was becoming more difficult to hold back the tears. "I do not believe he has the means nor desire for such."
The queen touched my chin lightly, silently asking me to look up, which I did. "This is quite the bed you have made for yourself, Georgiana," she said, not entirely unkindly. Then she surprised me. "I also have heard some other things about your trip to Romania, how you helped to uncover the plot to murder Prince Nicholas, the murder of Lady Middlesex's companion and the murderer of the Romanian military officer."
Hope bloomed in my chest suddenly. Perhaps I would not be banished to the country. "Yes, ma'am," I answered carefully, it seeming safest to not attempt to embellish or downplay my participation.
Her forehead wrinkled in consternation slightly as she regarded me. "Georgiana, whatever is to be done with you? You cannot go and live as a commoner, and yet your chances of settling down are getting slimmer by the moment." She gives a slight sigh.
"I am sorry, great-grandmother." The threat of tears is imminent and I start taking slow deep breaths to attempt to ward them off, as a lady does not cry in the presence of the queen if one can help it.
"And yet, throughout all this, you accepted responsibility for your actions, not mentioning Prince Siegfried's…preferences to excuse yourself," she said with some distaste. "Nor did you attempt to convince me that your virtue is intact, which I have heard it is." A small smile teased the corner of her mouth when she saw my surprise at her knowledge of the situation.
"You are a most unusual young woman, and I would like to use your talents and skills for the benefit of our country, not just as representative of the crown, but as an agent of the crown." Her emphasis was slightly odd when she said that, causing a shiver to run down my spine.
"Agent?" I repeated, hoping for some sort of clarification.
The queen maintained stern eye contact. "What we will discuss will never leave this room, correct Georgiana?" When I nodded mutely, she continued. "Then I shall be blunt. We have something called the Secret Information Service. I think you would perhaps do well as an agent of such."
My mouth gaped open for a moment before I realized how impolite it was. "Secret Information Service?" I repeated slowly, trying to get the words to make sense in my mind.
She nodded briskly. "Yes, people who provide us with important information about what is going on in the world, and help distribute information that we would like to have known." She eyed me with her icy gaze, watching every reaction carefully.
A small gasp escaped, she meant for me to work as a spy! "But…ma'am! I'm a terrible liar! And people know who I am." I cannot see how she views me as a suitable choice. From everything I've ever heard, spies are secret and low key, smooth and excellent liars.
A small corner of her mouth turns up, "Not all agents have the same duties, and you have done well so far in your rather remarkable experiences on your own. But, the question is more whether you would be willing? It is not a traditional role for a lady of the royal family, no matter how far down the line." Her voice is still firm and not softening. "It will likely involve travel, and not many men would wish a wife who is so secretive and often absent." Again, she pierces me with her eyes, watching for my reaction.
I don't deny a stab of pain went through my heart – I had always held out hope for marriage and happiness, but with every day that passed, it was looking less and less likely. If I were to be a spinster, it would be lovely to at least be an exciting spinster perhaps. I nodded slowly finally. "I understand."
"I do not ask you to make your final decision today. Sleep on the matter; tomorrow another car will bring you back for luncheon, and we will discuss your options. Of course, you may not speak a word of this to anyone, do you understand Georgiana?"
I nodded again. "Yes, ma'am. I understand." I was dismissed and escorted back to the car and returned to Rannoch House in a haze.
As I continued through my day into the evening, my thoughts were racing. Was I actually considering taking up the mantle of spy? Would I have any aptitude for it? What about Darcy and Belinda and Queenie? My heart broke when I thought of Darcy. I already knew that I would say yes to the offer, and that would likely bring an end to our relationship.
But, I had the opportunity to do a job, one that the queen thinks I would be good at, and serve my country. I might even get a pay stipend! In truth, I knew after the debacle in Romania, this really was going to be the best opportunity that could ever possibly come my way. However though will I be able to say good-bye to the man I am fairly certain that I love?
As luck would have it, Darcy chose that moment to arrive at Rannoch House to see me, his faced slightly lined with worry as he entered, bringing me into a soft kiss. "Georgie. I've missed you." He continued to hold me in his arms; I relished their strength and warmth and how well we fit together.
I did try to hold it together, but as I replied to him, "I missed you too," my voice broke and I began sobbing.
Concerned and still keeping his arms around me, he led me to the chaise and sat down next to me. "What's happened?" He rubbed slow circles on my back in a comforting manner.
"The queen," I began, trying to control my emotions before I looked a complete disaster, "She heard about Romania."
Understanding dawned on Darcy's face, and then alarm, realizing what she must have heard. "I can try and talk to her and clear your reputation. Georgie," his voice took on a begging tone. "Georgie, please don't cry, I can't bear the thought that you are suffering for something I did."
Tears slow, and I dab with my handkerchief lightly. "No, it's not your fault, I could have denied it. I could have just married Fishface like great-grandmother wished." I sigh and snuggle closer to him. "I made my own proverbial bed."
He tilts my face up to meet his, a slow grin as he kisses me along my jaw-line, "There are many beds that could take your mind off your trouble." He is trying to cheer me up and take my mind off my reputation, not realizing that some of the tears I am shedding are for him.
My heart breaks at his words. I want to fall into his arms and forget everything; everything I'm supposed to do or to be, and especially what the queen asked me about today. I shake my head, pain visible on my face. "I can't. Darcy…" I sigh as I meet his now frowning eyes. "I love you." My voice is barely a whisper as I admit it to him. I feel exhilarated and nauseated all at once, finally giving in to the feeling that has been tugging on my heart.
He stills, examining my face closely, the smile that had initially come from the admission of love now falling and looking very concerned. "I sense that you wish to add a 'but' into that declaration," he said guardedly.
"I wish I didn't need to." I sigh, caressing his face softly. "But, the queen is unhappy with me. She says she is going to be sending me on more royal functions, so I may meet someone proper." I pretended I didn't see the flash of hurt in Darcy's eyes. It was one thing to not be considered proper by the queen, another to think I agreed with her. My voice was nearly down to a whisper. "I have a duty to my family."
Darcy felt tense, though he did not withdraw his arms from around me. "And that duty precludes further association with me," he said stiffly.
I look up at him with watery eyes. "It does not preclude it absolutely, but…Darcy, I barely see you as it is, and if I am traveling, it isn't fair to either of us." My heart felt as if it were shattering in a million pieces as I spoke the words.
His eyes closed for a moment, "I don't mean to be gone so much."
"And neither will I," I say softly. "It won't make it any easier."
He pulled me tighter against him. "I don't believe in going the easy way. Give us a chance to make it work."
I looked at him seriously, "And then what? We can't marry." That wasn't entirely true, but close enough to the truth without being terribly painful. "It just. It is better if we stop this now." I am close to crying again.
Darcy's thumb gently brushes away my tears. "Don't make a rash decision. Sleep on it, and maybe things will look better tomorrow." His tone was calm and reassuring. "And if tomorrow is not better, try the day after tomorrow."
How strange this day was; twice now I was being sent to think on major life decisions overnight. But there was merit in the concept and so I nodded in acquiescence. "Alright. I'll sleep on it."
He returned my nod in approval, kissing me lightly on the lips. "I love you too, Georgiana," he said as farewell, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
O o o o o o o O
The next day dawned grey and dismal, matching my own mood too well. I could barely speak to Queenie as I ate and dressed. The pain from ending things with Darcy was indescribable, but there was that small licking flame of excitement in the center of my chest, at the thought of my new duties to the Crown. All those feelings jumbled up inside me made it so chaotic and distracting. It seemed I had to concentrate all my thoughts and energies into just the basics of survival. Breathe. Chew. Swallow.
The queen sent a car again, and I held my chin up and stepped out to meet my queen, my great-grandmother, and tell her I would like to serve my country, however she sees fit.
O o o o o o o o o O
I was welcomed into her drawing room again, politely sitting when directed and having my tea prepared by one of the maids. When we were alone, I took a bracing breath and nodded my head to her. "I would like to take the opportunity you offered me."
A mixture of surprise, regret and pride flashed in her eyes for a moment. "Very good Georgiana." She eyed me carefully. "This is not going to be easy. Do you understand?"
I nodded my head. "I understand." A pain bubbled in my heart for a moment. "I have to give up my attachments here and learn to be a real information gatherer."
She nodded solemnly. "You have done very well so far without training, which is why I approached you. But you will need to be trained, and you will have a partner as well. I wish for very few people to know of your position; it keeps you and the country safer that way." A pause. "You understand it is possible for you to be killed or worse."
She didn't phrase it as a question, but I understood. "I want to be useful and not some piece of frippery. I think maybe this is what was meant to happen for me."
"Perhaps it was," the queen murmured quietly, then spoke at a normal level. "You will always meet your contacts here. It is not unusual or unbelievable for you to come to the palace, and we will be developing your cover story as we continue." She reached over and rang a small bell. "I will introduce you to your partner."
Moments later, the door to the drawing room door opened and a tall, dark-haired man entered. I gasped, in spite of myself. "Darcy, what are you doing here?"
The queen was looking rather smug in her chair as she motioned for Darcy to sit. "I would like to introduce you to your partner." Her voice took on a dry tone. "I believe you are already acquainted?"
I struggled to speak, and Darcy beat me to the punch, taking my hand formally to kiss. "I believe we are." In a quieter voice, he spoke as he winked at me, "Didn't I tell you things would look better today?"