Mister Darcy’s Maltese Falcon is now happily available!
Book 8 in the feelgood series that follows Darcy and Elizabeth’s first vexing meeting to their marriage ceremony performed by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The first book in the series: Mister Darcy’s Dogs is free right now, so for those who haven’t begun to journey…it’s not too late. Click to get your free copy: Mister Darcy’s Dogs And enjoy this excerpt from the Falcon!
Darcy and Lizzie, now happily married, are off on another Templar quest. With their first baby due in two months, Darcy insists that Lizzie remain in London while he adventures to Malta. Pregnancy has not slowed Lizzie; she is determined to stand by her husband. The Maltese falcon holds the key to finding the Bogart Diamond, a priceless gem that was stolen from the ancient order of the Knights Templar.
Lizzie inserts herself in the caper, accompanied by Boris, the Russian wolfhound, and other surprise stowaways. Oh no! Caroline and Wickham return to add to the chaos. This is the eighth book in the Mister Darcy comedic mystery series.
A Mysterious Package From Malta
“I have been cooped up for weeks,” I said, taking my poodle-slippered feet off the ottoman. “Since you are meeting Bingley at your club, I would like to take the dogs out for a short jaunt in the park.”
My darling husband Fitzwilliam Darcy and I were sharing some quiet time in our library. If I were being perfectly honest, our days were now much too quiet; I longed for an adventure. Darcy sat in an armchair stroking a bulky statuette of a black falcon, turning it over and over, and studying the tiniest details of the figure. The newest member of our family, a cat named Miss Wonderly, sat on the back of his chair watching his movements with great fascination.
Darcy had been unable to tear himself away from the statuette since it arrived in a mysterious package from Malta, less than an hour ago. The second time I mentioned the park, he shifted his attention to me.
He tucked the bird back in its box, and arranged packing paper around it. “I do hope you mean the indoor park,” he said. “Please confine yourself to our flat, particularly when I am engaged in a meeting. It is very distracting to worry about you when I am trying to—well, you know.”
I loved to hear my husband refer to our twenty-three-room penthouse, complete with an indoor replica of a section of Hyde Park, a wall climbing room, and a fully equipped panic room, as a flat.
Darcy could be so sweetly self-deprecating when he wasn’t being pompous. It was his multi-faceted personality and his dark flashing eyes that first attracted me. Flat, indeed! We had been married almost two years and I was still impressed with Darcy’s, I mean our flat. He insisted I say “our” for he now shared everything with me—except for his Templar secrets.
For particular reasons, which shall become evident, we lived in One Snyde Park, the most secure building in London; it was designed to withstand assaults up to and including those of Miss Caroline Bingley, roving society reporter.
My husband had recently embarked on an odd quest. He had begun to collect memorabilia from the films of the director Alfred Hitchcock. He was going about it rather quickly, which made me quite curious. It was out of character for him to acquire things, as despite his vast wealth, he was not an accumulator. And to do so with such rapidity made no sense.
There was something about the falcon that bothered me, besides the evil vibes it radiated. More than fourteen inches tall the statue was entirely black and made of a dull black metal that appeared to be lead. It had creepy sightless eyes and hunched shoulders. I could not understand his fascination with the figure.
The rest of Darcy’s new collection was also a bit off—especially for a man whose taste normally ran to the rare and historic. I considered myself to be his very rare treasure, though certainly not historic. The daughter of a simple country gentleman, I was a degreed dog psychologist with no clients; but nonetheless, I had become Elizabeth Bennet Darcy, wife of one of the wealthiest men in England.
With the number of oligarchs and sheiks flocking to London—many taking up residency in our building—Darcy lost his status as the absolute richest gent in the kingdom. It was nerve wracking for me to keep watch on our neighbors as they came and went like shadows, dropping down to their private parking garages, and zipping out in darkened limousines. One Snyde Park was now a posh international hideout located in the heart of London.
Casting one of his serious looks at me, Darcy repeated his request that I use the indoor virtual park for my walk. Aside from the artificial sky and fake sunlight, one might truly think it was a section of Hyde Park. “I will not be gone long and I do so worry when you run risks,” he said. “You are not steady on your feet.”
“I beg your pardon! Just because I am a little pregnant does not make me unsteady.” I stood, stomping my poodle slippers. Turning sideways, I ran my hand over my belly. Our baby was due in two months, but my body had maintained its trim form. It was only when I pressed my hands to my smock that it became evident that I had a baby on board.
“You are more than a little pregnant, you are seven months with our child,” he said. “I wish you would exercise more care and stay in the flat as much as possible. If you insist on going out, bring one of the guards with you. I will not have you out and about alone.” He softened his order with a dimpled smile. “Now, join me while I carry the Maltese Falcon to my office and find a place for it within the Hitchcock collection.”
He waited while I gained my footing, not that I was unsteady. Darcy took my arm and helped me out the door. My darling husband treated me like a helpless female, in a nice but condescending way.
The poodle slippers flapped, slip-sliding over the carpeted marble floors, but they held their tongues. The slippers were my foot-puppets and had a habit of saying whatever was on my mind. When spoken through the furry pink slipper puppets, demands that might sound stubborn or pushy coming from me, were easily accepted by Darcy. Despite their cheekiness and their rolly button eyes, he did respond to them.
Edward, now in charge of security in Darcy’s world, stepped from one of the sliding corridor walls. “May I help you with that Mr. Darcy?” The young man said.
He’d recently been promoted when Darcy’s chief bodyguard, Matthew, had resigned to marry my sister Mary—a surprising, joyful event. Only single men of the caliber of those in Her Majesty’s Secret Service were considered for Darcy’s small, elite security team. The men were required to be in attendance twenty-four hours a day—it was no job for a married man.
“No thank you, Edward,” Darcy said. “How’s the new man working out?”
Edward lowered his voice as the halls and certain rooms were under video and audio surveillance. “Herring will be fine. He takes his position quite seriously.”
“Good. Keep a close rein on him,” Darcy said. “Now excuse us.”
Darcy’s office was off limits to me by my own choice. I had caused a bit of embarrassing damage in the past—just the odd mishap like taking the finish off his Winston Churchill desk or tripping over the cord from the Tiffany floor lamp. The desk recovered, the lamp unfortunately did not.
I avoided the room since all his Templar secrets were kept there including the safe. It was public knowledge that Darcy was a member of a society dedicated to protecting the antiquities and history of England from those who would acquire them and even destroy them. He had his share of enemies within the Knightsbridge Association. For every real estate developer my husband blocked from acquiring a historic building, he created a new player determined to beat him. It was like a giant chess game with knights, rooks, and shifty bishops.
Secretly, Darcy was the almoner for the ancient Knights Templar and as such was responsible for gathering and protecting all known artifacts that belong to the Templars—past or present. I did not even dare glance in the direction of the safe hidden behind the wall. Its very existence made me tense.
THE HITCHCOCK COLLECTION
Cautiously, Darcy sat the falcon on his Hitchcock shelves amid a replica of Mount Rushmore from North by Northwest, an old-fashioned telephone from Dial M for Murder, and pair of battered binoculars supposedly an exact replica of those used by Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. The very word replica did not fit in Darcy’s upper-crust world. If they had been the originals from the film, it might have made a smidgen of sense. Something was a foot.
Darcy tapped his shoulder in response to the quiet little buzz of his security communicator. At that very moment our basset hounds, Derby and Squire came racing into the room. Derby tripped over his ears and slid headlong into the Churchill desk with a smack.
I bent to help the basset at the same time Darcy did, bumping my head against his. With a double ouch we jumped back causing the wounded pup to howl in fright. Squire barked and Derby turned to chase his brother. The dogs galloped out of room, as fast as two clumsy basset hounds can gallop. I wished I could take them for a long walk to expend some of their penthouse energy, but in my condition they had become too much to handle.
Darcy issued a directive into his communicator and then faced me with as smile. He was about to scoot me out the office door, when Boris, our Russian wolfhound, strolled into the room. The dog was intensely jealous of Darcy. The handsome animal took his usual position between us.
Gifted with long silky fur, which he flipped over his shoulders, Boris postured like a male model on the cover of a romance novel. The pattern of his black and white coat lay in such a way as to resemble a tuxedo, and with his black bowtie collar, his formal presence was nothing short of elegant. He always appeared as if he were waiting for a martini, shaken, not stirred.
When I first met Boris he was being held against his will by a Russian mobster who had taken up residence in One Snyde Park. After Darcy—with my help— had dispatched the Russian, I had no choice but to put Boris in my canine witness protection program. He became part of the Darcy family and resided with us at One Snyde Park.
The wolfhound had developed a serious crush on me. Boris was not happy with the fact that I was Darcy’s woman. The dog took every opportunity to insert his hairy, slender body between us, to the point where Darcy grumbled whenever Boris approached. Among my other assurances, I had promised Darcy to search for a girlfriend of the canine persuasion, for Boris, not Darcy.
Darcy had just finished escorting Boris and me out the door when Derby and Squire made another loop around the hall in hot pursuit of Miss Wonderly. She had a good head start on the bassets; cats can be quite fast when motivated. I had recently rescued the sleek gray feline from the gutter near the parking garage entrance to One Snyde Park. My husband had objected to her adoption at first, but gave in when I pointed out that she already came with a collar, so we would be saving money.
Miss Wonderly bowled on by us. Unfortunately both bassets lost control and swung into me knocking me on my bum. Darcy was furious with the menagerie as he helped me to my feet. He hit his shoulder communicator and the new guard, Herring appeared.
The young man was wearing the security team uniform: a dark, expensive-looking suit with a jacket discreetly hiding a gun holster. His demeanor was serious; his eyes seemed to take in the entire setting in one glance. He looked to Darcy for orders.
“Catch Derby and Squire and confine them in the park room,” Darcy said. “Then accompany Mrs. Darcy to Hyde Park.”
Boris stepped on the toe of Darcy highly polished wingtip. The audacious wolfhound held his paw in place in a canine attempt to dominate his rival. Being the bigger man, Darcy yielded by withdrawing his shoe. Boris’s nails left a large scratch along the toe. The two alpha males exchanged glares.
Hoping to distract my husband, I said, “I shall bring Boris with me to the park for protection.” I patted his head, Boris, not Darcy. The two men in my life began to snarl softly at one another.
“Be careful for there are things brewing,” Darcy said, cutting a quick glance at Herring.
“Do the brewing things have something to do with the Knightsbridge Association or—”
Darcy cut me off before I spoke out of turn in front of his bodyguard. Only four people, besides the Grand Master of the Templars, knew that Darcy was a Knight Templar: Bingley, Jane, me, and Mr. Collins, who was currently indisposed.
The hapless former clergyman, Mr. Collins, was confined to a hospital for the criminally insane somewhere outside Rome. The fool had attempted to steal the Red Rosary from the Templars. Darcy had no choice but to have the disgraced rector committed. But that is another story.
“Get those dogs and put them in the park room,” Darcy said. He nodded at Herring, and then gave me the fisheye.
Oh dear! I had almost mentioned the Knights Templar in front of the guard. On my mind, on my lips, was Darcy standard critique of me.
Once Herring left to round up Derby and Squire, I chanced to speak again. “What is brewing? Is it Templar business?”
“It’s best you do not know,” Darcy spoke in a mix of kindness and bossiness.
“Then it is Templar business.” I had vowed not to interfere in Darcy’s secret world but I did not promise to not protect him. As my husband’s undisclosed assistant, I was always on the alert to cover his firm backside. I would sort out this new turn of events while I strolled through the park.
But first I dashed to our bedroom to change from the poodle slippers to walking shoes. The master bedroom was the only room I had been able to put a feminine touch to so far. With the help of a rather talented interior designer by the name of Jane Bingley, the room had turned from bachelor burgundy, gray, and chrome to a blend of peach and moss green, with touches of cream. I took care not to make it too frilly, but the colors gave it a warm glow that flattered my complexion. I slipped into my sturdy walking shoes and threw on a lightweight jumper. Boris stood patiently at the door watching me as if my clumsy movements were the motions of a ballerina. It is no wonder I loved that dog.
THE CALL TO ADVENTURE
Hyde Park was alive with the happy sounds of people at play. The spring breeze ruffled my hair and the sun warmed my cheeks. I could hardly wait until Darcy and I took our baby promenading in the lovely ivory-colored pram we had purchased from Harrods.
We had agreed not to peek at the sonogram, but now my heart twittered in confusion, as I dearly wanted to know whether our child was a boy or a girl. I felt fairly sure I was carrying a little Fitzwilliam but then the warm glow of a cradling a tiny Cassandra told me I would soon have a daughter.
Boris pranced closely at my side. It didn’t take a dog psychologist to know what was going through that silky head of his. His habit was to walk very near me to disguise the fact that he was on a leash. Heaven forbid anyone should think he was that kind of canine, or a canine at all.
I swallowed a chuckle thinking how important it was to Boris not to piddle or poo in my presence. Whenever we went for an outdoor stroll he held himself in check, despite the alluring aromas of all the prior piddlers. The instant we returned to the flat he would trot to the indoor park and do his business in private.
Herring walked silently at my side. The guard’s training did not permit the distraction of conversation. He wore tinted glasses that shielded his eyes, but I imagined him taking in 360 degrees of Hyde Park activity. As my bodyguard he was prepared to throw himself between that ice cream vendor and me. Ice cream! I suddenly had a hunger for strawberry ice cream in a waffle cone.
A cluster of children gathered around the vendor’s cart. It would be impossible to approach with Boris. He hated being touched by anyone but me. The children would surely want to pet him. I turned to my bodyguard. “Would you be a dear and get me some ice cream? I’ll wait right here.”
Herring took off his sunglasses to reveal twinkly light-brown eyes that complimented his ginger hair. “Of course, Mrs. Darcy. What flavor would you like?”
“Strawberry in a little cone. Thank you!”
As Herring stepped away, a woman in a dark business suit, with a scarf over her head and Audrey Hepburn sunglasses ran toward me. She came at me so quickly I did not think to cover my belly from her touch. Being pregnant I had learned to assume a protective stance when strange women approached with that gooey look upon their faces. There was some sort of oddball cult of women obsessed with touching other women’s baby bumps. I guessed it to be a throwback fertility right inherited from our cavewoman ancestors.
The stranger did not hesitate to draw close, ignoring Boris’s threatening growl.
When she was within whispering distance, she said, “Tell your husband not to go! They know about the falcon.” I found myself staring at her extremely red lips as she hissed, “They will stop at nothing!”
“Who? What?” Before I could question her, she hiked her skirt up over her knees, dashing off in an ungainly manner reminiscent of Caroline Bingley.
Herring studied the woman as he returned with my ice cream. The stranger fairly galloped away, disappearing over a small hill. “Is that someone you know, Mrs. Darcy? Why is she running away?” An anxious expression came over his face.
Gaining control of my trembling voice, I said, “I have never seen her before.” My heart was beating so hard I was sure Herring could hear it.
He looked back in the direction the woman had taken, but she had vanished. Herring handed me the strawberry cone. “Shall we continue our walk?” he asked.
“I’m growing tired,” I fibbed. “Let’s return to Snyde Park.” At that very moment a thought slammed into my mind with the impact of a brick dropping from a mason’s hand. Alfred Hitchcock did not direct the Maltese Falcon! Darcy should know that! Something was seriously not right.
Binning the ice cream, I picked up the pace, making a mad dash for home with Boris trotting at my side. If Herring was concerned, I did not notice. I was focused on one thing, getting to Darcy before something bad happened.
Once safely back in the flat, I dismissed Herring and trotted to the library, where Darcy usually settles around teatime. He wasn’t there. However, two very guilty looking basset hounds lay side-by-side on the floor near the sofa.
“What have you pups been up to?” I said.
Boris walked around Derby and Squire sniffing them like a superior officer seeking the scent of fear. They whimpered but avoided looking at the alpha dog.
“How did you get out of the park room?” I asked in my sternest voice.
Squire covered his head with his paws. Derby squirmed his way behind the sofa.
“Is Mr. Darcy at home?”
Squire belly-crawled under the coffee table while not making eye contact.
I looked around the room but there was no sign of the cat. “Where is Miss Wonderly?” I said.
Both dogs flinched at her name. She was an alley cat and as such could dispatch two clumsy bassets with one paw tied behind her back. I would deal with these clowns later; first I must tell Darcy about the strange woman in the park and her warning.
Derby and Squire clambered to their stubby legs and followed me as I headed down the hall toward Darcy’s office with Boris at my side. The pups appeared relieved—until they saw where we were going.
The door to Darcy’s office was slightly ajar, odd. The door was always kept locked because of the Templar safe. Boris suspected the wrongness of the open door and stepped in front of me. He poked his long snoot into the room, while uttering a menacing growl. The lanky hound dropped to a crouch and shouldered the door open. He turned his head left and then right, in imitation of the detective telly shows he fancied.
Stepping over Derby and Squire who were slobbering on my shoes, I inched into the lair. Darcy’s Churchill desk was undisturbed, but the shelves across from the wall safe appeared as if they had been struck by a tornado. Burgled? I doubted it, not with the security in place. The chaotic scene had something to do with the pleased puss that sat on the tiptop shelf licking her paws. Miss Wonderly.
“Derby! Squire!” I was the canine psychologist, skilled at handling misbehavior but when I saw Darcy’s Hitchcock Collection scattered over the marble floor, my temper flared. These things were important to Darcy—for some hush-hush reason. He would be very upset when he saw the damage.
It was obvious by the behavior of two unnamed basset hounds and one high-placed feline that a chase had taken place within Darcy’s office.
Setting about to salvage the pieces, I groaned as I picked up Lincoln’s nose, which was chipped off and laying on the Oriental rug. Sadly I gathered the right lens from the Rear Window binoculars and placed the broken pieces on the desk. It was then that I saw the Maltese Falcon, its base shattered. Carefully I gathered the bits, holding them in my hands. The bird was whole but the base it gripped in its talons was shattered, and the bird was footless.
It was at that moment that Darcy entered the room. He glanced at the shelves and then at me. Once again I was caught innocent but looking guilty. What was it about this room? It seemed to bring out the worst in me, even when I was mostly blameless.
Without a word, Darcy extended his hand and took the falcon parts from me. I tried to read his expression but could not. He stared at Miss Wonderly, then down at Derby and Squire. One tap on his shoulder communicator and Edward appeared at his side.
“Why was this door open?” He said. “Bring the dogs to the virtual park and then meet me in the security room. Where is Herring?” Darcy clenched and unclenched his jaw.
“I just dispatched Herring to the lobby to deal with an altercation,” Edward said, humiliation radiating on his face. “There is a reporter and a cameraman in the lobby insisting they have an appointment with you. I believe the reporter is Miss Bingley.”
The guard mistakenly extended his hand as if to touch Boris’s collar. The wolfhound growled a scary snarl causing Edward to quickly withdraw. He wisely chose a new course of action and instead snapped his fingers in command to Derby and Squire.
Patience not being one of my many virtues, I touched the pieces of the broken bird that Darcy held in his open palm. “You’ve made a mistake. Alfred Hitchcock did not direct the Maltese Falcon!”
Darcy cut me that look—the one that says hush, darling!
Join Darcy, Lizzie and Boris as their adventure takes off!
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