“Where the bloody hell is he?”
Damien MacCauley was past angry. He was hip deep in rage, most of which he directed to the three men standing in front of him.
Personal protection officers, my arse.
As he perched on the front edge of his desk, he pushed back a lock of graying hair, then folded his arms, and glared at the three of them.
“I know we’re not guarding the Prince of Wales, lads, but could you at least pretend to do your job?”
Richard Strathmore was only thirty-seventh on the list of claimants to the throne. Still, it didn’t look right when any of the royals went missing, and this particular duke had gone to ground a few days before anyone had thought to reveal that fact to him.
The duke was a model member of the royal family. Nothing about the man, except for his wife’s death, had ever caused a ripple through the Palace. He was handsome, effortlessly charming, and dedicated to his children. If he had relationships, he kept them suitably low key.
In other words, he didn’t embarrass the Queen.
The press, of course, pinned several nicknames on the man. The Desolate Duke was the last one Damien had heard.
His fingers tapped impatiently on the edge of the desk. “Go over it again.”
The protest drifted off into silence. The speaker, the youngest of the three men standing in front of his desk, looked the most worried. As well he should. The boy was two months out of training with commendations. He had the connections to land him in the elite royal guard and the sense to know that if anything happened to Richard, Damien was going to take it out on him, first, then the other personal protection officers.
Damien only wished beheading was still a possibility.
“We signed off that evening, sir, no problems. Harold conveyed to us that the duke wished an early night.”
Damien felt his blood pressure escalate a dozen or so points. “Didn’t anyone think it odd that he’d cancelled all his appointments?”
The duke received nothing from the Civil List, which meant he worked for a living. Between being an architect and his royal duties, the man was kept busy.
“The anniversary of his wife’s death is coming up, sir. We naturally thought…”
Damien waited, but the man’s words trailed off into silence. The least said about that particular night, the better.
“Harold cancelled his engagements, sir, with the excuse of illness.”
“His Grace is the healthiest man I know,” Damien said.
None of the men opposite him countered his words.
“Didn’t you think it odd that he carved two weeks out of his schedule? Was that not sufficient enough to at least alert me?”
The three men were looking pale. One of them was sucking on a mint, the smell of menthol wafting to MacCauley. He’d like to make the man choke on it.
“We performed our monitoring, sir, on quarter hour shifts.” Andover, the duke’s home, was swept twice a day for threats – anything from listening devices to bombs.
“Was he entertaining?”
“I don’t believe he had plans for the evening, sir.”
David didn’t contribute a fact all Richard’s personal guards knew only too well. There hadn’t been any entertaining for quite a while now. Richard spent too much time standing in front of the inner courtyard window, his silhouette causing each man a little discomfort, not entirely because he projected a prime target.
Alisdair McSwain contributed the rest of the story. “At eight, sir, Lady Ethel Iverly rang up the duke.”
Damien allowed himself an internal smile at Alisdair’s disgusted look. Lady Ethel, an aging matron whose main claim to fame was having been a maid of honor to the Queen twenty years ago, was dogged and obstinate. She also had a penchant for scolding the royal protection officers at every opportunity. There were too many videos of her shaking her finger at the men assigned to the duke.
“Lady Ethel wished to ensure that the garden party was still being held despite the weather. She was quite insistent that the duke be advised that she was waiting on the telephone. Unfortunately, neither Harold nor the duke was present at that time.”
“Did you question staff?”
It was both the right answer and the most frustrating one. Their hands were tied, because they couldn’t afford to alert any of the hundreds of employees at Andover.
God forbid the Queen got wind of this.
They’d lost a bloody duke.