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Authors: Amelia Grey

A Dash of Scandal

BOOK: A Dash of Scandal
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Copyright © 2011 by Amelia Grey

Cover and internal design © 2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover illustration by Chris Cocozza

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

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FAX: (630) 961-2168

Originally published in 2002 by Jove Books, The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., New York


“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and in London, too. The Mad Ton Thief has struck again. It is reported that with more than one hundred guests in attendance at an elegant soiree in Earl Dunraven's home, the robber made off with a priceless golden raven.

—Lord Truefitt,
Society's Daily Column

“It was a dark and stormy night and all the ton—”

“No, no, no, Millicent,” the bruised woman said in a soft voice. “That would be the most dreadful way possible to open Lord Truefitt's column. A gossip column must start something like… ‘It was a starry night for an elegant soiree.'”

“But it was raining,” Lady Millicent Blair reminded her aunt.

The elderly woman, lying against several pillows on her bed, groaned and patted her chest with a hand-painted fan. “That doesn't matter at all, dearie. Society doesn't expect the truth. They want gossip, and they want it surrounded by beauty.”

Millicent lifted the hem of her simple white gown and started to sit on the bed, but a low growl from the golden-haired spaniel curled at her aunt's feet stopped her just in time. Millicent backed away.

Hamlet was a friendly, adorable little dog except when reposing on his mistress's bed. At those times the mild-mannered pet became a devoted watchdog. Aunt Beatrice was recovering from a terrible fall, and any sudden movement brought her excruciating pain. It distressed Millicent to see her father's sister in such a pitiful state.

“Oh, Aunt Beatrice, I don't want to overtire you. Can't you see I'm trying to point out why I can't possibly do what you're asking of me? This proves I know nothing about writing a gossip column.”

Millicent could have added once again that because of her own mother's heartbreaking experience with the scandal sheets she didn't think she should learn. But Millicent had tried the truth when she arrived in London yesterday morning and learned why her aunt had sent to Nottinghamshire for her. All she had succeeded in doing was making her aunt cry and call for her medication. Millicent couldn't bring herself to upset the badly injured woman again.

Her Aunt Beatrice Talbot was Lady Beatrice to her friends and members of the ton, but to thousands of readers she was the never-seen Lord Truefitt, notorious gossip columnist for the London newspaper
The Daily Reader.

Beatrice shifted against the pillows and moaned again. Her heart-shaped face twisted in pain. One side of her mouth and chin was horribly discolored and swollen. The poor woman had tripped over her droopy-eared dog and fell, hurting her leg and breaking one of her arms, plus covering herself from head to toe with bumps and bruises. She wasn't able to do much more than feed herself.

After the accident her ladyship's servants had begged her to give Hamlet away so there would be no chance of repeating the terrible fall. Beatrice would have none of that and had shamed them all for even suggesting she abandon her beloved pet.

Emery, Beatrice's sturdy maid, walked into the room carrying a small cup on a silver tray. The buxom woman was the only person Hamlet would let near the bed.

“Oh, good,” Beatrice murmured gratefully and slowly batted the lashes of her puffy eyes. “Finally, something to ease the pain. I thought it would never be time to take that wretched-tasting tonic again.”

The maid stirred a spoon of restorative powder into a cup of tea and helped Beatrice drink it before retiring to a chair at the back of the room. Emery seemed the perfect person to take care of her aunt. She spoke in gentle tones and was careful not to jar the bed or her employer.

“You must do this for me, dearie,” Beatrice whispered in a voice and expression meant to appeal to Millicent's softer side. “I'm loath even to say it again out loud, but I must. The money I'm paid for writing the column is what I live on. Without it, I would be in the poorhouse before I was able to walk again.”

“Lord Bellecourte wouldn't let that happen.”

“Oh, botheration,” she murmured. “He would. He might be my nephew and your half brother but when it comes to his money he is wound tighter than a William Clement clock.”

“But I'm reluctant to stand in for you, and you know why I feel this way.”

“Yes, yes, but you must overcome all that.” She fanned herself again. “Besides, it won't be for long. Just until I'm able to walk again and attend the parties myself. It's a simple task, really. And you won't be without my help and the assistance of my longtime friends Viscount and Viscountess Heathecoute. The three of us have been around Society long enough that between us we know everyone in Town. We've already secured a voucher for Almack's, as well as invitations for you to attend all the best parties of the Season.”

“Aunt Beatrice, if Lord and Lady Heathecoute are such dear friends, why can't they write the column for you?”

She rolled her puffy eyes upward and sighed heavily. “Oh, the viscountess would like nothing better. She absolutely loves gossip. I fear if I allow her to do the job it will never be mine again. She has recently suggested it might be time for me to hand the column over to her. She is a bit younger than me, you understand. But, not only do I enjoy what I do, I must have that income.”

Millicent felt her resolve wavering. Writing a gossip column? Would it be like an adventure after living quietly in the country all her life?

Shaking those intrusive thoughts away, she tried to boost her argument by saying, “But Mama and I thought I was coming to London to be your companion and help you while you recover from your accident.”

“Goodness. What foolishness. What could you do for me? I have Emery and Phillips to take care of my physical needs. What I need from you is your eyes and your ears. You, dearie, have the most important job. Keeping me out of the poorhouse.”

“But scandal sheets?” Millicent whispered more to herself than her aunt. She shook her head, wondering how she would ever explain this to her mother should she find out. “I never dreamed you wrote tittle-tattle or that you would want to engage me in your profession.”

“Don't make it sound so contemptible, Millicent. Heavens, someone has to do it and it has to be someone who's accepted by the ton. Take my word for it, if Society didn't want to read gossip, the newspapers wouldn't print it.” Beatrice looked past Millicent to her maid. “Now, Emery, please ask the viscount and his lady to join us.”

“Oh, Aunt Beatrice, I didn't mean any disrespect to you or what you do.”

“It's truly no more than writing down a few facts and making them sound much more fascinating than they are.”

“Facts? I thought most of what was written was considered rumor and speculation.”

“Well, maybe sometimes, but enough of that. Remember, what is most important is that what you are doing has to be kept a secret. No one can know that you are listening to their conversations.” With puffy slits for eyes, she looked at Millicent's dress, her face, and her hair. Her aunt slowly shook her head. “Oh heavens, you are too beautiful. All the beaux will want to dance with you. We must do something.”

Millicent looked down at her gown. Her father had provided well for her and her mother before his death and twice a year they had new clothes made that were suitable for the county social affairs held in Nottinghamshire. Her gown was the latest fashion and the unadorned, high-waisted design suited her well. The delicate flowers in her headpiece were chosen especially to show off her golden hair and light brown eyes.

Beatrice had told her she must not stand out at the parties. “You mustn't appear so pretty that the young bachelors seek your attention, or so unattractive you are singled out and talked about as a wallflower.”

“What should I do?” she asked, not wanting to displease her aunt further.

“I have just the thing. Look over there on my desk and you will find my spectacles.”

Millicent's shoulders reared back and her eyes rounded in rebellion. “No, Aunt Beatrice, that's going too far. I don't need spectacles.”

“Of course you don't need them, but they will help keep the young bucks from falling over themselves to dance with you and come calling. Place them in your reticule and put them on when you get there. These are wonderful parties and there is no reason you can't enjoy yourself while you're there, but remember, you are attending the parties to obtain information. Not to be pursued. And do smooth those lovely curls away from your face, dearie. You must try to look a little plainer.”

Millicent brushed the sides of her hair and for the first time admitted to herself that she was not going to get out of doing this for her aunt. She picked up the spectacles and tucked them into her lacy drawstring purse but never expected to actually use them.

“What a delight you would be to all the bachelors if you could attend the Season as a debutante,” Beatrice said proudly. “You would be a diamond of the first water.”

“Thank you, Aunt Beatrice.”

For a moment Millicent thought she might blush over her aunt's unsolicited praise, but she quickly reminded herself that she was far too sensible for something like that.

Millicent shook her head in disbelief. Was she truly going to do this for her aunt? Surely there was some way she could get out of it. She had to think of her mother and what she had been through years ago.

Millicent was the only child born to the middle-aged earl of Bellecourte and his young wife, Dorothy. The earl already had a grown son and two married daughters by his deceased wife when he married Dorothy, at the request of Dorothy's father, his longtime friend. Earl Bellecourte married Dorothy after her reputation had been ruined by a scandal in London.

When Millicent was twelve her father died suddenly, leaving his wife with a jointure more than sufficient to cover her own and her daughter's needs. Dorothy was an attentive mother and saw to it that Millicent was educated in a manner befitting the daughter of an earl.

She was given everything except a London Season.

Dorothy expected her daughter to marry a local vicar, or some suitable gentleman of means. Much to her mother's distress, at age twenty, Millicent had already refused three offers of marriage.

Her mother had left London in shame twenty-one years ago vowing never to return. When Beatrice's frantic plea came, Dorothy was reluctant to let Millicent go up to London, but having always been fond of her deceased husband's sister, she agreed Millicent would be the perfect companion to Beatrice while she recuperated.

Millicent understood why her mother had never wanted her to go to London, but her mother had no cause to worry. Millicent didn't plan to fall in love with a scoundrel and ruin her reputation.

Thinking of her mother prompted Millicent to try once more to talk her aunt out of involving her in this scheme. “I don't see how I can listen to conversations, then come home and write about them.”

“Oh, heaven's gates, Millicent, don't be so puritanical. Everyone in the ton loves the gossip columns. They can't wait for the Society pages to come out each day so they can read what has been said about the parties of the night before and the people who attended.”

Millicent bristled at the inconsiderate attitude of her aunt. “It was that very same kind of gossip that forced my mother from London in shame.”

“Oh fiddle-faddle. That was years ago, and it was the best thing that could have happened to her. The last I heard the man she was caught with in the garden has never married. He wanted a conquest, not a wife, and your mother was foolish enough to believe every lie he told her. But, because of that scandal she married my dear departed brother, and was, by all that I could see, very happy.” Beatrice offered her a slight smile from swollen lips.

Millicent nodded, knowing that her mother and father had been devoted to each other, but her mother had paid a terrible price for the good life she'd had with her husband.

“And best of all, dearie, they had you. My brother often wrote to me what a joy and comfort you were to him.”

“My father was a fine gentleman, but I'm not sure that makes up for the humiliation my mother suffered from Society when she was declared an outcast and shunned.”

“True, my dear.” Beatrice grimaced in pain. “Your mother had a compromising, but, I understand, not a consummated relationship with a gentleman who later refused to marry her. Society is unforgiving of such things. But it was all for the best. I know if your father were alive he'd want you to help me in my hour of need.”

Millicent looked down at the vulnerable lady before her. Aunt Beatrice had finally found Millicent's soft spot. Millicent had always adored her father. Would she be honoring him by doing what Aunt Beatrice asked? Millicent wasn't shy or retiring. She knew she would be able to do the work, she just didn't like the idea of deceiving people.

“Now, before my medication puts me to sleep, let's go over who you will most likely see and hear about tonight one more time. Start at the beginning.”

Resigned to her fate, Millicent said, “Lord and Lady Heathecoute will be my chaperones and make introductions for me. I am to slowly walk around the room and listen to conversations and make mental notes of all I hear. I will accept if a gentleman asks me for a dance, but I am not to show interest or give encouragement for another dance or an afternoon call.”

“Good. Now, what are the names of the people who are of special interest?”

“The notable young ladies are Miss Bardwell, Miss Donaldson, and Miss Pennington. The widows are Lady Hatfield and Countess Falkland.”

Aunt Beatrice tried to smile again, but her swollen chin and cut lip made it impossible. “Perfect. You are a quick learner. I knew I did the right thing in sending for you. I should have done it two days ago. Now, who are the Terrible Threesome?”

“Chandler Prestwick, the earl of Dunraven; Andrew Terwillger, the earl of Dugdale; and John Wickenham-Thickenham-Fines, the earl of Chatwin. They have been inseparable friends since Oxford.”

BOOK: A Dash of Scandal
3.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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