A Dash of Scandal - By Amelia Grey
“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